The End of the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS)
I recently sat down for lunch with a former staff member of the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS). As a long time follower of the UFO field, over the years I had often heard stories and read rumors on message boards posted by conspiratorial minded Ufologists that NIDS was a front for the CIA; that NIDS had in its possession a crashed alien spacecraft; that NIDS was privy to secrets regarding alien technology; and many others.
Now that my acquaintance was no longer in their employ, I pressed for answers to these wild claims. As I suspected, nothing could have been further from the truth. Many in the UFO community looked to NIDS to "solve" the UFO problem. Some seemed to spend more time and energy gossiping about what NIDS was investigating, what NIDS should be investigating, or what information NIDS was hiding, than doing any original research of their own.
I learned that the real question is not what stunning information NIDS is hiding, but how a research organization could have such a poor track record of accomplishment over such an extended period of time.
My acquaintance confided that largely unknown to outsiders, NIDS fell prey to a variety of internal problems: poor management, lack of direction, lack of creativity, lack of funding, a negative company culture, poor hiring decisions, and low morale fueled by annual layoffs. This was compounded by the elusive nature of the field of study. In one example, when my acquaintance, newly hired, asked for direction, the response given was to "spend a couple of hours a day surfing the web for items of interest." (!)
According to this former staff member, "the unwritten rule for survival at NIDS was 'stay below the radar.' This applied even to the Administrator. Coming up with creative new ideas only threatened the leadership, and calling attention to the lack of direction or lack of work load only risked being put under the spotlight of Bigelow's attention — which could easily lead to being fired. It was this culture of fear that paralyzed the organization from the top down."
While many lessons can be learned from the problems at the National Institute for Discovery Science, for now the UFO community should simply know that after 9 years, NIDS as a research organization is over. Investigator Roger Pinson quit in January 2004, and with the May 2004 layoff of Deputy Administrator Bruce Cornet, there is no investigative staff remaining. (Dr. Cornet moved across the country to take the position at NIDS, only to be laid off by Bigelow less than 4 months later with no severence package and before he was there long enough to collect unemployment.) While you wouldn't know it from looking at the NIDS web site, the focus of the Science Advisory Board was long ago shifted to mainstream aerospace research. The National Institute for Discovery Science now consists only of Administrator Colm Kelleher, a receptionist, and a part-time site designer.
In a desperate attempt to keep sighting reports coming in (and to keep what little funding is remaining), the current Administrator is trying to maintain a ruse that NIDS is still an active research organization. As of July, the NIDS web site still lists the Science Advisory Board, and Dr. Bruce Cornet is still listed as staff, despite the fact that he was laid off months ago. I was also told that while addressing the audience at a recent scientific conference, the current Administrator stated that NIDS has in its employ a full time veterinarian, a fact that hasn't been true for at least 3 years!
Sadly, the final product of the National Institute for Discovery Science will have nothing to do with shedding light on the nature of the UFO enigma. What NIDS has to offer is a case study in how not to run an anomalies research organization. Before future attempts are made to conduct anomalies research on a similar scale, it would be wise to learn from the mistakes made at the National Institute for Discovery Science.
It is time for the UFO community to stop speculating on the research being conducted at the National Institute for Discovery Science and devise new research projects of their own. Otherwise, indeed they will be waiting a very long time for NIDS to share their research results — not, however, because NIDS is keeping them secret (which has always been the accusation), but because it is no longer conducting original research of any kind.