The National S(mut)cience Foundation

By Julianne Dalcanton | January 29, 2009 1:29 am

Oh. My.

It seems that in between administering grants, some personnel at the NSF have been watching porn. A lot of porn. While at the office.

Politico reports:

In one particularly egregious case, the report says one NSF “senior official” was discovered to have spent as much as 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year interval “viewing sexually explicit images and engaging in sexually explicit online ‘chats’ with various women.”

As a result, Senator Grassley is threatening to hold up the NSF’s share of the stimulus package.

Grassley’s office has asked the foundation to turn over all “specific reports of investigations, audit reports, evaluations and information supporting the examination of the NSF network drive” by Thursday in an effort to “ensure that NSF properly fulfills its mission to strengthen scientific and engineering research, and makes responsible use of the public funding provided for these research disciplines.”

“The semiannual report raises real questions about how the National Science Foundation manages its resources, and Congress ought to demand a full accounting before it gives the agency another $3 billion in the stimulus bill,” Grassley said.

I’m sure this is comedy gold, but, I can’t seem to get past “Ick” and “Ugh”.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
  • Brian Mingus

    The only part of this story that is surprising is that it took IT two years to bust him.

    That a survival machine was caught looking at porn is not news.

  • Julianne

    It’s not surprising that people look at porn. I’ve got no problem with people looking at porn. Just not at the office.

  • Jim

    I don’t think that’s what they meant by “stimulus”. Or “package”.

  • frw

    looking at porn only 20% of the time at work…that’s nothing. Still working 80% of the time! Give the guy a break.

  • Brian’s A Wild Downer

    I fail to see the problem

  • john

    Some people waste 20 percent of their time at work yapping on the phone, gossiping with co-workers, or staring into space. And some people look at porn…what’s the big deal? As long as it’s discreet it is no worse than all the other ways in which people waste time at work.

    Also, just to clue you in… this is a lot more common than you think! So, get over it.

    And do you realize how boring of job it must be to read grants all day? I’m surprised he didn’t spend 80 percent of his time looking at porn.

  • Maugrim

    I’m guessing he didn’t work in an open-plan office :)

  • Pozsi

    He clearly has a problem discerning NSF form NSFW

  • Not an american

    Indeed, get over it. I don’t see how watching porn is worse than any other way of wasting time at work.

    And if I have a private office, I will pretty much look at anything I want, thank you very much. I like porn. Everyone likes porn. Your husband most likely likes porn. Oh, and he probably masturbates. Icky!

  • Jim

    News flash: EVERYBODY (except you) has watched some form of porn at work at some time. Welcome to the 21st century! I just think it’s funny that you seem to be completely clueless of this fact! LOL!

    See what happens if you suggest a search of all computers in your faculty department. LOL!

  • Alex F

    20% isn’t much if the windows are open in the background. If you checked my computer logs you could probably prove I spend 70% of my time on Facebook, 40% of my time on gchat, and 95% of my time reading random blogs.

    The percentages do add up to 100, by the way: I spend -105% of my time working. (I’m a grad student).

  • Fernando

    I probably spend 15-20% on google reader.
    Still, this gives a whole new meaning to Peep and the big wide world :)

  • greg

    When I first saw a headline about this, my assumption was that it was a clever joke about some sort of study on the effects of watching porn.

    After I read the article, I wished it had been.

  • Bryan

    FRD must be a porn dog, not really caring that 20% is no big deal. I wonder what his boss would say if he found him viewing porn at work….or maybe only 5% of his payed time. hum…….

  • Bryan

    After reading the rest of the comments if seems that many don’t think porn is a big deal at work. Clearly a snapshot of todays ethics. Porn at work NO! it’s masturbation of the mind, save it for home. (what a bunch of loosers).

  • Jason Heldenbrand

    I’m surprised their IT guys don’t have better filters. I have a hard time even browsing the web outside weather/news here at work. Thankfully I can still get to here and to Wired.

  • Jeff Darcy

    As others have pointed out, porn is just one of many ways people waste time at work, and there’s no reason an employer should consider it any worse than others unless it’s illegal (including hostile-environment laws to prevent sexual harassment) or consumes unreasonable amounts of network resources. Among those who seem to think it’s utterly unacceptable to view porn at work, how many have spent work time reading or posting to blogs, exchanging jokes via email, and so on? Any such are hypocrites. The problem is the 20%, not the porn.

    I’d also like to add a special note for Bryan. My employer, like most nowadays, fails to respect that my time at home should be my own. I say that not to condemn them – this same blurring of boundaries exists in just about every workplace nowadays – but to point out that treating my time at work as exclusively theirs would be accepting a double standard. This mixing of company time and personal time is recognized by employers, and is usually to their benefit. In my own case, my employer and I both realize that for every hour I spend commenting on blogs from work (like right now) there are three that I spend working at home (like last night). They accept that trade, I accept it, they’d be fools to screw it up, and they know that. They’d be no better off if I spent 100% of my time at work doing work stuff but went home earlier and never logged in from home (plus I’d be very grumpy about it and less productive as a result). Again, the issue is not how much time employees spend doing non-work things at work, but how much time they spend doing work things either at work or at home and how effectively they use that time to meet the company’s goals.

