Archive for July, 2004

Bipartisan Call to Save TRMM

July 26th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, has sent a letter to the President’s Science Advisor, John Marburger, asking for his intervention to help prolong the TRMM satellite mission. The appeal to save TRMM is bipartisan. We’ll link to Representative Boehlert’s letter and press release when we find it on the House Science Committee site.

An Appeal to the President to Save TRMM

July 23rd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A press release from the minority of the House Science Committee announces:

“Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, sent a letter today asking President Bush to reverse NASA’s decision to terminate the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) later this year.”

The letter can be found here.

Rep. Lampson writes, “In the United States, both the National Hurricane Center and the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center use TRMM to reduce risk to lives and property from hurricanes and typhoons… I hope that you will intervene to help protect our citizens from the increased risk that would result from a termination of TRMM’s operations this year.”

Of course, if the President asks for hard evidence of increased risk, in response he will only get a suggestive anecdote or two. Three years ago we advised the TRMM community to conduct rigorous research on TRMM’s benefits to society specifically for situation such as this. You can lead a horse to water …

Irony Abounds, Futility Reigns

July 23rd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Take a look at the composition of the National Research Council committee currently studying the presidential appointment process. You’ll find some interesting arithmetic. Of the 11 panel members, 9 have been appointed by past presidents to positions where they oversee or provide scientific advice, and one held office as a congressman (and the eleventh person has not been appointed to any position by a president). As chance has it, of these 10 people there are 5 people who have been appointed by Democratic presidents and 4 who have been appointed by Republican presidents, plus one former congressman (Republican). 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans. How convenient! What luck!

Does anyone out there think that this balance occurred for any reason other than explicit consideration of ensuring political balance on this very visible NRC committee?

How would you feel if all members of the NRC committee had served only Republican presidents? Only Democratic presidents? People would no doubt find a problem with such compositions, because political balance fosters the legitimacy of the Committee’s work.

The composition of the panel looking at Presidential appoints reflects in microcosm the impossibility of separating science and politics. To think otherwise is simply unrealistic.


More on Presidential Appointments to Science Advisory Committees

July 23rd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

We discussed presidential appointments to science advisory committees a little while ago. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on a meeting of a committee of the National Research Council, chaired by former congressman John Edward Porter (R-Il), on “the murky world of whether — or how much — politics and point of view should be considered in the appointment of scientists to federal advisory committees.” The Post characterized the meeting as follows:

“In a day-long session yesterday, the NAS committee heard from representatives of numerous special interest or activist science groups and two congressmen. Most bewailed what they considered the unwarranted intrusion of politics into discussions of scientific evidence. But there was very little discussion about how a person’s point of view and experience can color the interpretation or use of scientific facts.”

The comments of two congressman at the committee suggest a partisan split on whether or not political considerations should be formally considered in the empanelment of advisory committees:


Follow Up on HHS as Gatekeeper

July 22nd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last month we commented on a new policy by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would require the approval of HHS officials for scientists to be allowed to speak with the World Health Organization. Yesterday’s Washington Post carried an article with some new information on the HHS policy. The Post writes,

“The Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have reached a compromise on the controversial issue of who gets to name U.S. government scientists to serve as advisers to the Geneva-based organization. The trouble is that the two sides have nearly opposite views of what the compromise means. WHO has agreed to send invitations to specific scientists through the U.S. government, rather than to contact the experts directly. This arrangement, largely a matter of protocol, is one the organization has with China, Russia and a few other of its 192 member countries. HHS officials, however, believe WHO has acceded to its request that the U.S. government be allowed to “identify an appropriate expert who can best serve both of our organizations” after WHO provides a general description of the expertise it is seeking.”

There appears to be an intractable different in roles for U.S. government scientists according to the directives of both HHS and WHO. Here is how the Post characterizes the situation:


Understanding Science Budgeting: Veterans/Housing vs. R&D

July 21st, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

If you want to understand the budget process for NASA, NSF, and R&D in EPA, then you have to understand the scope and composition of the VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittees in both the House and the Senate. More money for research means less money for veterans and housing, and vice versa. So when an advocate for more money for NASA or NSF goes to a member of Congress and asks for greater support, the member hears such a request as the equivalent of asking for less money for veterans and people who benefit from low-income housing.

Consider an article in today’s Washington Post, which doesn’t explain these dynamics but describes their consequences in the context of action yesterday by the House VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittee:

“A key congressional subcommittee slashed President Bush’s NASA budget request by more than $1 billion yesterday, dealing a sharp early blow to the administration’s efforts to set in motion an ambitious plan to send humans to the moon and Mars… Congressional sources attributed the panel’s decision to cut $12.4 million from a mission to explore the moons of Jupiter as a casualty of budget austerity. This was felt by other agencies in the bill. Even though the panel boosted spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs by $4.3 billion over 2004, [Rep. Alan B.] Mollohan [ranking member on VA-HUD and D-WV] said the department needed $1.3 billion more for VA housing. Also short, he said, was federal assistance for low-income renters of apartments and houses, despite a proposed funding level of $14.7 billion, $491 million more than in 2004. The bill proposed paring the budget of the National Science Foundation to $5.5 billion, $111 million below 2004 and $278 million below the president’s request. The Environmental Protection Agency’s spending was set at $7.8 billion, $613 million below its 2004 level.”

Worth noting is that the current budget dynamics we are seeing in the FY2005 budget would, according to current plans at least, not be much different under a second term Bush administration or a Kerry administration. Both have promised to hold the line on discretionary spending, though of course that could change after the election.

