Archive for the ‘Author: Bruggeman, D.’ Category

NSF Director Speaks on Stimulus Funds

June 12th, 2009

Posted by: admin

New Scientist runs an interview with National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement where he discusses what the Foundation will do with its share of the stimulus fund.  It appears the NSF will follow the same path of the National Institutes of Health and use the funding boost to clear the backlog of proposals.  After the interviewer asks about the hard landing sure to follow, Director Bement mentions that

If we plan and manage well, this will not be a major factor. The president has plans for a big increase in NSF funding in 2012. By integrating our usual budget increases with the stimulus money we will make this work.

This suggests that the increase Bement mentions will be above and beyond the planned increases from President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the COMPETES Act.  I’ll believe it when I see the President’s FY 2012 request, which will probably come around the same time President Obama will be looking for Director Bement’s replacement (his 6 year term expires sometime in 2010).

E-Books and Textbooks – Not Quite there Yet

June 11th, 2009

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The Chronicle of Higher Education provides this vignette of Northwest Missouri State University and it’s efforts to go all-electronic with its textbooks.  While the notion of providing or requiring incoming students to pick up an electronic book reader and load it with textbooks has its appeal (lower cost to the student over the course of their education, easier updates, less paper used), the technology isn’t quite ready for textbook reading.  The Chronicle piece describes several important points here (power demands over a long school day, funtionality within the text, lack of color display), but the main conclusion that things aren’t as easy with e-books as initially thought comes down to differences in reading.

Many people read differently on the Web, or in newspapers, compared to a novel, and the same is true for textbooks.  There’s a fair amount of skimming going on, flipping to the table of contents and/or index, and other fast motion that current e-book readers aren’t well-suited for (or online reading through something like Google Book Search).  E-book readers don’t appear to be able to handle sidebars, text boxes, and other graphic design elements common to many textbooks.  To force textbook migration to these devices right now would seem like taking a step back to take a step forward.


Paging Captain Renault – Research Journal Out for Access Fees

June 10th, 2009

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The Scientist is the source of our Casablanca flashback, with its report that an open access journal published by Bentham was willing to publish a ‘nonsense’ paper that supposedly passed peer review.  A Ph.D. student in science communications and a staffer at The New England Journal of Medicine have been testing journals peer review practices by submitting papers generated by computer program.  They document this particular incident on their blog.  In short, the journal agreed to publish the article, if the authors paid the fee, and asserted it had passed peer review.

At a minimum the publisher Bentham is guilty of allowing journals to assert peer review when none had taken place.  The scamming conclusion is reasonable, given the reports.  I’m not in agreement that open access journals are necessarily more suspect of putting out supposedly peer-reviewed articles that weren’t so reviewed.  Yes, they do charge more fees than traditional journals (who could be scamming authors for photo and chart fees, amongst other things), but an open access journal is not more likely to skimp on peer review than any other journal.

What bothers me is that it has to take generating obviously lousy articles to ferret out derelict peer review.  Given the volume of scientific publishing, there’s an enormous amount of implicit trust in the processes behind these articles that people will continue to exploit.  I wish I had even the germ of a possible solution here.

Biomedicine – Can’t Fund it Fast Enough

June 9th, 2009

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Yesterday the National Institutes of Health issued a press release on the Challenge Grant program, which is designed to help spend some of the stimulus money awarded to the agency.  Approximately 20,000 applications were received (H/T The Scientist), which is equal to the number of applications the agency typically receives in a major review round.

How many grants will be rewarded?  According to the press release:

“NIH expects to devote at least $200 million in ARRA funding to Challenge Grants. In addition to the approximately 200 Challenge Grants that will be funded by the NIH Office of the Director, it is likely that more than 200 ARRA-related grants will be funded by NIH Institutes or Centers.”

So, 200 Challenge grants through the Office of the Director, and 200 or more stimulus related grants through other centers.  The acceptance rate is around 1-2 percent.  And this is after Senator Specter’s vote was purchased with a $6.5 billion boost to NIH funding.  It appears that the oversupply of biomedical research grants will keep acceptance rates low regardless of the money thrown at the situation.

Revkin, Values, and Data

June 8th, 2009

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Andy Revkin over at his New York Times blog posted last week about the role of values in debates over climate change.  While his ultimate point, that values play a factor even in debates over data, is nothing new here, the lead and title of the post support some old and inaccurate conceptions about the roles values can play in debates that involve scientific data.

Titling a post “Values vs. Data in Environmental Care” is misleading in that it suggests that data comes from a value-free position.  The choice of data, methodology and other factors of experimental design are made for reasons that – intentionally or not  – support particular values.  By asserting data to be value free, you allow the values to sneak in.

The linkage of the discussion to explicitly religious values, while allowing for a good hook to the story, also supports a common assumption that when speaking of values you are speaking of religious values.  That is unnecessarily narrow, and likely inflammatory, if the attempts at discussions over evolution might suggest.

