Guest Post: The Euclid Consortium has an EDI challenge if ESA goes ahead with SpaceX

The following is a guest post from Arthur Loureiro who is Euclid Science Ground Segment Senior Scientist at the The University of Edinburgh. Opinions expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Euclid Collaboration nor the University of Edinburgh.

This guest post is based on an open letter sent by Arthur Loureiro & Gabriele Mainetti to the Euclid Consortium Diversity Committee.

–o–

According to news outlets, the European Space Agency is considering using Elon Musk’s SpaceX to send the Euclid Space Telescope to L2. SpaceX is seen as an alternative to fill the gap left by the Soyuz spacecraft – removed by Roscosmos as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia made its first invasion of Ukraine back in 2014 and, since then, ESA had plans to use the future Ariane 6 rocket to deliver Euclid. But the plan to use Ariane 6 went to space (differently from Euclid) as Ariane Space signed their largest contract ever with… Bezos! The comic book vilan billionaire doesn’t seem to have enough rockets in his back garden. He needs to cut the queue ahead of Euclid to send more space junk low-orbit satellites for Amazon.

So, off to SpaceX we (seem to) go.

The issue is that SpaceX’s CEO is known to be a complicated figure (to say the least!). Musk has attacked multiple times subjects at the core of the Euclid Collaboration’s values. We cannot claim to care for diversity, inclusion, equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, climate change, vaccines, and democracy and close a deal with such a vile figure. Launching the Euclid telescope via SpaceX would mean dumping millions of euros in the pockets of someone who is very vocal against these values.

In case our telescope decides to hitch a $50+M hike in SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Euclid Collaboration has an EDI challenge ahead.

Personally, as one of the few Latin Americans involved in Euclid, it feels like a slap in the face to know we will be doing business with him. Musk has zero respect for the fragile democracy we have in our southern continent. In 2020, for example, Musk said “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it” about the coup against the elected president Evo Morales in Bolivia. For context, the coup was mainly motivated by gaining access to Bolivia’s Lithium reserve. I find this statement absurdly disturbing. Reminiscents of a (hopefully) long gone colonial epoch.

I cannot speak for the group, but I suspect the feeling must be similar for the LGBTQIA+ community within Euclid. Musk has consistently and openly attacked the LGBTQIA+ community on multiple fronts. For the (few) women in the Collaboration, I imagine the feeling is of absolute repulse and disgust. On top of other issues Musk has with women, the telescope they have been working for will be (possibly) launched by SpaceX where recent accusations of sexual harassment have been raised against the CEO.

As a collective and diverse group of scientists, engineers, and academics, are we endorsing Musk and his attitudes by signing a multi-million dollar contract with his company?

As a collaboration that endorses the values of EDI, science, and democracy, what are we going to do to mitigate the damage caused by paying this person and company so much money?

How are we going to deal with the bitter taste (to say the least) left for those members of the EC that has been directly or indirectly attacked by Musk and his followers?

Euclid must fly to its final destination at L2. We cannot wait to see all that our Dark Universe mission has to reveal to us! If ESA decides to use Musk’s SpaceX, that is beyond the Euclid Collaboration’s decision power. However, the Collaboration can and must discuss how to avoid being linked in any way, shape or form to this despicable figure before we change from ESA’s Euclid Mission to Elon’s Euclid Mission. Credit to Musk must be avoided at all costs as the cost will be Euclid’s shot at being a diverse and inclusive Collaboration.

32 Responses to “Guest Post: The Euclid Consortium has an EDI challenge if ESA goes ahead with SpaceX”

  1. I understand the emotions behind this post. EDI is crucial to science. But was the same issue raised when using Russian rockets? Russia was not particularly known to be champion of rights and diversity, even before going to war. Or is this directed at Musk only and personally? And what is calling Bezos a villain supposed to achieve? Personal attacks rarely achieve anything that isn’t cause for regret afterwards.