There will be more to say on this next week (most likely) when the Senate acts on VA-HUD appropriations and the two chambers reconcile. Also expected are hoots and howls from the scientific community after experiencing cuts (if they hold, and even if relatively small) in appropriations for NSF and NASA for the first time in a while.

Science Inputs and Outputs

July 20th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In this week’s Nature magazine David King discusses the relationship between research funding (inputs) and publications and citations (outputs). The study contains a wealth of data comparing publication and citation rates across a range of countries.

David Dickson has written a very thoughtful analysis of King’s paper and its significance. Here are a few excerpts:

“In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that measuring scientific strength in terms of spending alone is not only relatively crude, but also misleading. For merely adding up the amount of money allocated to research provides no indication of the effectiveness with which it is being spent. The focus has therefore shifted to looking at the results — or outputs — of scientific research.”

“Pumping money into science is not enough, as many of such countries have discovered to their cost. Indeed, a single-minded pursuit of increased expenditure on research and development as a proportion of GNP is not the Holy Grail that many pretend (if it was, France and Germany would be way ahead of Britain in the research race).

What counts is the level of transparency and accountability with which the money is spent, and measures that are introduced to ensure that money is used to promote and reward scientific creativity (even if on relatively small projects), rather then institution building and career politics. The more this lesson can be built into the science policies of the developing world, the more rapidly they are likely to bridge the ‘output gap’ that, at present, continues to fuel the knowledge divide between rich and poor nations.”

Read both King’s paper and Dickson’s critique.

More on TRMM Reentry

July 19th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A follow up …

In 2001 NASA asked me to organize a workshop to evaluate the decision alternatives it faced on TRMM. Our workshop report concluded:

“[W]e recommend that NASA should not base its decision to extend the TRMM mission primarily on quantitative comparisons between “lives potentially saved” through operational exploitation of TRMM data and “potential hazard” associated with uncontrolled reentry.”

We made this recommendation because estimates of reentry risk are simply arithmetic exercises with little connection to reality. As it turns out, so too are estimates of the benefits of the TRMM satellite to hurricane warnings. Comparing two meaningless estimates didn’t make much sense to us.

It turns out that NASA (probably inadvertently) followed our advice, according to this excerpt in the Washington Post article Shep cited earlier:

“In 2002, Asrar asked Bryan O’Connor, NASA associate administrator for safety and mission assurance, to conduct a “disposal risk review.” Did the benefits of using all the fuel to keep TRMM in orbit an additional five years outweigh the hazards of allowing the spacecraft to fall back to Earth without guidance?


NASA Nixes TRMM Extension

July 19th, 2004

Posted by: admin

Back in May, Roger noted some similarities between the situations of Hubble and the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) in determining how risk, cost, and scientific value balance out. Today, Guy Gugliotta, in the Washington Post reports a NASA decision to perform a controlled de-orbit of TRMM, thus dashing hopes of significantly extending the satellite’s mission. And the similarities are growing as, like Hubble’s case, the scientific community has vociferously attacked the decision.

Among the charges lies a suggestion that the cancellation of Hubble and TRMM serve as cost saving measures to support President Bush’s space initiative to the moon and Mars. That arguement has never rung true to me. To begin, in the TRMM case, Mr. Gugliotta reports:

“[Ghassem] Asrar [NASA's associate administrator for earth science] said it was “absolutely incorrect” that NASA decided to begin the de-orbit now to save money for the Bush initiative, noting that “we started looking at this issue two years ago,” long before the moon-Mars plan arose.”

In the case of Hubble, Administrator O’Keefe has stated several times that he personally made the decision to cancel SM4 on the grounds of risk alone.

And more to the point, a savings of up to $37 million for TRMM doesn’t make much of a dent in the $12 billion over the next five years President Bush has proposed. Hubble does, however, have a larger footprint, with operating costs running at $250 million per year, and the cost of the servicing mission itself running at about $140 million (SM3A). But even this larger amount occurs early in the Initiative before any serious moon or Mars missions begin and at the end of construction of ISS.

This arguement just doesn’t do enough work to wholly explain these cancellations. However, the cost savings critique is just one of manyand both decisions remain open to a number of different and probably more convincing arguements.

Seeds of Confusion

July 19th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Over the last several weeks I have criticized Senator John Kerry for making several mistaken assertions about trends in federal funding for science and technology. Well, it may very well be that Senator Kerry is receiving incorrect information from his advisors who in turn get incorrect evidence from leaders in the scientific community.

As evidence, see this speech made Thursday by Shirley Ann Jackson, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who happens also to be the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In her speech she states:

“The Federal investment in research, measured as a share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has declined by almost two-thirds since the 1980s.”

And then AAAS quotes her speech extensively in a news release, leading with the following:

“AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson warned Thursday that U.S. economic growth and homeland security are being threatened by declining federal investment in scientific research and by declining student interest in science and technology.”

Contrary to President Jackson’s assertions, the fact is, according to the AAAS (see this graph) R&D funding as a percentage of GDP is about 33% less than it was in its peak during the 1980s, but it has been increasing dramatically as a percentage of GDP since 2000. And as posted here last week, according to the NSF, “Graduate student enrollment in science and engineering (S&E) programs across the United States reached a record high in the fall of 2002.”

The scientific community clearly shares responsibility for some of the confusion in current discussion of trends in science budgets. If any group values the importance of getting the facts straight you’d surely think that it would be the science community and its leaders.