    People should be judged by the results they achieve, not how they arrange their time to achieve those results. In the case that started this, I’d be more concerned with how well the NSF “senior official” did his job than with anything else. Why does nobody else even seem to care about that? If there’s an ethical lapse involved here, it’s as much the employers’ and critics’ as anyone’s.

  • damn!

    This is just another example of how this feminized society expects men to contantly apologize for being men. If he did his work, I couldn’t care less if he watched porn.

    I would say that about 99.99% of the guys watch porn. And the rest don’t have internet. (But of course, most men won’t accept this and some even like to act outraged or claim that they merely find porn funny. This last group cracks me up.) Yes, your co-bloggers, family members, all watch porn. Why have a benchmark of moral conduct that is unattainable to practically any man? Chicks in relationships think that porn is a reflection of why they cannot satisfy the guy or something. Thats rubbish. Even in the best relationships I have been in, I have looked at porn daily or every other day. There is a wandering aspect in my brain, which a relationship simply cannot fulfill. Its not your job to worry about that side of me. Simple as that. There is something in my head that wants me to go for new girl every now and then. My suspicion is that men were supposed to have one main relationship and some mini-affairs on the side back in the day. Since I don’t want to ruin a good relationship, I let porn take care of the mini-affair side.

    Don’t get me wrong, my current girlfriend is cool and is okay with it, but I have had to deal with unbelievable amounts of shit about this sort of thing in the past. Of course, the more they try to control what I do, the more obstinately I resist and the relationship goes south from there.

    And save me the BS about it is only because it is at work. If he was reading blogs for 20% of the time, nobody would give a rat’s ass as long as he also did his work.

  • The Almighty Bob

    “The only part of this story that is surprising is that it took IT two years to bust him.”
    Unless they’re absolutely useless, they knew about it long before. IT are privy to way too much of other people’s lives, and therefore tend to a kind of compassionate blindness – or, occasionally, extortion. (“,)

  • Sili

    Tsk tsk tsk.

    Of course the senator is making a fuss.

    Really. You’re supposed to spend your time at work talking dirty to the interns. Don’t therse people know anything?!

  • Chris

    It was research! He was doing it for SCIENCE!!!

  • PornDog

    “Ick” and “Ugh” tells me a lot more about Julianne than I wanted to know.

  • Julianne

    Look y’all. “Ick” means I’d rather not think of the possibility that my program officer is looking at while I’m talking to him on the phone. “Ugh” means that there may be actual fallout that affects the main mission of the NSF, because someone couldn’t wait a few hours before going to a live chat line.

    As I said above, I don’t care how much or what kind of porn people watch on their own time. Sex is natural, people are horny — I get that. But there are lots of bodily functions that society doesn’t encourage in public environments, because they’re distracting. You don’t pee in the office’s palm tree and you don’t make out in the conference room. Maybe you’re not grossed out by either of those things, but some fraction of your coworkers are, so you just don’t do them. Likewise, some fraction of your coworkers are likely to be squicked out by you watching porn and/or handling your junk right before a meeting, so you don’t do that at work either. “Professionalism” exists for a reason — yeah, it’s constricting and unnatural, but it gets rid of a lot of distractions that interfere with getting work done.

  • gopher65

    I agree with “damn!”. The reason guys like porn and women don’t is because (back in pre-civilization times) guys would… “engage” multiple women, while women were attempting to find a stable father and caregiver for their children. It makes perfect evolutionary sense, because it maximizes the chances that prime individuals of either gender would manage to pass on their genes.

    And, as damn! said, these instincts still exist. Guys look at porn as a way to alleviate our instinctual desires, since, frankly, none of us (who are sane) actually want relationships with multiple women. That’s just too much work;). One is enough, thank you very much. But our instincts are too stupid to realize that. Thus, porn. It is the perfect solution.

  • gopher65

    “You don’t pee in the office’s palm tree” <———– waaaaaa?! We're not suppose to do that??


  • Mark

    Don’t justify yourself Julianne. I think one could write a post stating that puppies are cute, but making clear that this in no way means you are against kittens, and it would elicit all three of the following responses:

    1. It is ridiculous that you hate kittens so much – I’m sick of the pro-puppy bias on this so-called “science” blog.
    2. Puppies are not “cute” – they are pests who destroy perfectly useful slippers – you are naive if you think otherwise, or perhaps you elitist fancy-pants professors can afford new slippers whenever you need them.
    3. It is so silly how Americans are enamored of young animals. It is because they are a young and immature people and identify with such creatures.

  • Luke

    The most ridiculous part of the story is the fact that the senator wants to withhold funds from the NSF until Congress gets a “full accounting”. Imagine if the person watching the porn at work was an Air Force officer or a manager at the Social Security Administration. Would the senator demand that all Air Force jets be grounded or would he suggest S.S. checks stop getting mailed out until he got a full accounting?

    I really hope that the people of Iowa call him and send him letters telling hime to focus on more important things.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Hey, so long as the perps. were hooked up to anatomically-appropriate plesythmographs, then we’re doing some valuable sex research here.

