You Know You Want To Tell NSF About Its Strategic Plan

Every few years most agencies revise the agency’s strategic plan.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) is preparing for the next revision of its strategic plan, which will take place in the 2017-2018 timeframe.  The feedback mechanism is relatively informal, and comments are requested by September 27.

The strategic plan is a high-level document, and the next one will cover 2018-2022.  The plan includes Strategic Goals (along with the Objectives for achieving each goal), Core Values and overall Vision for the agency.  There are other items in the plan, but it is for these four elements that the NSF seeks feedback.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d recommend the NSF Vision:

A Nation that creates and exploits new concepts in science and engineering and provides
global leadership in research and education.
I’d argue that’s a vision for the nation rather than for the agency (which isn’t the only science agency), but you may have different concerns about the Vision and the other elements of the Plan intended to make such a vision a reality.  Perhaps you have questions that you don’t think the Plan addresses (What value do you bring to the public?  How do your core values translate to the public?).  Bring those items to the Foundation’s attention.

This FYI post from the American Institute of Physics has more details on how and when the NSF (with the National Science Board) will develop the new plan.  There will be additional opportunities for agency staff, Congress, and traditional stakeholders to provide input.  However, this appears to be the one time that the public has an opportunity to weigh in.  Make it count.

NASA Implements Public Open Access Proposal For Its Funded Research

Last week NASA announced a public portal through which the public can access research funded by the agency.  It’s part of NASA’s open access policy, required by the 2013 Obama Administration policy encouraging research agencies to make more of their funded research available to the public.  The agency requires its funded researchers to deposit their juried conference proceedings and peer reviewed articles in PubMed (one of several agencies that either do so now, or will soon).

The public portal is broader than the PubMed link.  Besides NASA’s PubMed section, the site also links to NASA’s data.gov section, which includes the agency’s publicly available datasets.  You can also check out the agency’s data management plan (its requirements for researchers to support the long term management of and access to the research data they produce), and the OSTP policy that nudged all this in the first place.

I really hope that other agencies look closely at this portal and feel free to copy as many elements of it as possible.

Chris Hadfield Not Done Exploring

I doubt anyone expected Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to have a traditional retirement.  But his latest project makes that clear.  Hadfield is currently on an Arctic icebreaker expedition traveling Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada.  Besides the paying passengers, joining Hadfield on the expedition is the cast of another edition of Hadfield’s Generator touring show.  (Those who miss the Arctic stops can see the program later this year in Canada).

Hadfield intends to have some aspects of this trip – through the Generator cast – presented to a broader audience than those on board the icebreaker.  Exactly what form this takes won’t be clear until after the expedition, but nearly all of the Generator artists joining Hadfield have significant video experience, so I’d expect the output to be heavy on the visuals.  Regardless, I’m looking forward to it.

USPTO Opens Patent Data For Cancer Purposes

Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a Cancer Moonshot Challenge.  It runs from now until 5 p.m. Eastern on September 12.

The Challenge involves using a curated data set of nearly 270,000 patent documents going back to 1976.  The goal is to analyze, sift and visualize this data to see what insights might be there to speed up progress on cancer cures.  Entrants will develop a visualization to represent these insights, along with a story (1,000 words or less) that supports the visualization and access to the visualization for testing purposes.

Submissions will be judged on five criteria (each weighted equally):

  • Creativity and Innovation – how unique is the approach to the issue and/or the issue itself
  • Evidence Base and Effectiveness – the strength of the evidence and the impact the story has on cancer R&D and/or the public policy process
  • Value to Public – how much value is provided to policymakers and stakeholder communities
  • Usability – visualization should encourage engagement by policymakers and the public
  • Functional Product – visualization should be interactive and function as described

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of August 22

The summer reruns will end soon-ish (none make the list this week).  The Comedy Central programs are off until after Labor Day, and The Nightly Show is already off the schedule.  Of note is that twice in its final week of shows it aired two segments that engaged with a topic that involved science.  One of host Larry Wilmore’s favorite segments was about food deserts, and it was re-run on the August 16th show.  The program took another Super Depressing Deep Dive, this time on opiod addiction.  The show’s previous Super Depressing Deep Dive, on lead poisoning, is perhaps one of the best science-themed segments the show ever did.  As is this latest (and sadly last) Deep Dive.

