As a liberal who proudly voted for President Obama, I am disappointed by his recent decision to elevate Gregory Jaczko to the position of Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC has serious public business to address, and the chairman is the organization’s public face and chief administrator.
Working backwards from his publicly available biography, I cannot find any positions that would qualify him for this important responsibility. He is 38 years old and has served on the NRC for the past 4 years. Before that, he was a staffer for Senator Harry Reid and a staffer for Representative Edward Markey. He completed his PhD work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000 and seems to have been a political operative ever since.
Since my education and experience is in applied technology, I am having a hard time understanding exactly what it was that Jaczko studied for his PhD. Perhaps one of you can translate the below abstract of his contribution to science:
I develop an effective theory to describe the low energy behavior of baryons. The theory is motivated by several issues facing nonperturbative quantum chromodynamic (QCD) calculations: the use of the quenched approximation for exact QCD calculations, the apparent success of nonrelativistic quark flavor models and the difficulties of standard, chiral perturbation theories. These problems are addressed by considering the baryon as a composite object, preserving the spin and flavor identity of the constituent quarks. This approach differs from standard chiral perturbation theory techniques that treat baryons as elementary particles. The method also allows us to construct effective quark-meson interactions that approximate the loop effects omitted in exact QCD calculations using the quenched approximation. These quark-meson interactions enable reparametrizations of the tree level interactions for many of the calculated loop results, reducing the size and improving the convergence of the loop diagrams. Furthermore, we relate tree-level couplings in the effective theory to equivalent matrix elements of nonrelativistic and semirelativistic quark models. This effective theory introduces several new elements. We construct a new octet baryon operator and octet baryon propagator. We also develop new effective mass and magnetic moment couplings that significantly reduce the number of free parameters in the theory, providing physical interpretation for the parameters appearing in standard chiral perturbation theory and improving its predictability. The theory is successfully used to determine baryon masses and magnetic moments using a small number of free parameters. We duplicate previous numerical results from chiral perturbation theory and provide improved results in many cases. In all cases, we determine excellent fits to the masses and moments using a small number of free parameters.
If you wonder what the practical applications are for such research, you may understand why Chairman Jaczko took that degree and did nothing with it other than to use it as a stepping stone for a political career. In his choice of career, advancement is more often a matter of knowing the right people and holding acceptable positions rather than knowing how to do something useful or how to solve practical problems.
It does not do much to reinforce my optimism for the future to recognize one more example of someone in an important position of energy decision making who has a solidly insufficient level of knowledge and experience for the task that he faces. (The other recently appointed example is Jon Wellinghoff.)