  • Phil

    As a Security guy, I can definitely see where porn is worse than say, Google Reader, news, etc. Porn websites are very often attack vectors for malicious code. If I were the CIO of NSF, I would not want my network being exposed to that risk. Granted, I’m wondering why porn sites weren’t blocked to begin with. The agency I work for has a pretty open internet policy for research, news, and whatnot, but there are a number of sites that are blocked, porn among them.

  • trond

    @Luke: I totally agree. It an outrageous reason for investigation, but a nice publicity stunt for the senator. These things should be dealt with internally.

  • Julianne

    I think they tried to deal with it internally, but the Senator’s office noticed a line in a report that was too tempting to make hay with.

  • Jeff Darcy

    Julianne, is there any evidence that coworkers were even aware that this guy was watching porn or “handling his junk” right before a meeting? Is there any evidence that he put off anything, rushed anything, or in any way had his work affected other than by losing 20% of his time? Do we know that other employees weren’t losing at least as much to Facebook or Minesweeper, or that he wasn’t making up the lost time by working longer hours either in the office or at home? Or was this just something that was found from IT logs?

    Yes, there may be fallout from watching porn at work. May (or more correcly might). To the extent that there is, it’s the fallout that should be cause for a reaction. If his work was affected, if it was a distraction to coworkers, if it could in any way have contributed to sexual harassment, if it was illegal child porn, by all means it should be dealt with, but *we don’t know* if any of that happened. The only good reason I’ve heard so far for being more restrictive about surfing porn than surfing this blog is the one Phil points out – the strong and provable association between porn and malware. That’s an issue that justifies a pre-emptive block. Everything else seems to be just speculation and personal taste.

  • mary

    Whether you find this “icky” or “ughy” is not the point. You just seem oblivious to the fact that in the privacy of one’s office many many many people watch porn. The ridiculous thing about this story is that they are making a big deal out of something that everybody does and you seem to be buying into it. As already mentioned, if you were to look through all the computers of the faculty in your department, you will find LOTS of porn….I feel like I’m explaining the “birds and the bees” to my child.

    Get used it and over it.

  • Not an american

    > Likewise, some fraction of your coworkers are likely to be squicked out by you watching porn and/or handling your junk right before a meeting, so you don’t do that at work either.

    Julianne, thank you for making me aware about what my coworkers may or may not like. Still unclear on the following, however: is it ok to poo right before a meeting? People poo, you know. At work. Is it ok?

  • Jen

    I highly doubt they (meaning the senators who read NSF’s report) didn’t notice this before, they’ve had the report since September and these allegations were of a guy who isn’t working for NSF anymore, so the problem wasn’t ignored, its not like he looked at all that porn and NSF just ignored it and let him keep doing it. This is just a way for the senator to get his fifteen minutes of fame and it comes right before the appropriations bill was going to be passed through so he knew everyone would chomp on the bit and go crazy (have you ever heard of this senator before? unless youre from iowa of course). its pathetic that of all the agencies he has to attack its the NSF — one of the few agencies that have extremely high credibility and use that budget money to fund scientific and technological research at universities and institutions across the country.

  • ts

    I’m sure that Julianne’s male grad students/postdocs are feeling their balls shrinking in fear of being dismissed over watching porn instead of writing obscure IDL scripts and/or gossiping about the results of their observing proposals.

  • joulesm

    For or against porn in public/private, it doesn’t matter. The fact that this is threatening to hold up funding for the NSF is the problem!! Science is finally getting some respect (and more money!!) in the political world and this porn thing is the hiccup!?!? Ridiculous world we live in.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I’m a bit astonished at the at-work porn viewership here. Leaving the ick factor well aside, there is that small matter of getting fired. Or at the least, publicly humiliated. I myself would most definitely get fired (I shouldn’t even be doing this, but it’s not fireable). So, since I like my job and want to keep it, that reason alone is enough to steer me 100% clear of teh pr0n while at work. I A) sort of can’t believe so many people don’t share this fear, and B) am equally incredulous about the notion so many employers wouldn’t toss your butts to the curb at the slightest hint you’re surfing for smut in the office. And to do it whilst working for the Feds. That’s beyond insane. Who in their right fricking mind wants to risk public awareness that they can’t bear to wait through the evening commute before indulging in some self-grati…erm, online erotica? And all on the taxpayers’ dime? Certifiably nuts.

  • TimG

    I’m a man, and I think it’s ridiculous that people are defending this, or saying “All men do it”. I have no problem with porn, but it doesn’t belong at work. Just like you shouldn’t be having sex in your office. (Although I’m sure someone will be happy to defend that, too.) There is such a thing as “professionalism”, and not all procrastination is created equal.

  • wb

    Let’s get serious folks. The government (as do most employers) has rules about what constitutes misuse of government computer facilities. Employees agree to abide by these rules as a condition of employment. Yes it can also contribute to a hostile work environment, yes it wastes time, yes other things waste time that are not expressly prohibited.

