Memo to Denmark – U.S. OTA An Example of What Not to Do

The broken record in the U.S. of calling for the restoration of the Office of Technology Assessment (unfunded but never officially eliminated) may soon have company.  On the Danish budget chopping block is the Danish Board of Technology (H/T Naturevia Twitter – and ScienceInsider).  Under legislation currently being considered, the agency would be ended to help meet a three percent cut in the country’s research budget.

If you peruse the Board’s website, or the reporting on the matter, you should note that Teknologi-Radet is an incredibly effective science policy agency.  Its mission is much broader than the Office of Technology Assessment – which was focused on informing the U.S. Congress.  While it does assist the Danish parliament, Teknologi-Radet has conducted research and practical exercises both within Denmark and globally.  The Board is perhaps the worldwide leader in citizen consultation processes (which help assess future risks and benefits of emerging technologies), and the loss of that capacity will be felt far beyond Denmark.

There appears to be a small window of opportunity where the Board could be saved.  If it is defunded, I do hope its supporters will take a good look at the highly ineffectual efforts in the U.S. to restore its Office of Technology Assessment and avoid those mistakes.


NIH Aims to Speed Up Technology Transfer

On Monday the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the launch of the electronic Research Materials catalogue (eRMa) (H/T Twitter).  The purpose of the website is to streamline the transfer of technology from NIH facilities to other parties.  Not all NIH research that is patentable is currently available, but staff at the Office of Technology Transfer are working to put everything online soon.

Essentially the website serves as a clearinghouse where interested companies can search for technology they would like to license or purchase.  It also provides a standardized contract and the ability to pay for research materials online.  It also appears to be the first publicized response to President Obama’s October 2010 Presidential Memorandum requiring agencies to establish performance measures for their technology transfer activities and to streamline their transfer processes.  As part of this Memorandum, expect a government-wide database coming from the Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer sometime next year.

NIH technology transfer activities account for nearly $100 million in royalty payments every year.  With a central clearinghouse to streamline the transfer process, perhaps those payments will go up.  Regardless, the streamlining process here and in other agencies (especially in the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs).

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of November 28

Not a big week for science and technology guests this week, as I have to stretch and include morning shows.  On today’s edition of The View, author Richard Cohen will discuss the lives of people suffering from chronic illness.  Cohen also suffers from chronic illness.  Late tonight/early tomorrow Carson Daly’s program will repeat the interview with hacker ‘Mafia Boy’ from early in November.

Two guests of note this week.  Tonight on The Colbert Report, cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee will visit.  He has also written The Emperor of Maladies, a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of the disease.  On Thursday ‘Science Bob‘ Pflugfelder visits the Live with Kelly program.

Calling All Cartographers

The Places and Spaces exhibit has issued a call for its latest collection of maps.  The project is looking for 10 science maps aimed at kids to add to its exhibit.  This is the eighth year Places and Spaces have asked for maps, and the project intends to have 100 ready sometime in 2014.  But for this next 10:

“We invite people of all ages to submit maps that show a visual rendering of a dataset together with a legend, textual description, and acknowledgements as required to interpret the map. These maps should be aimed at the understanding level of kids rather than college students or college graduates.”

For a selection of maps from previous years, see the exhibit online (there are other science maps online) or perhaps in person.  You can also check out a kids’ puzzle map from the exhibit website.

If you want to submit a map, you don’t have much time.  The initial submission is due January 12, with final maps (if chosen) due in April.

Open Government Initiative Inches Forward at Home

Back in September, to coincide with the U.S. official entry into the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), the Obama Administration released two documents.  One, the National Action Plan, was required for membership into the OGP.  The other was a general update on the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, which, like the scientific integrity effort, started with great vigor and receded into the background.

Arguably, the above comparison is not quite apt.  As I see it, the loss of steam for scientific integrity seems as much for lack of interest as for bureaucratic and policy challenges, and there have been few concrete items delivered.  With open government, efforts are moving forward and spreading around the world, but new websites and reporting systems are, unfortunately, easy targets for budget cuts.  Much like coasting on decades-old infrastructure investments like roads and bridges, we are likely to coast on the digital infrastructure built over the last few years to make the operations of government more accessible to the public.

