Stimulus Grant Will Help Connect Scientists

From The Chronicle of Higher Education comes word that the National Institutes of Health issued a grant to a research group to develop what it is calling a “Facebook of Science.” I think the name is unfortunate because it prompts some questions that the article shows to misrepresent the project.  The grant is intended to develop a tool to help scientists find colleagues in very specific subfields.  In this proposed system, there would be a targeted search function, and potential colleagues identified in the search would come up with records showing their publication and other professional relationships with other scientists.  This should make for a more systematic attempt to find colleagues, compared to walking down the hall or reviewing relevant literature to find possible names.

This is a lot more focused, organized, and useful than Facebook, which depends on its users to generate networks and would not necessarily be much better than the haphazard system of searching what you know.  If done right, the kind of network analysis that would inform this project will be more systematic and effective than the brute force social networking of sites like Facebook.  Please come up with a good name for the system before it gets improperly labeled as a Facebook for scientists (many of whom probably use the service).

Final Augustine Committee Report

Yesterday afternoon the Augustine Committee’s final report was released.  Titled Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation, the report appears to be a more detailed version of the summary report released earlier this year.  There is a more detailed review of current space exploration capacities and programs, including Constellation.  This was a source of some criticism at Congressional hearings with the Committee, and there may still be tension between the White House and Congress over what happens next.  Congress has authorized and appropriated for the program, and has a vested interest in seeing the status quo continue (though they failed to reverse the budget decreases introduced by the Administration).

However, if the Augustine Commission’s analysis bears out, there isn’t enough money to do Constellation as planned.  The issue becomes when does the U.S. want to make a change (any change)?  Do they rip off the bandage now or let the shortfall force other costly decisions that will leave the U.S. both out of pocket and out of space?  Either way, there will be a significant gap (six years or more) in U.S. access to space without extending the life of the Space Shuttle.  That appears to be the legacy of Constellation.