    One of the reasons that porn is called out explicitly besides its potential for a hostile environment is the embarrassment factor. Cases just like this one. And yes if an employers “winks” at porn a prima facie defense against hotile work environment complaints is gone, putting employers and supervisors at risk.

    As one of the commenters noted the issue for NSF is why it took 2 years to catch this fellow. Internet usage is routinely monitored by most large employers to catch a number of abuses. When NSF takes two years to catch an expressly defined abuse, it is likely they have other gaping holes in their cyber security.

  • gopher65

    Oh I agree. I don’t look at porn at work, and I’m surprised that people think it is ok to look at porn, surf the web, or take 3/4 of an hour long coffee breaks. Maybe it’s just because I have a real job, but I’d be fired if I tried something like that after one shift. I think that office workers have it pretty easy.

    Yes, that is true to a certain extent. No matter what you write a few people will pounce on you. But please reread Julianne’s post. In context, it appears that she is dissing the guy for looking at porn, not for the (very legitimate) reasons stated in people’s comments. You have to remember when you’re posting stuff that we can’t see your body language, or hear your tone of voice. It seems obvious, and you’re rolling your eyes, but people need to be constantly reminded of that fact. All we see is the text of a comment, nothing more. Sarcasm, irony, saccharine… all nuance is lost.

    As for the anti-Americanism comment that you made, well, people write what they know. French people write pro-French, Chinese people write pro-China, and Americans write pro-American. But I don’t speak French or Mandarin, so I don’t see those. Most of the blogs (and such) that I read are done by Americans, and the constant breeze of pro-American rhetoric occasionally gets annoying. I rarely comment on it, because I realize that it is only natural to be pro-whereyoulive (I know that I certainly am), but I notice that others aren’t quite so reserved. They shouldn’t do it, but they do. What *you* need to realize is that their annoyance at various pro-American bloggers is just as natural as the bloggers’ pro-American stances are. There is nothing petty about it. That’s just how humans are built.

    @joulesm and others
    Yup, that was my first thought as well (what, would they cut airforce funding if the guy had been in the airforce? That’s just stupid), before I got distracted by the poorly phrased “ick” statement made by Julianne.

  • JoAnne

    It is strictly illegal to view porn on computers purchased with Federal funds. Folks here at SLAC have been fired for doing just that. Folks in private industry may have more leeway, but those of us receiving Federal funds are requried to adhere to higher standards. Something about the taxpayer’s dollars footing the bill and all… The real shame here is that NSF didn’t have tighter computer security and now science funding has been called into question.

    As an example, here is the message one receives when logging in to the SLAC computer system, and yes, the security folks here do follow up on infringements:


    This is a Federal computer system and is the property of the United States Government. It is for authorized use only. Users (authorized or unauthorized) have no explicit or implicit expectation of privacy.

    Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized site, Department of Energy, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign. By using this system, the user consents to such interception, monitoring, recording, copying, auditing, inspection, and disclosure at the discretion of authorized site or Department of Energy personnel.

    Unauthorized or improper use of this system may result in administrative disciplinary action and civil and criminal penalties. By continuing to use this system you indicate your awareness of and consent to these terms and conditions of use. LOG OFF IMMEDIATELY if you do not agree to the conditions stated in this warning.

  • Jennifer West

    Thanks, Julianne, I hadn’t see this, and it’s a bummer. I have enough concerns about funding for basic science research without seeing the top brass at NSF getting busted for porn/cybersex/whatever.

    I totally agree with LMMI as well – on the Feds dime – it’s just stupid, and begging to get in the unemployment line.

    Unfortunately, my innate pettiness is going to see the light of day with my next comment – why don’t they check Congress’s computers as well? Don’t stop at the NSF please. It is very irritating that this could be used as a reason to withhold funding. Can I check Senator Grassley’s cookies please? Guarantee he’s up to no good in some way, e-bay bidding or some such.

  • Mandeep

    My first response:


    This *REAAALLLLLLLLLLLLY* annoys me. *That* much.

    My second response is to be kind of stunned at some of the responses above — they are not what i would’ve guessed (but perhaps i don’t know the CV readership so well).

    I’m glad Julianne spoke up, and i agree with her several hundred percent (also TimG, LMM Interacting and others above).

    Look folks — for those scientists who work on govt computers, including state govt (as i do now, at a State Univ, and as i have before, at federal labs) — whether or *not* you are getting explicit instructions on what you can or can’t do on these machines, you *do* have a (hopefully fairly sharp) head on your shoulders, and you ought to know what is reasonable and not. and if you work on DOE machines, there are *very* explicit instructions on what you can’t do on your machines — including viewing pornography.

    This issue has come up before, years ago, for some guy (or guys) at LLNL (Livermore) storing scads of porn on his drive, and he was busted, so i figured most people were already very aware of it. but human nature always breaks through, of course. sigh.

    The issue of whether or not porn is useful or valuable or should be viewed, how much, which type etc. is quite a separate one (and not entirely an easy or trivial one, in my mind) — but as some have said, this is ABSOLUTELY dif. than the above issue.

