SIGMA follow-up

Long over-due post following up on SIGMA, the science fiction writers group started by Arlan Andrews to consult to the government previously blogged about here.

I had the opportunity to chat with Arlan Andrews about SIGMA. Here's what he had to say. 

MountainRunner: What's the story behind the missing SIGMA website? Some bloggers have questioned why it doesn't exist.

Arlan Andrews: The main reason SIGMA has no website is that I haven't gotten around to it, though I am the owner of eight or ten different domains, and have owned probably thirty over the past ten years (and sold a few at a profit!).

Fact is, I never saw the need for such a site, as, so far, e-mail and personal contact have sufficed for the very few needs we ever had, and there was never any intention to publicize SIGMA outside of possible government users.  When the opportunities arose in D.C., some of us even discussed whether we wanted any PR and then decided, what the hell, let it happen.  What's the worst that can happen?

MR: Ok, so no website, what about a blog?

AA: I may start a website for potential agencies to peruse, but no way am I going to have a SIGMA blog anytime soon; what I've read in the b-sphere about DHS and SIGMA reveals so much ignorance and conspiracy orientation that there is little room to discuss anything.  Besides, most of us have private lives and limited time.

As one government official told me, "It's amazing that the institutions that should disparage SIGMA (Congress, the dinosaur media) generally approve of the concept, but the so-called free-thinkers in the blogosphere are trashing it.  Makes you wonder."

MR: At the DHS Science & Technology conference recently, SIGMA members in attendance included Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Sage Walker, Eric Kontani, and of course yourself. Are there other SIGMA members?

AA: Other SIGMA members include Doug Beason, David Brin, Greg Benford and Stan Schmidt, editor of ANALOG, all of whom didn't attend the DHS meetings for various reasons.

MR: Are you limiting SIGMA membership in anyway?

AA: After the D.C. event, and even before, we had decided to bring in other SF writers, and those invitations went out from me yesterday, potentially doubling the size of the group.  The idea is not to exclude anyone -- almost every SF writer has great ideas -- but to keep this group at a manageable size and see how it works if it doubles.  Some of the writers' whose names were mentioned in your blog may have been invited, or may not have been.  Those people will handle their responses as they see fit.  SIGMA is strictly voluntary in all respects; anyone can decline any potential tasking for any reason, no questions asked.

MR: What are you accomplishing with SIGMA?

AA: Well we had the chance actually to get some [science fiction-based] ideas into the minds of the government decision-makers and funders, and we did so.  We will continue to do so.  We will help protect you and your families as well as our own.

MR: What do you think about the disparaging comments on SIGMA's assistance to the Government?

AA: I feel no need to defend the desire to protect the lives and welfares of our citizens.  I might remind the wingnuts out there on both sides (and I know some of each, and have already argued with them  on the phone and in person) that some of the DHS component organizations include the Coast Guard (anything wrong with helping them in Search and Rescue?), Customs (anything wrong with suggesting ways to prevent drugs, weapons, biotoxins from coming in?), FEMA (none of us is happy with FEMA -- but wouldn't everyone love the opportunity to help straighten them out?), TSA (want to minimize those annoying inspections?  So did we!), and commercial aircraft defense (want to prevent the airplane you're riding in from being shot down during takeoff and landing?  So do we.)

Update: Greg Baer was on John Stewart June 21, 2007. H/T Kathryn.