Science: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the staff of the Government Science Agency. Its perpetual 2-year missions: to explore strange new science, to seek out new phenomena and new connections, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
My name is Bomek and I am a temporary Program Commander in the Government Science Agency. This is the story of my travails as recorded in Captain’s log on Trumpdate 147.
It all begins in the darkest hours when a huge workload, low budget, steep learning curve and a touch of Asperger all conspire to make my life miserable. On one such day I am sitting in my office pondering how I can possibly make the funding recommendations for the truly excellent submissions under my purview when Dee Dee knocks on my door.
“How are you?” he asks cheerfully.
“Awful,” I reply truthfully, “but I am doing my best.”
“Your best?” Dee Dee repeats as if he did not hear right, “what if your best is not good enough?”
Seconds later these words pierce my mental defenses and I sink to a new low. It must show somehow because Dee Dee explains, “Doing your best is a bare minimum for an employee of the Government Science Agency. You really have to try to better your best.”
“Aaaa,” I moan.
“Ok,” Dee Dee seems keen on healing a terrible wound to my ego that he inflicted seconds ago, “what is it that bothers you at the moment?”
“I have this excellent proposal that I do not see how to fund,” I explain.
“Ah, that is better,” he says, “is it serious stuff?”
“Sure,” I mumble not knowing what it even means.
“Then talk to Mora Le Car,” he says on his way out.
Few days later I set up a stake out in the vicinity of Mora Le Car’s office. I stand absent-mindedly on the corridor looking confused, a plan that fits well with my psychological profile. Half an hour later Mora shows up rushing from behind the corner. I step out of the shadows to confront her.
“Hi Mora! Dee Dee mentioned that I should talk to you,” I begin awkwardly.
Mora stops in her tracks. “Really?” she says seeing the path in front of her unexpectedly blocked.
“I kid you not,” I reply enthusiastically.
Mora Le Car perks up. “Ah, so you have something serious.”
“Huh?” I mutter at this confusing statement.
“You said “I kid you not,”” she replies equally confused.
“Because I don’t. Dee Dee asked me to talk to you,” I explain.
“So you have something serious or not!” she asks with a hint of irritation.
“I do not know,” I mumble as my confusion deepens.
Mora Le Car looks straight at me and decides to take charge of the conversation. “Let’s take a step back. Why exactly did Dee Dee want you to talk to me?”
“To help funding a project,” I answer truthfully sensing momentum ebbing away.
But Mora smiles unexpectedly, “Aha, that is better. Perhaps I really can help.”
“Are you kidding?” I am elated at this turn of events.
“Kid you not,” Mora replies solemnly and pauses looking at me.
“Seriously?” I feel the urge for confirmation.
“That is the question. Is it serious?” she asks and I sense a dreadful deja vu.
“Are you serious?” is all I manage to say.
“What do I have to do with it?” she snaps eyeing me with suspicion.
“Are you kidding?” I ask feeling utter despair at the way this conversation is going.
“Kid you not. This is what you need,” Mora explains patiently.
“Seriously?” I ask suddenly short of breath.
“Must be serious,” she replies.
“I am completely lost,” I confess feeling defeated.
“So do you want this co-funding or not?” Mora Le Car blurts out throwing me another lifeline.
“Are you kidding? Of course I do,” is all I manage to say.
“Kid you not. Write a memo,” Mora instructs me as if all is clear.
“What memo?” I am on the verge of tears.
“Kid you not. A program,” she speaks slowly as if to a child.
“There is a program called “Kid you not”?” I ask feeling dark clouds of misunderstanding suddenly parting.
“Isn’t it what we were talking about for the last 10 minutes?” Mora Le Car is completely dumbfounded.
“What does it cofound?” I plow through, eager to get to the bottom of it.
Mora Le Car is stunned and her jaw drops at least an inch. “You can’t be serious! “Kid you not” funds only serious proposals.”
“I am serious! How much?” I blurt out praying for closure.
“You can get 25% of the budget,” she replies and rushes to her office closing the door behind her.
Soon after I run into Dee Dee again. “You confused me,” I say pretending to be upset, “who would have thought that we have a program called “Kid you not”?”
“We have all sorts of programs,” Dee Dee explains, “but this one is not a program.”
“So what is it?”
“It is a targeted funding opportunity,” says Dee Dee showing off his mastery of govspeak.
“But what is behind the name?”
“This one has many surprising features,” Dee Dee muses, “so many that in fact many colleagues have to suspend their disbelief.”
“Wait a sec,” I get curious, “it can do more than pay 25% of the budget?”
“You are just scratching the surface,” Dee Dee says cryptically as he takes off.
A few days later buoyed by a rush of confidence induced by an extra dose of antidepressants I ambush Mora Le Car in her office.
“25% of the budget is good but it is not good enough,” I say sternly while blocking her office door.