    It is very much like the issue of why i am so annoyed at Bill Clinton for his dalliances while in office (and yes, i realize this may open me up to the potential of being flamed away) — did he not realize he was being held to a higher standard, right or wrong, and the conditions of the lives of hundreds of millions of people were in the balance?

    Similarly — argue all you want, but if you are a scientist, you *KNOW* how puritanical our society is, and it is *NOT* going to help our funding cause for you to be doing something that a very large fraction of the populace is going to be *po’d* about.

    So yes, i do believe this person should be terminated immediately, or given some large suspension at least — and i sincerely hope other scientists will take heed, and behave much more responsibly. and, if inclined, carry on your pro-porn campaigns (the political and the viewing ones) separately, and from home computers.

    And to Bryan — it is true that work and home boundaries are somewhat blurred, but i think no one will deny that sitting at home and engaging in these activities is *rather* different (and differently seen, and logged) than doing so explicitly *on* the public’s dime.


  • mary

    you guys are arguing over a technicality: “federal funds”. The post expressed “ick” and “ugh” reactions to the behavior of watching porn at work regardless of funding sources. So taxpayer money is not the issue for this discussion.

    The fact is that a large number of people watch porn in their offices discreetly. A lot of people here seem to be totally oblivious to this and that is just hilarious. So you’ll need to get over the “ick” and “ugh” reactions because I’m sure that you have already been in meetings countless times after your colleagues have “handled their junk”.

    Seriously, get over it.

  • Ben

    So because a lot of guys do it, it’s okay? That doesn’t quite fly. I want senior NSF officials to be promoting their mission, which is more important now than ever given the past 8 years of Republican attacks on the entire institution of science. After work they can go home and watch all the porn they want.

    What I most want now is for someone to find porn on Charles Grassley’s hard drive.

  • mary

    Exactly. Speeding in traffic is wrong…but no one throws a hissy fit and blogs about it because “everybody does it”.

  • mary

    ps: I also recommend that some of you read the book “Everybody Poops”. :)

  • Not an american

    In short, “Amerika”!

  • Not an american

    > So because a lot of guys do it, it’s okay? That doesn’t quite fly. I want senior NSF officials to be promoting their mission

    As long as they do their work, whatever else they do on their computers is none of your business.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Again, forgetting completely about what induces our own personal gag reflex, what leaves me gobsmacked is the sheer stupidity and batcrap nuttiness off it. “Discretely” consuming pornography on workplace equipment? GOVERNMENT workplace equipment? I’m a tad skeeved at the notion I’m apparently surrounded by so many people who are suffering from The Crazy. Cripes, now not only will I have an uncontrollable urge to dive for a tub of Purell every time I shake hands with a coworker, I’ve got to worry about paroxysms of uncontrolled libido triggering dangerous fits! It’s a madhouse!

  • Brian

    Low Math- Here are some more things that you may want jump into a tub of purell over:

    – many people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.
    – even when not watching porn, guys often “adjust” themselves handling their junk in the process.
    – and yes, people watch porn at work.

    wow, it really is amazing how clueless some you on here are!

  • Anonymous Coward

    There is a certain argument to be made here that this particular senior official was more productive during the other 80% of his time having handled his junk in the first 20%. Also, hasn’t anyone heard of Google’s 20% time? It’s supposed to increase productivity. Now we know why.

  • Ray Saunders

    There is only one meaningful question; did the guy get his work done, properly, in a timely fashion? If so, what’s the problem? If not, fire him for being incompetent.

  • GQ

    Brian- also, you forgot:

    -people pick their nose and then shake hands with people. LOL!

    I agree that the cluelessness on the part of some people here is hilarious.

  • TimG

    Not an american wrote:

    As long as they do their work, whatever else they do on their computers is none of your business

    If it’s your employer’s computers, and your employer’s internet connection, and your employer’s office, and you’re on the clock working for your employer . . . then it’s their business how you spend your time, and it’s up to them what forms of procrastination they will and won’t tolerate.

    At many jobs, using your work time to look at porn on the company computers will get you fired, or at least in serious trouble.

    It’s the people saying “Everyone does it,” or “Why would he be fired if he’s getting his work done?” who are the clueless ones, in my opinion. I don’t know what sort of employers you work for, but believe me, this sort of thing is not universally tolerated or ignored.

  • GQ

    ..the cluelessness refers to the fact that some people here are not at all aware that people do engage in such behavior quite commonly…it may not be tolerated in some companies but people do it anyway and hope they are not caught. Not knowing this is really clueless.

  • Not an american

    > If it’s your employer’s computers, and your employer’s internet connection, and your employer’s office, and you’re on the clock working for your employer . . . then it’s their business how you spend your time, and it’s up to them what forms of procrastination they will and won’t tolerate.

    If on my employer’s contract it’s written that I am a slave, and on everyone else’s contract it’s also written that they are slaves, it doesn’t mean that I or they are a slave. Despite what “work ethics” you were indoctrinated with, work is just an exchange of goods. If I provide the work, and use a computer you provide to do that work, it’s not a big deal if I take advantage of that computer to do other things, if it doesn’t incur you additional expenses.

    And it is absolutely, completely none of your business if I procrastinate by a chatting nearby a water cooler, or by surfing porn in my private office. The only problem you can have is with the procrastination itself.