I don’t think Revkin subscribes to these faulty premises.  But I see this kind of thinking all too often not to call it out in places I don’t expect to see it.

Mars Missions Fall Back to Earth?

June 7th, 2009

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Nature reports that NASA robotic missions to Mars, arguably the most consistent overperformer of the agency over the last decade, will not receive most favored planet status in the next reviews for future projects.  The next decadal assessment will consider Mars missions on the same level as missions to other planets, as will the next program competition under Discovery, the overarching NASA program that handles unmanned exploration.

It seems that one of the challenges for Mars programs (and any NASA robotic mission) is retaining the “faster, better, cheaper” rubric that eventually led those missions to an impressive run.

“But the Mars community might have itself to blame for the tight budgets that have led to the current quandaries. The $2.3-billion Mars Science Laboratory — the super-sized rover scheduled for launch in 2011 — ended up being the mammoth, bells-and-whistles mission that a stepwise Mars programme was supposed to help avoid. The mission also ended up chewing through hundreds of millions of dollars in its budget overruns — more than enough to fund a Mars Scout.”

I don’t think anyone got greedy here.  It just shows how difficult planning space exploration is with limited resources.  Those who respond with calls for more money for NASA should understand that as useful as they might be, they aren’t coming.  The ingenuity that has forced NASA to improvise and to operate spacecraft and instruments long past expected lifespans is worth encouraging.  Perhaps this adjustment will be a useful reminder.

House Subcommittee Goes Below President’s Request for NASA

June 6th, 2009

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In what is a rarity on many levels, the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee responsible for most science agency budgets has opted to appropriate less (H/T Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog) than the amount a President requested in a budget.  President Obama’s FY 2010 budget for human spaceflight operations at NASA is nearly $4 billion, and the subcommittee appropriated approximately $3.3 billion, which is less than the FY 2009 amount as well.  The agency’s budget as a whole received an increase of $421 million over the FY 2009 budget.

The subcommittee chairman’s remarks suggest that the Congress, or at least the House, will wait and see what the review committee announced earlier this year will suggest for the future of NASA’s human spaceflight operations.

“Rather, the deferral is taken without prejudice; it is a pause, a time-out, to allow the President to establish his vision for human space exploration and to commit to realistic future funding levels to realize this vision.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the Senate will follow suit and take this wait-and-see attitude.  I strongly doubt that many outside the House subcommittee will consider this decrease to be without prejudice, but I may be tired and jaded from the continuing arguments between those supporting human spaceflight and those active in other areas NASA is involved.

Shaky UK Government May Affect Science Policy

June 5th, 2009

Posted by: admin

UPDATE – 7 pm EDT, 6/5/09 – apparently the DIUS is no more, according to Nature.  It will be incorporated into a new department, the Department of Business Innovation and Skills.  Whether Nature neglected a comma after Business or not is unclear.

UPDATE – 6/6/09 – Apparently Nature did neglect the comma, but given how it’s absent from the Department logo, but not the announcement, I can understand the confusion.

Original Post – I’d encourage any of our readers closer to this to provide additional details, but I found it interesting this speculation from Nature News that the troubles in the government of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown could affect the organization of science policy in that country.  The Prime Minister reshuffled his cabinet in light of recent resignations, promoting the current head of the Department on Universities, Innovation and Skills (DIUS) to a Cabinet position.  DIUS was created by PM Brown in 2007 to put universities and innovation issues in the same place.  Previously innovation concerns were handled in a department focused on business interests.  The Nature report reflects concerns that things will return to where they were before.


Science Diplomacy and the Cairo Address

June 4th, 2009

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There’s a portion of today’s remarks by President Obama that focuses on scientific efforts in Africa and the Middle East (H/T ScienceInsider).  I think it qualifies as the science diplomacy that Nina Federoff and Sir David Beddington discussed earlier this week.

“On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs.  We’ll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops.  Today I’m announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio.  And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership.  Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.”

With luck this might set aright Dr. Federoff’s concerns about the science budget at the State Department.

“But Fedoroff said that science could be a casualty of a “tight budget” in the state department [sic], which helps to coordinate US scientific collaborations abroad. The US economic recovery package is predominantly focused on investment at home and “this could be a real stumbling block because we need to collaborate internationally”.”

Science Diplomats on Science Diplomacy

June 3rd, 2009

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Among the other interesting discussions at the science diplomacy event Yasmin Khan posted about was a set of remarks from the science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, Nina Federoff, and the chief science adviser of the U.K. government, Sir David Beddington.  Part of their discussion (H/T Nature News) outlined the challenges of avoiding the misuse of science to acheive political goals.  Another important distinction made was the difference of using science in diplomacy and science diplomacy.  While this may seem obvious to some, it’s an important reminder that the former – such as addressing international resource shortages – is distinct from the latter – using science to form partnerships.  It also seems like that the former will get more attention.