    • Hi Albert, that’s a good point!
      I think the situation with SpaceX here differs from that of Soyuz because the contract with Soyuz was drafted before the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. There were complaints inside the collaboration after that to procure novel launch alternatives, but since there was a contract in place, I am not sure ESA could have done anything. The situation here is different, a contract is about to be signed, according to the news.
      On attacking billionaires, personally, I could not care less. Sorry. Nobody should have that much money and nobody can make that much money in a legal and moral way.

      • Thank you for your response. I understand the feelings. But I don’t blame billionaires for having money. Admittedly I don’t know any, so I don’t know what they are like! Presumably every one is different, just like everyone else.

  2. Jarle Brinchmann Says:

    I am not going to get into the discussion in detail here – I understand the concerns and it was something that was discussed lively at the Euclid Consortium meeting in Oslo (with a range of opinions). Starlink and its impact on astronomy also featured highly in that – it would be ironic to launch on a facility that also is used to launch a satellite constellation that strongly jeopardize (part of) ground-based astronomy.

    However I wanted to highlight two points to complement the piece. The first is simply (as noted towards the end) that it is not the Euclid Consortium that does business with SpaceX nor do we endorse the launcher. This kind of decision is political, and the main thing a consortium can fight for is arguably to have the launch reasonably soon to protect the careers of all the scientists who have put so much of their scientific effort into making the mission possible.

    The second is that I think it is a fair question whether _any_ launch provider is unproblematic. If there aren’t Twitter unpleasantness it is links to the military industrial complex. We often don’t reflect on it as it is much less visible than Musk’s Twitter rants, but there might be reasons to feel unclean regardless of the launch facility used.

    • It’s worth noting that SpaceX and other megaconstellations also jeopardise some space based astronomy, including HST, and future LEO large field survey instruments. The problem isn’t just some bit of ground based astronomy. There are also larger ecological issues and problems with an overall brightening of the sky.
      I’m also concerned by today’s message from the Euclid project which seems to be an attempt to censor public discussion by members of the project on this and related issues. Is this really a place that project management wants to go?

      • Jarle Brinchmann Says:

        True, I emphasised ground-based just because it seems to me that the impact is largest there but it is not limited to that, that is true. As for the email, no idea but I do note that at least some people were asked back in the late spring to exercise some caution with public comments to simplify discussions, and it is the same message here.

      • The impact on LEO observatories surprised me, I must admit.

        As to the email, the way I read it, it wasn’t a request to exercise caution, which would not be unreasonable, it was an instruction to keep any discussion & communication inside Euclid ie. an attempt at censorship. ‘We ask that’ is very different to ‘we suggest or advise that’. I can see why some might want such a quick fix, but it is just going to make matters worse. I suspect it already has.

  3. Not that I want to defend Bezos, but is blaming him in any way accurate? As far as I know, all launches for his project would be later than the planned Euclid launch. There are other telecommunications satellites in line for Ariane 6 before Euclid, but Bezos has nothing to do with them.

  4. This is a pretty silly letter. None of the complaints about Musk have any real substance to them. The letter writer just doesn’t like that Musk has different views from him on some issues.

    Yet, the whole basis of a liberal democracy is that we accept as fellow citizens people who we disagree with (settling policy by voting, where appropriate). In collaborations as large as Euclid and SpaceX there are bound to be many people with different politics. (And if there isn’t then *that* is a real diversity problem.) We should not try to make large collaborations into political mono-cultures where only (approx) half the population would be welcome to participate.

  5. So let’s actually analyse this central sentence of the article:

    “We cannot claim to care for diversity, inclusion, equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, climate change, vaccines, and democracy and close a deal with such a vile figure.”

    The link for “diversity” complains that minority cares are under-represented in Tesla’s management, though it accepts that they are a large component of the overall workforce. Hmm. Does that makes Elon “vile”?

    The link for “inclusion” complains that a wave of layoffs included two people involved in diversity programs. That’s it, that’s the complaint? Should anyone involved with diversity be automatically exempt from being laid off?

    The link for “LGBTQIA+ rights” merely complains that some LGB+ workers at Twitter might decide to leave if Musk buys it. That’s it, that’s the complaint.

    The link for “climate change” is to a Tweet saying “Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming”, followed by “And I do think global warming is a major risk”. That’s it? So Musk saying that climate change is a “major risk” makes him so “vile” that you can’t work with him?