  • Not an american

    > ..the cluelessness refers to the fact that some people here are not at all aware that people do engage in such behavior quite commonly…it may not be tolerated in some companies but people do it anyway and hope they are not caught. Not knowing this is really clueless.

    It’s typical American hypocrisy. These people do it, too, they just rationalize it somehow. “Oh, I am not surfing for porn, I just got it in the email.”, or “Hey, I am just chatting with my horny girlfriend over the phone, I am not like those perverts.”

  • TimG

    Can we at least agree that the people doing this at jobs where they could reasonably expect to be fired for it are being, well, stupid? (Assuming they care about their jobs, I mean.) And moreover, that a “senior NSF official” should realize he falls into that category, given that his job has a more than average chance of attracting public scrutiny?

    I mean, “ick factor” or not, this just seems like a really dumb move.

  • mary

    sure it may have been a “dumb” move on the part of the employee knowing that his activities are monitored and he could get in trouble. But that is just not what the discussion is about.

  • TimG

    Not an american wrote:

    If I provide the work, and use a computer you provide to do that work, it’s not a big deal if I take advantage of that computer to do other things, if it doesn’t incur you additional expenses.

    You might think it’s not a big deal, but that doesn’t mean your employer will agree. And ultimately, the computer is their property, and they have the power to dictate terms of use.

    You might feel that an employer isn’t being reasonable to impose restrictions beyond “Get your work done on time”, but that isn’t going to save your job if they get fed up with you breaking their rules.

    Lots of employers have a mandatory “code of conduct”, and while you might find this objectionable, it’s still a reality of the business world.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Wait. Now just one minute. Am I to understand you folks are out there fondling your “junk” on a regular basis, and you haven’t the common courtesy to wash your hands before proffering one in what, I know now, can only ostensibly be referred to as a gesture of friendship? Is there no end to this depravity?

  • Allyson

    I’m standing firmly in a corner with Julianne on “ick.”

    Jacking it in the office is just not polite. And it’s weird.

    AND SEX IS NOT THE SAME AS POOPING. Seriously. Or you’re doing it wrong. This is not an invitation to link to 2 Girls 1 Cup.

  • Allyson

    I think I just hit a new low in CV postings.

  • Tony

    Low Math- In addition to the list by Brian and GQ of disgusting things:

    – many people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.
    -even when not watching porn, guys often “adjust” themselves handling their junk in the process.
    – and yes, people watch porn at work.
    – people pick their nose and then shake hands with people.

    I’d like to add:

    – people fart. And when you are in the same room as them you are actually inhaling their fecal matter!

    I hope you don’t have a nervous breakdown after hearing these facts…but yes, this happens. And you have been encountering such people and situations everyday for your entire life and it has not killed you. This is what makes this post so hilarious. How can you not be aware of these things!?!?
    You guys are icking and ughing about things you encounter everyday in your life. What’s all the fuss?

  • Tony

    >>I think I just hit a new low in CV postings

    Haha…yes, this discussion has probably reached a new low. lol

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    <Low Math feels a cold, creeping dread flow over him as he realizes that, for some, sex may be much too much like pooping…>

  • Allyson

    Because some folks don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom doesn’t make it any less gross.

  • Uhoh

    ITT: a bunch of NSFers nervous about being fired.

  • jake


  • damn!

    Yes, “professionalism” is the fairy dust that one can sprinkle when there is no real argument …

    The guy is clearly an idiot, but it is certainly not worth a witch-hunt. Thats the point.

  • Jeff Darcy

    TimG: “I don’t know what sort of employers you work for, but believe me, this sort of thing is not universally tolerated or ignored.”

    The kind who care more about whether things get done than about whether arbitrary exercises of power or impositions of morality are accepted by their employees.

    American Hater:
    “These people do it, too, they just rationalize it somehow.”

    That’s quite an assumption. I for one don’t, but I also don’t care or consider it my business whether others do. OK, that’s not quite true. I do care a little tiny bit, to the extent that I might think a bit less of someone who spends that time on such a essentially useless activity than of someone who finds a more worthwhile uses for it. That’s not limited to porn, of course. I’d feel almost the same way about someone who spent lots of work time playing online games. BTW, I’ve known people who were fired both for watching porn and for playing EVE Online, and approved of both firings in the circumstances where they occurred.

    “Can we at least agree that the people doing this at jobs where they could reasonably expect to be fired for it are being, well, stupid?”

    Yes, absolutely. Even if I think it’s generally OK to watch porn at work, I think there are enough conditions where it’s not OK that it’s just too risky. All it takes is one person walking by and being offended, and WHAM. Would I risk my career for that? Of course not. Again, that’s why I might personally think less of someone who does it, because it reflects on their intelligence as well as their level of motivation. However, that’s not the same as supporting a double standard by which employees can demand respect for work/personal boundaries in one context while ignoring those same boundaries in others. I reject that notion.

  • Jeff Darcy

    I meant to write “…employers can demand…” above. IRTE.

  • Peter Coles

    Why has nobody made a joke about him stimulating his own package?