But there is progress, and at least the intention of pushing forward with increasing open government at the federal level.  The National Action Plan gives a good summary of actions to date in this area, and the second half gives hints at the various initiatives in place to improve government transparency and access to the public.  Should you wish to dive into additional details, the Open Government Initiative update is where you should go.  Of course, the success of these efforts come in the implementation, which is ongoing.  Some of the programs of particular interest to readers would include:

  • We The People (already in place)
  • ExpertNet (where government could more easily access the expertise of individuals)
  • Standards for access to digital data and research publications sponsored by federal funding (comment period open)
  • Adjustments to federal website policy (currently the whole website strategy – how to manage domains and other website IT – is under review)

Regrettably, these issues are quite firmly ensconced in the drudge pile – work not deemed at particularly glamorous, or connected to prestige.  Yet this seems like something an enterprising collection of folks in a Google Labs-like playpen could tackle.  There are several dedicated folks committed to this, but you’ll hear little about them unless you look really hard.  Yes, has been very successful and widely emulated.  But this can’t be the only flower out of the thousand being cast to bloom.  We need more water, and we’ll probably have to come up with it ourselves.

The Television Angle the National Football League Doesn’t Want You to See

Readers from non-American-football locales may wish to skip this post, but I would recommend you stick with it.  I’m curious to know whether or not there is a comparable issue in proper football, or if it would matter at all.  Does this issue come into play in other non-football sports?

Part of the reason I’ve never been terribly interested in watching American football for more than 10 minutes at a stretch is that I just don’t get it.  That is, beyond the broad strokes of plays, I have trouble grasping the subtleties of the game.  I don’t easily grasp things like various formations, the performance of the lines on both sides of the ball, or how pass routes should run versus how they are run.

Seeing the game from the sidelines, at least for me, doesn’t really help.  A few years ago some broadcasts would include shots from a position above the field, but they are still few and far between.  I don’t know if I’d get the game that much easier if I could watch from above the field, but there’s no opportunity to try.

And the NFL apparently prefers it that way.  According to this article in The Wall Street Journal (H/T Slashdot), the ‘all-22 angle’ footage – where one shot from above shows the whole field of play – is kept under wraps by the National Football League, and access is seriously limited to outside parties.  The rationale?  The league considers it proprietary coaching information.  While I can see the point, I find it a little strange to see a sports league limiting a means of increased fan attention and obsession.  One former team official is quoted as concerned about additional fan scrutiny as criticism the league doesn’t need.  That doesn’t mesh well with my current exposure to sports talk radio.

Presumably the college ranks take a similar approach to limiting coverage of the game, assuming they have the capacity to film game action from an ‘all-22 angle’.

The takeaway?  How you get to see the game matters.

Commons in a Box. Step One:…?

The City University of New York (CUNY) recently announced that it has released a ‘Commons In A Box’ free for use by the public (H/T Wired Campus).  Based on the school’s Academic Commons, the software is intended to help groups create and populate an academic social network to facilitate scholarship and exchange.

Reviewing the history of the project, I have to say I’m not sure that its success really comes from the underlying technology.  There appears to have been a strong receptiveness to the idea within CUNY that made certain an online space would have enough activity to be sustainable.  The proposed collaboration with the Modern Language Association (a disciplinary society) in establishing a commons for them suggests that the technology is not nearly so important in projects like this.  Not that I think anyone is looking to start an academic space by themselves, but a large, possibly spread out group seeking additional ways of communicating to each other could take to this kind of tool well.

It may also be useful to see the growth of CUNY’s Academic Commons and note that despite Facebook’s subtle campaign to become the Internet for most people, there is value in distinct (if overlapping) online spaces.  That is, some still prefer to keep one kind of activity in one place, and other activities in other places.