Mora looks at me cooly and calculates her next move. She is trapped and there is no doubt about it.
“How serious is this proposal?” she finally decides to engage the issue.
“Very,” I reply with utmost conviction.
“Says who?” she asks.
I see my positional weakness and stay silent.
“For super serious projects the program kicks in 50%” she explains.
“Are you kidding?” I burst out.
“I kid you not! This is one of the perks.”
“So how serious is super serious?” I decide to go for it.
“I am glad you asked,” she smiles, “this is when someone in another unit of our Agency says it is serious and,” she makes an extra long pause, “decides to co-fund it.”
“Co-fund?!” I am dismayed and defeated, “it looks like a lot of work.”
“Yes,” she says, “it is. But the thing that you have is called a job. Try to think about it this way and do something to earn your keep.”
“It is only a flesh wound,” I whisper to myself as I summon my strength to repeal a gigantic wave of negative energy engulfing me suddenly.
“Any contacts out there?” I am praying for another lifeline.
“Talk to Vasilly Ka-Ching.”
Few days pass as I gather energy for dealing with Vassily Ka-Ching. His office is two floors below and he greets me with unbridled enthusiasm.
“How can I help?” he says jovially.
“Mora Le Car told me that you can help me with co-funding,” I jump straight in.
“Of course I can,” Vassily answers without a second of delay, “how much?”
“100K will do,” I answer marveling how effortless the entire process seems to be and get up, “thank you very much.”
“Just a moment,” Vassily says in a surprisingly firm tone, “would you be interested in one of my projects?”
“Sure,” I reply sensing that the deal is a bit more complex.
“I have one from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he says handing me a printout.
I jump 3 feet back, “Is it …”
“… the head of ISIS?” Vassily finishes the sentence for me, “No it is not. Just the same name, a distant cousin perhaps.”
“But why are you showing me this one?” I ask suddenly feeling very nervous.
“I have them alphabetized and this one is clearly the first on the list,” Vassily explains calmingly, “I did not think you have any preferences.”
“Perhaps I should have,” I confess, “how much do you want?”
“100K will do.”
“But is it serious stuff?” I try to asses the scientific value of his project.
“I will be once you co-fund it!” Vassily is exuberant.
“So we have a deal?” I try to wrap it up.
“Almost,” Vassily gives me a big smile, “but what about baksheesh?”
“Baksheesh?” I am not sure I am hearing correctly.
“A small token of appreciation?” Vassily whispers, “for a successful deal?”
“How small?” I give up.
“20K?” Vassily says, “all for al-Baghdadi.”
“Make sure it is the correct one,” I try joking.
“Ha, ha,” Vassily laughs, “you are a goofer and a tough negotiator. Ka-Ching likes working with you.”
Armed with co-funding codes from Vassily I trudge back to Mora La Car office. I am tired and a bit confused but also filled with pride.
“Mora, I got co-funding from Vassily! A whole 100K!” I yell the moment I see her.
“Are you kidding?” she asks facetiously.
“I kid you not,” I reply with the phrase that started it all and we wink to each other cementing the invisible bond.
“Did you promise to co-fund one of his projects?” Mora asks.
“Yes I did. A 100K.” I decide not to mention baksheesh.
“Good,” she says warmly, “then I have a surprise for you.”
“Surprise?” I am suddenly very nervous.
“Relax,” she laughs, “you gonna like it.”
“Yes, you only need to give 50K to Vassily and we cover the rest,” she uncovers the last feature of her program.
“Are you kidding?” is all I can say.
“I kid you not!” she says laughing.
“Unbelievable, simply unbelievable,” I mutter to myself and start planning my next funding moves.
Several months pass and the summer approaches. It is time to return to academia after a busy year at the Government Science Agency. The farewell party is in the atrium of our new building. Everybody is present and chocolate fountain is the main attraction. “I kid you not” is the hottest science program in decades, and “serious science” is the topic of the day. Mora Le Car and her team are receiving “Employee of the Year” awards and I am getting “Most Valuable Player” badge. We are wearing T-shorts with “Are you kidding?” on the back, and “Kid you not!” in front and next to Government Science Agency logo. Refrigerator magnets with a picture of laughing Albert Einstein pointing his finger and saying “Are you kidding?” and lots of other souvenirs are up for grabs.
Just this morning Science Insider had a long editorial on serious science and proclaimed that doing only serious science would result in huge savings, and what can I say, in times of austerity the Agency is paying attention.
“Kid you not” program awakened layers of curiosity and inquisitiveness in the federal bureaucrats who in turn infected the scientific community. Chronicle of Higher Education brings a story of a well-known mathematician who one day got our of his office, went two floors down to enter office of a lesser-known biologist and offered him a cup of coffee in return for a couple of Oreo cookies. This innocent interaction at first almost led to a 911 call, but in the end resulted in a paper in PNAS. I kid you not, and this is just the beginning!