    The link for “vaccines” is to an article that says nothing at all about vaccines. (Seriously, it doesn’t!)

    The link for “democracy” merely complains that, if Musk buys Twitter then Twitter would not be run as a democracy. Well it’s not run that way now, is it? Seriously, that’s the complaint.

    So that’s it. I mean, come on, is this article supposed to have serious substance, or is it just a whine that Musk is not as woke as the author?

    • You seem to be rather selective here. For example on the ‘democracy’ issue you totally ignore Musk’s intent to ‘coup whoever we want’, while his willingness to pay off those alleging sexual abuse is approaching Trumpian levels.

      Euclid as a consortium has clearly stated values. You might not agree with them but that is where we are. How it reacts, and what it should do, when it is told to work with someone at odds with those values is the question, whether that is Musk or Roscosmos. ESA would rather ignore the issue. Is that right? Should scientists just shut up and follow orders, or should we stand up for those principles and make a noise?

      • First, I didn’t ignore anything; I was just analysing one sentence, not the whole piece (which would take way too long).

        Second, Musk regularly trolls Twitter with flippant tweets. The “coup” tweet was a joke.

        Third, yes, Euclid has stated values. But one of those is diversity of *opinion*. The above letter is actually contrary to Euclid’s code of conduct, since it attempts to impose uniformity of opinion on a range of issues unrelated to Euclid. You might not agree with Euclid’s stated code of conduct, but that is where we are.

        Fourth, the only issue above that is actually relevant to Euclid’s code of conduct is the sexual harassment accusations (where the word “accusations” is pertinent). I, for one, don’t know the truth of that matter.

        So, if the letter writers care to re-write focusing on issues that are actually in line with Euclid’s code of conduct, then they should go ahead.

      • telescoper Says:

        Now this is untrue. The letter does not seek to impose any opinions on anyone. It merely states the authors’ point of view.

        The Euclid Code of Conduct requires one to “treat such opinions with civility”. I suggest you start doing that, as your previous seem to me to be notably lacking in civility.

      • Choosing to analyse one sentence selectively while missing others that undermine your point is very Muskian. And while you may choose to interpret a tweet as a joke, that is not so easy for someone from a country that was a victim of past couping and a target for future coups.

      • I apologise for any incivility, though I was largely responding to the tone of the letter; I do get slightly exasperated by the modern fashion for damning someone with a whole lot of assertions, most of which amount to nothing.

        But, how is an open letter saying that Euclid should refuse to have anything to do with someone, owing to their views on X, Y and Z, *not* an attempt to impose uniformity of opinion?

      • It’s an argument intended to persuade. Arthur is in no position to impose anything on anyone.

      • OK, so rather than “attempting to impose” I’ll rephrase to “lobbying to have imposed”.

        As an aside, I would be fine with the Euclid code of conduct. But it’s worth noting that in this century I’ve not encountered even one suggestion that anyone should be excluded from science/academia owing to their sex, race, sexuality, trans status, or anything such. Not even once from anyone.

        On the other hand, in the last few years there have been multiple and growing suggestions that various people should be excluded from science/academia owing to having opinions that are mainstream and widespread, but are out of line with woke ideology (and multiple such people have indeed been forced out of academia).

        It’s ironic that the drive to create an opinion mono-culture is strongest amongst those professing support for “diversity”, and the calls for exclusion come loudest from those professing their insistence on “inclusion”.

      • If you’ve not been hearing those suggestions then you have either not been paying attention or are ignoring clear evidence that it happens eg. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lgbt-physicists-face-discrimination-exclusion-intimidation/

      • That article contains no quotes from anyone saying that LGBT people or anyone else should be excluded from science/academia. Can you give any such quote?

      • The behaviour is clear. You don’t have to make a statement that a group should be excluded if your actions show you wish to exclude them. For example at CERN posters from the LGBTQ+ group were repeatedly taken down, or defaced with calls for violence against gay men.

