Doubting Consultant Quits ‘Star Wars’ Panel
A computer scientist who has been a consultant to the military for more than a decade has resigned from a “Star Wars” advisory panel, convinced that its complex anti-missile defense will not work and research for it will be a waste of money.
“My judgment is that research in ‘Star Wars’ is going to fail and I believe this so strongly that I’m willing to stake my professional reputation on this,” said David Parnas, a professor at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. “I don’t believe anybody is going to build this thing.”
Parnas, who resigned in June from a 10-member panel whose members are paid $1,000 a day, reached his conclusion after spending two weeks preparing position papers identifying the problems connected with creating a computer program for managing a battle against incoming missiles and nuclear warheads. The central problem, he said, is that the programming could not be tested unless the United States was under attack.
“I came to the conclusion that they weren’t going to solve them” because of “very fundamental mathematical problems,” he said in a telephone interview.
Others disagreed, saying Parnas acted too hastily in reaching a conclusion about a concept that has not been fully developed. They emphasized that the purpose of the panel is to explore problems and try to solve them.
Parnas, a U.S. citizen, is cleared for access to military secrets and has worked as a consultant for the Naval Research Laboratory since 1972. He also has taught at the University of North Carolina.
Other scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe, also oppose “Star Wars” on grounds that it will be unworkable and may fuel the arms race. But Parnas’ resignation marks the first known instance in which a scientist hired by the Strategic Defense Initiative Office, as “Star Wars” is known formally, has quit.
“There are other opinions,” said another panel member, Charles Seitz, a professor of computer science at Caltech in Pasadena. “I’m not convinced that it’s either feasible or infeasible. There are interesting problems, difficult problems, and programming is one of them.”