Two of the cast of Mr. Robot, currently in its second season on the USA Network, appear this week.  Tonight (Monday) Grace Gummer is on Late Night.  She is an FBI agent and new to the program this season.  Rami Malek, who plays the main character (a hacker and activist) is on with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday.

Kate Mara, one of the lead actors in the science fiction film Morgan, will be on The Late Late Show Thursday.  The title character of Morgan is a young girl who was created and developed in a lab, growing up faster than normal.  As you might imagine, things go wrong, and Mara’s character has to come in and assess the situation.  I’ll put the over/under on Frankenstein allusions at 12.

The most interesting science and technology guest this week will probably be Werner Herzog.  He’ll be on with Conan Wednesday night to discuss his latest documentary, which focuses on the influence of the Internet on people.

2016 National Book Festival Continues Trend Of Many Science Offerings

Earlier this month the National Book Festival organizers announced the full slate of authors scheduled to attend the Festival.  Those who will be in the Washington, D.C. area on September 24th can see the Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Once again there is a strong slate of science books featured at the Festival (more on them in a bit).  In addition, there will be a panel at the International Stage on the work of Italian scientist and author Primo Levi.  The Library of Congress – the main sponsor of the event – will have a number of special exhibits of note, including several on the Library’s digital projects.

The authors on the Science Stage are:

James Gleick – a science author who has covered information, chaos theory and Richard Feynman in previous works, tackles time travel in his latest work

Michael Hiltzik – a journalist and author has occasionally dealt in technology topics, with his latest work on Ernest Lawrence

Peter D. Kramer – an author and practicing psychiatrist, his latest book is on antidepressants

Janna Levin – an astrophysicist and author, Levin’s latest book deals with the quest for proof of gravitational waves

Joseph Mazur – a author and mathematics professor, his latest book addresses probability and so-called flukes

Amy Ellis Nutt – a reporter for The Washington Post, Nutt’s latest book covers how one family deals with the gender transition of one of its members

Mary Roach – a science writer who frequently writes about stuff that might be considered gross, is promoting her latest book, which focuses on science and technology developed to support the soldier

Eliezer Sternberg – a neurologist with training in philosophy, Sternberg writes about how what we know about the brain can explain how we make decisions

Eric Weiner – a reporter whose latest book combines travel writing with a history of creative places

Some other authors at the Festival tangle with science or technology matters.  Gene Lueng Yang’s latest Secret Coders work gets into computer programming.  Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez’s latest children’s book covers shipbuilding.  Andrea Beaty’s latest book is about a young scientist.  Holly Robinson Peete co-wrote a book about living with autism.  I’m certain I’ve missed some work featured at the Festival.

Marvel Covers Its STEAM Interests

This week Marvel announced that several of its titles will have STEAM-themed variant covers.  Readers are likely familiar with the STEM acronym – science, technology, engineering and math.  STEAM adds art to the acronym, and can be favored by some advocates (who are generally objecting to the crowding out of many subjects in American education).

In November Marvel will issue variant covers for five of its titles, each one corresponding to a category in STEAM.  As of this posting the images for four of the five titles are available, with the Engineering-themed Iron Man cover not yet available.  Each of the four titles available features a younger superheroine or superheroines, likely intended to appeal to the young people Marvel wants to see in STEAM fields.  The four other covers are:

Science – Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Technology – Spider-man
Arts – Champions
Mathematics – The Unbelievable Gwenpool

While I don’t know enough about comics to be certain, Marvel has perhaps more than its fair share of scientists and engineers who support superheroes or are ones themselves.  While some might complain that the titles selected are relatively obscure, I think most of the Marvel characters that have featured in the last decade of films were obscure as well.

Regardless, this is not the first time (and probably won’t be the last) that Marvel has tried to promote STEM or STEAM disciplines in connection with its comics.  For some of its recent films Marvel has held contests to encourage students (often with an emphasis on girls) to develop projects and/or inventions using STEM skills.  I suppose if someone inspired by these covers or film contests manages a scientific or technological breakthrough, they might get drawn into a panel or two.  Maybe even their own title?