        Meanwhile, there are, this century, many countries across the world where being LGBTQ+ is illegal, with punishments up to and including the death penalty. These are certainly places that would exclude LGBTQ+ people from academia. https://www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/

        Further, there are many private universities in the US that still, this century, have explicit policies excluding gay people from academic positions – they’re not only saying that LGBTQ+ people should be excluded from academia, that is their policy. https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/spu-student-outcry-over-lgbtq-employment-policy-shows-a-lot-of-heart/

      • I wrote a reply to this which seems to have gone missing in action. A couple of points were:

        – there are countries this century with laws and severe punishments against being LGBTQI+ which would exclude LGBTQI+ people from academia.

        – there are universities this century in the US, and doubtless elsewhere, which have specific hiring policies against eg. LGBTQI+ people, excluding them from academia.

      • I grant you that outside the Western world things are bad for LGB+ people. And, yes, there does seem to have been a Leviticus-quoting religious nut in CERN who (wrongly) deplores gay co-workers. But such a person (rightly) gets no wider support in today’s academia in the Western world.

        So I’ll re-state somewhat: in Western science/academia today, the open and un-ashamed calls for mono-culture and exclusion that do gain traction and support, are actually coming from those loudest in their cheering for “diversity” and “inclusion”.

        We need to be more tolerant and inclusive of everyone, including those with different opinions or politics.

      • I note that you choose not to address my other example, of various institutions in the western world that are happy to exclude LGBTQ+ individuals, and their growing influence. While I’m certainly happy to embrace a diversity of views, you do have to draw the line somewhere – would you want to give a QANON conspiracy theorist equal weight to a cosmologist, for example?

  6. […] may nor may not agree with the blog post by Arthur Loureiro about Elon Musk and SpaceX that was published here last week, but I think it raises a similar […]

  7. The letter is not saying that Euclid ‘should refuse to have anything to do with’ SpaceX and Elon Musk. Instead it asks what the consortium should do to avoid implied endorsement of Musk, how we should mitigate any damage caused by dealing with him, and how to cope with the bitter taste that many might feel by being put into this position. This is not saying that we should have nothing to do with him.

    • So saying that we “must discuss how to avoid being linked in any way, shape or form to this despicable figure” is not “saying that we should have nothing to do with him”?

  8. ‘Having nothing to do with’ and ‘avoiding being linked with’ are two different things. A commercial launch with Roscosmos does not necessarily *link you* to Putin’s Russia in other than a commercial manner. Commercial links with Russia are understandably no longer possible. A commercial launch with SpaceX is quite possible, and ‘If ESA decides to use Musk’s SpaceX, that is beyond the Euclid Collaboration’s decision power’. The question is what should Euclid do if/when that happens, and the letter suggests that links beyond commercial ones would not be acceptable. Renaming the mission Musks’ Dark Energy Probe, for example, should be right out.

    • No, “having nothing to do with” and “avoid[ing] being linked in any way, shape or form” (the last bit of the phrase matters) are not two different things.

      As your own wording accepts, a commerical link is one way of being linked.

      The letter does not suggest that “links beyond commercial ones would not be acceptable” it says that links “in any way, shape or form” are unacceptable to the letter writer.

  9. You might understand better what the letter writers intended if you had engaged with them rather than sniping at them. I can assure you, based on my communications with them, that the meaning I have placed on their words is what they meant. Moreover, I would suggest that a simple commercial transaction is *not* a link in this context, as the original letter implies by its acceptance that this is a decision for ESA that the Euclid Consortium has little influence over. My wording above may have not been as precise as you might wish, but that’s the way it is.

    I don’t think any further discussion on this side of the issue is useful.

    • It’s not my fault that the letter is badly written; indeed, the fact that it is a mess of vague accusations with little substance is my underlying point.

      No-one has suggested anything beyond a simple commercial transaction whereby SpaceX is paid to launch Euclid. If the letter writer has no problem with that then there is no need for the letter.

  10. I’m sure you’d be able to do so much better in a language that is not your own.

    Heading off possibilities beyond a simple commercial transaction is the point. Better to be prepared in advance.

  11. […] Guest Post: The Euclid Consortium has an EDI challenge if ESA goes ahead with SpaceX […]

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