  • daisyrose

    Whoa – Perhaps they could buy John Currins new work and hang it in their work space – For the more conservative; Courbet,s Origin of the world would be nice. And I have a very nice frontal nude of a beautiful young black man.

  • Andy

    I suspect a lot of this is just generational. The younger generation grew up watch tons of porn(almost every single day) on the internet and really don’t view it as a big deal. For the older generation it is still somehow a “weird” thing to do and definitely not in the workplace. For the younger generation watching porn is as natural as breathing. I bet a lot of the comments above can be correlated with age.

  • Peter Coles

    I just look at pictures of Julianne all day. Does that make me old?

  • yet another astronomer

    I’m a little amazed by all the people saying that “everyone” browses porn at work. Do you guys work at, say, a porn studio? Or as correspondents for Penthouse?

    Just to inject some mild amount of data into this discussion, I found this tidbit from a writeup of a survey (“Web@Work”) of US office workers: “More men than women view online pornography at work. Whether it was by accident or on purpose, 16 percent of men who access the internet at work said they had visited a porn site while at work, while only eight percent of women had done so.” (See, e.g., here: Very few of those surveyed said they had intentionally gone looking for porn at work; make of that what you will.

    Full disclosure: I also found a different survey of workers in the UK, which claimed around 30% of respondents had looked at porn at some point at work. I’ll admit that I found that surprisingly high, but in any case it’s still far from everyone.

    Neither of these are particularly authoritative sources or anything, but they might be marginally better than sheer guesswork.

    As to the broader issue of whether employees should be permitted to do whatever they want with their computers, so long as they get their work done: in principle I agree, but two things make that discussion complicated. a) many, many employees are explicitly requested to be at work, doing work for X number of hours per day, regardless of how much they get done. You can argue that this is silly — that every job should be goal-based rather than time-based — but relatively few jobs really work that way. (I.e., I don’t know many people who are given a task and told, in effect “This ought to take you 10 days at 8 hours a day — but if you work really hard or really efficiently for five days, you can take the other five off!”) A lot of us have jobs that are somewhere on the continuum between “entirely paid by the hour” to “entirely goal-based” — I’m not paid by the hour, but it still really wouldn’t be cool for me to just not show up for a week, even if I was inhumanly productive the week before. (By the same token, my posting this means I’m going to need to stay later tonight or be really productive to make up for the slack — because I think everyone expects me to work hard for pretty much a full day.) b) Many jobs also require (explicitly or implicitly) some amount of interaction with co-workers. I’m sitting in an office right now, but at any given moment one of my colleagues might drop in with a question (in fact, one did a couple minutes ago); though I realize this may not be the case for everyone, I personally view those interactions as part of my job. Anything that imperils my ability to have these kind of intermittent, low-level interactions with everyone around me — like, say, porn, because a colleague _might_ not be comfortable with walking in and finding me looking at it — is pretty much not okay in my book. (I do shut people out from time to time, but I make a very very serious effort to do that only when I really need uninterrupted time for concentration — i.e. time alone to get my work done, not time alone to goof off.) You could argue that I’m letting someone else’s morality dictate my own behavior here, but that’s a compromise most of us make from time to time — e.g. presumably most of us would agree that it wouldn’t be okay for me to be sitting here in my office, with the door open, naked. If _you_ happen to have a job where you sit alone, locked in room away from any other human, and for which you are paid purely by the project — then sure, I suppose I don’t have a problem with you looking at porn “at work.” For the rest of us, though, I think there are solid reasons to think it’s a bad idea.

  • Peter Coles

    This reminds me a bit of a time, years ago, when I was involved with running an astronomy conference. The website for the meeting for some reason generated a huge number of hits. It was all very perplexing until we located the page that was stirring up all the interest. It was headed “Guidelines for Submission in Latex”.

    I think most visitors to the page were severely disappointed.

  • agm

    What a lack of professionalism some of you have. The ability to separate your personal and professional lives after choosing a position that requires that separation. You chose to barter your time for money in a certain way, you don’t get to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement.

    And on the other hand, seriously. WTF. Helping people do to the NSF what has been done to NASA over the last few years. Are you f@#$ing insane? [1] Do you really want science damaged like that? You people defending these people see this as a personal liberty issue. Nope. Uh-uh. Wrong. ::buzzer:: No. This is not a personal liberty issue, because these people are perfectly free to go elsewhere and do whatever they please, up to and including the response videos for 2 girls or whatever. Off the clock. Off the taxpayer dime.

    This is about an idiot making life much harder for thousands of people, just by slacking off. If you can’t see that, you haven’t been paying attention the last few years, or just don’t care.

    [1] Courtesy grawlix, I can spell the word just fine.

  • Andy

    no. it’s about an idiot holding up science funding because someone looked at porn at work…that’s sheer idiocy.

  • Ellie

    Can we just get one thing straight: women do watch porn. Women love porn, especially guy on guy stuff. I don’t watch porn at work because it’s specifically not allowed, but I masturbate at work to help my concentration. Sometimes I just need to have an orgasm or else I won’t be able to get any more work done. As I’m a woman, there’s not so much to clean up afterwards though; I suppose it’s more of a hassle for men.

