Archive for December, 2008

Private Firms to Resupply ISS

December 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Nature News recently reminded everyone that the U.S. still has a space program when it noted that private firms will take over resupply efforts for the International Space Station (ISS).  I’ve been less than thrilled with space contractors in their efforts to develop launch vehicles and other craft for NASA – they seem to bust budgets with a regularity and flair that surpasses many federal agencies.  However, this particular function is a service rather than a new product, and the companies involved – Orbital Sciences and SpaceX – have a much smaller history of screwing things up than their larger astronautical cousins.

Worth noting is that failure for these companies means a dramatic reduction in what the ISS would be capable of doing.  As the station is currently undergoing expansion, this sign of trust is interesting.  Should it bite NASA, I do hope the companies are appropriately penalized.

Online Privacy Conference

December 25th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The conference itself is not online, but will be at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy January 26.  The event, Today’s Online Privacy Challenges: Innovation and Liberty, is a half-day seminar focused on online privacy policies for private industry and the government.  If the Obama Administration’s emphasis on openness and online government becomes a reality, it will add to growing concerns over privacy of online information that Facebook, MySpace and other social networking technologies have forced people to deal with.  Minnesota established online privacy regulations in 2002, and it would be interesting to see how effective they have been in protecting privacy.  Registration for the conference is not yet open, but should be soon.

Forget the Nobel, How Does Chu Run a Lab?

December 24th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Also in the New York Times is a small piece on Secretary of Energy designate Steven Chu’s experience at the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory.  Like the current science adviser, Dr. Chu comes to federal service with significant management experience at a federal lab, which is at least as important, if not more so, than significant scientific credentials.  We see in the piece suggestions that Dr. Chu is innovative, and entrepreneurial.  He’s managed to see an increase in the lab’s budget while other labs have dealt with cutbacks, and he’s sought partnerships with industry in ways not typically associated with the national labs.  While the collaboration with BP has raised eyebrows, I appreciate Chu’s willingness to try new things, and suspect that had a lot to do with his selection by the President-elect.

Sarewitz on Obama

December 24th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In an AP story just out Dan Sarewitz weighs in on whether or not Obama is a geek:

Dan Sarewitz, a professor of science and society at Arizona State University, said calling Obama a geek is unfair both to the president-elect and geeks.

”He’s too cool to be a geek; he’s a decent basketball player; he knows how to dance; he dresses well,” Sarewitz said. ”It’s too high a standard for geeks to possibly live up to.”

Happy holidays to all of our readers!!

Defense Department Awards Social Science Research Grants

December 23rd, 2008

Posted by: admin’s Danger Room blog notes the Defense Department has issued the first research grants for its Minerva program, part of its ongoing effort to utilize social science research in support of its mission.  While most think of weapons and weapons related research when you hear about conflicts between academics and the military, the social science communities have been challenged by Minerva and other Defense Department programs.  See any of the other articles cited at the bottom of the Danger Room piece to get a better understanding of the struggles anthropologists and other social scientists have had when their field research involves the battlefield.

It’s worth noting the breadth of topics covered by the first series of grants.  They cover a variety of social science disciplines as well as countries.  Danger Room will follow up with a closer examination of these projects, so check back there in the next week or so.  While I understand the concerns raised by those who have criticised the programs, it’s tough for me to say that any government research program is free from the possibility of ‘warping’ research priorities.  I’ve never been convinced that the choice of research problems was free from politics, even if governments weren’t supporting that research.  With the Defense Department relatively shielded from budget tightening, Defense Department research dollars are likely to look more and more attractive to faculty seeking funding/job security.  These tensions aren’t going away.

Pielke Interviews Marburger

December 22nd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

My December column for Bridges is an interview with President Bush’s science advisor John H. Marburger. I ask him about his advice for his successor and what he sees as the outcome over the battles over the politicization of science during his tenure.

You can read transcripts from interviews that I did in 2005-2006 with six former science advisors, as well as Dr. Marburger, here. Those interviews and chapters written by each of the seven science advisors as well as former congressional staff and academic experts are part of a book that I have co-edited with Bobbie Klein to appear in 2009 titled, Presidential Science Advisors: Perspectives and Reflections on Science, Policy and Politics. It’ll be available well in time for your 2009 Christmas shopping;-)

Weiss and his Picks for Top Science Policy Stories

December 22nd, 2008

Posted by: admin

While the axing of the entire CNN science unit made bigger news, an equally disappointing move in journalism was the departure of science reporter Rick Weiss from The Washington Post.  While I know nothing of the circumstances that prompted Weiss to move to blogging for the Center for American Progress/Science Progress, I regret that not nearly as many eyeballs will be reading his material – the pending death of newspapers notwithstanding.

Weiss recently posted his picks for the top eight science policy stories of 2008.  These are not necessarily stories about science policy, but include science stories that have serious implications for policy in the near future.  Quibble about the order if you must (I certainly could), but amidst the expected choices (Obama’s magical restoration of faith in science, climate change still a problem) there are some that are still under the radar of many.  If you think he missed a story, let him know.

Joe Romm Throws (Another) Fit

December 22nd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I’d like to ignore Joe Romm, but when someone repeatedly slanders you on their widely read blog, setting the record straight seems like the least bad option. So here goes . . .


Research Assessment is Expensive

December 21st, 2008

Posted by: admin

Researchers in the UK are in the midst of a periodic Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which assesses how well the billions of pounds of government research funding have produced international quality research.  Nature News has the details.  In short, the government institutes a huge peer review of UK research, an effort that is costing 12 million pounds this time, more than twice the cost of the last RAE, conducted in 2001.  As a result of the skyrocketing costs, the UK government will institute a series of metrics (like citations) for the next assessment, scheduled for 2013.

While I think a peer review assessment would be more effective than less reliable metrics, I certainly understand the financial pressure.  Instituting something similar in the United States would be proportionately more expensive.  That said, the attempts at assessing federal research in the United States could benefit from a more systematic approach.  At the moment, the evaluations mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act do not seem to be as thorough as those conducted by the UK (or even those planned by the UK), and a stronger research assessment program would help defuse some arguments against various kinds of research – arguments like “what do we have to show for these billions of dollars?”

A Tripartite PCAST

December 20th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Buried in this week’s address by President-elect Obama, was the announcement of not one, not two, but three co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST).  Joining Dr. Holdren – the science adviser appointment, as co-chairs of PCAST will be Dr. Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Eric Lander, a genomic scientists with the Whitehead Institute at MIT.  These selections are noted breaks from the past two administrations, which selected industry representatives to co-chair PCAST with the OSTP Director.

Their marching orders would mark a bit of a departure for PCAST.  From the address:

“Together, [Holdren, Varmus, and Lander] will work to remake PCAST into a vigorous external advisory council that will shape my thinking on the scientific aspects of my policy priorities.”

Should this hold true, it would be a good idea to pay more attention to the meetings and members of PCAST.  The current roster is available online.