Yesterday, NASA head honcho Mike Griffin spoke to Congress about the airline safety survey NASA sponsored. This made headlines last week when the report conclusions were basically suppressed by NASA Associate Administrator of Institutions and Management Thomas S. Luedtke, who said that the results -- which indicated a lot more safety issues in flying than previously thought -- would undermine consumer confidence in the airline industry.
To Griffin's credit, he repeatedly apologized for that statement, saying it was not true that NASA cares more about industry than citizens. Also to his credit, he said that the survey results would be released as much as possible, given the issues of anonymity and such for the participants. He stressed both of these items.
However, he repeated the one irksome thing he said in an earlier press statement:
I regret the impression that NASA would in any way put commercial interests in front of public safety.
To which I repeat what I said before: it wasn't an impression. It's what Luedtke actually said. What Griffin said was basically just spin.
Still, I thought Griffin did pretty well in his testimony, but one thing that troubled me was his repeated hedging on the quality of the survey. Several times he said that the methodology of the survey needed to be checked. Now, this really is something to look after: survey results can be skewed if the questions are slanted, the people answering them aren't sampled well, and so on. But I'll note that the contractor doing the survey was Battelle (scroll to the last line of that story), well-known for their experience and excellence in doing just this sort of survey work.
It sounded to my jaundiced ear that Griffin was possibly covering his, um, assets. Did he say that the survey methodology needs to be checked because he was hedging? By saying that, he can deflect blame for the results away from NASA and onto Battelle. Maybe I'm too cynical, but given how many times he repeated that statement, it just simply sounded suspicious.
So I give Griffin both a thumbs-up (for saying the data should be released) and a thumbs-down (for repeating the spin about "impression") and a thumbs-sideways; he's on probation for the methodology remarks until more data come in.