  • wb

    “Andy Says: No. it’s about an idiot holding up science funding because someone looked at porn at work…that’s sheer idiocy.”

    Actually it is about NSF computer security failing to do its job as mandated by the Congress. I

    As for not an American, you have a lot to learn about what a work contract is. And it has nothing to do with privacy. You have NO reasonable expectation of privacy on your work computer. Your employer can (and many do) monitor every keystroke and fire you for failing to comply with conditions of employment and / or insubordination. Moreover, unless you are a state employee, you can get fired for no reason at all. I suggest you learn about at-will employment in the US.

  • Andy

    Ellie- couldn’t have said it better myself! lol.

  • Eugene

    20% of his work hours watching porn?

    Man, that’s a lot of porn.

  • Peter Coles

    I don’t know about it being a lot. Some people I know 20% of their work hours might be about 10 minutes a day..

  • chemicalscum

    Remember way back when the precursor of ArXiv at LANL had the URL of This was at the time xxx was being promoted as a voluntary identifier for porn sites. I wonder how many scientists hit problems with porn filters because of that. I gues it must have been the sense of humour of someone at LANL.

    Hey I just tried it and it still puts me through to arXiv!

  • Dave B

    An NSF employee filmed his supervisor warning his team about this:

  • Sidney

    Dave B- that was one of the funniest things I’ve seen! I wonder if such a discussion is going on at the NSF right now. “you take away our coffee machine, and now we cant wank at work. What’s next?” priceless!

  • Joe

    I think horny people with strong sex drives should start a civil rights movement to allow wanking at work. For just a few dollars a day, you will help create a brighter future people like Ellie who can’t work without an orgasm. It’s time the oppression of low-sex-drive people on horny people comes to an end! :)

  • Andy

    Joe- may be a more realistic goal is a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy. At least as a first step. lol.

  • daisyrose

    In as much as a orgasm is – a temporary loss of reason – could this possibly have a influence on the grants that have been given out?

  • Dave B

    I don’t think I can say, Joe. My thoughts are that there are two issues here: (1) using computers at work for porn, and (2) masturbating at work. Those who have a reaction of “ick” or “that’s unprofessional” to (1) probably have it to (2), too. But they’re then on shakier ground, because they can’t argue that (2) contravenes your employment contract (right…?). Of course, (2) takes time (as does having a coffee break), and Ellie pointed out, colourfully, that if she was permitted to do (1) then (2) could be accomplished more speedily.

    I think that’s what managers call “best practise”.

  • ellie

    It is naive of the moderators to allow a post about porn, and then object when people post responses about sex.

  • jesus

    I found the story in the post to be incredibly tame. Were any of you around during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair? If *this* story makes you’ll go “oh my” and “ick”, I wonder how any of you survived the Clinton/Lewinsky affair.

  • Ellie

    What does everyone think about taking porn magazines into the office? This avoids the issue of specific rules governing use of the office computer. What about sitting in your office viewing porn that is saved on your personal laptop (downloaded at home therefore not using the office internet)? It is probably less time-consuming than, say, reading this blog.

  • Ellie

    @Dave B: I don’t think having sex in the office contravenes most employment contracts either. It certainly doesn’t contravene mine – I’m a law-abiding citizen, so did check before having sex in my office.

  • Andy

    I think the only newsworthy part of the the story is that the NSF employee got caught in the act. Even if it is illegal, many will think it’s no big deal and just feel sorry for the guy for being caught and losing his job.

    Legally speaking, an employer can always enforce a code of conduct. But if the employees view porn on their personal laptops and in the privacy of their office, then enforcing it would require snooping or spying on the employee which would be illegal.

  • Ellie

    Anyway what’s a worse use of stimulus package resources: spending 20% of my work time on porn, or paying myself a million dollar bonus? Let’s just say that 20% of my salary is a whole lot less than a million dollars. You may say “ick” to porn, but I say a much bigger “ick” to those obscene bonuses. What’s more obscene: a million dollar bonus, or images of people having sex? Discuss.

  • Neal J. King

    Entertaining though this thread is, my reaction to the original posting is:

    This is a personnel issue – not an NSF program issue.

  • Flaming Pope

    20% huh? Don’t make me laugh, you also have to account on how he used the 20% of porn time.

    Personally this would be a great experiment as they have obviously shown that they know what type of porn. So…:
    1) Set 7 super porn fetishes up as your homepage
    2) Write an auto bot to constantly shuffle between porn websites, at exactly 7.77 second intervals
    3) Get your wife to pose the number 7 as a background image
    4) Set the welcome music when you log into the computer to some romantic song featuring the number 7
    5) Set up AIM bot to message to yourself “Fooled you 777”
    6) Think of two other things featuring 7 to befuddle the traffic monitors.

  • Andrew

    Next thing you know, they’ll discover that government employees are less productive than the rest of us.

  • Jeff Darcy

    …or maybe they’ll figure out that the biggest w***ers of all are tax-cheating wife-beating libertarian ideologues who are so plentiful on the net (but not in any actual workplace).


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