Adventures In Wildlife Infrastructure

While developing artificial means to help wildlife do what they need to do has been a thing for a while (see fish ladders in dams), there are two current projects that strike me as something new.

In Oslo work is underway for a ‘bee highway.’  It’s not an actual road in the sky for the exclusive use of bees.  It’s a series of rooftops with flowers and the bee equivalent of rest stops.  The project is a collaboration between state bodies, local homeowners and companies, and you can track its progress online (you’ll need a translator or a working knowledge of Norwegian).

In the State of Washington work has been proceeding on helping wildlife cross a section of Interstate-90 in the Snoqualmie Pass region.  Earlier this month the state’s Department of Transportation started work on a wildlife overpass along a natural migration route to Keechelus Lake (The Interstate follows the northeast side of the lake).  Large fences along the highway near the overpass should help nudge bear, deer, elk and other fauna over the highway and on to the lake.  The overpass should complement the wildlife underpasses already being used in the vicinity and make it easier for migration and a broader genetic exchange.  Think of it as analogous to the parks being developed along unused elevated train tracks, if those parks were over major highways or surface streets.

The projects are not solely for the benefit of wildlife.  The crossings will cut down on more traditional surface crossings of Interstate-90 and the associated destruction.  This also facilitates a widening of the Interstate.  The overpass should be ready for nature traffic in 2019.

Commissioner Moedas Wants A Funding Council For Innovation

As part of a conference on the European Research Area (ERA), Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas gave a speech (H/T ScienceInsider).  As part of his remarks, he discussed starting a second era for The ERA and the ‘Innovation Union.’

Commissioner Moedas is concerned about how effectively European Union member states have been commercializing the results of their research.  It’s not a problem unique to Europe.  Finding sufficient funding to take research results and create commercially viable products is always a challenge in part because the perceived investment risks often dissuade potential investors.

Institutional support can help facilitate commercialization, and one means the Commissioner would like to have at the ready is a European Innovation Council (possibly) modeled after the existing European Research Council.

I include the (possibly) because while I understand the urge to duplicate a successful organization for a slightly different purpose, a funding organization for research is not necessarily going to be as effective for funding innovation.  If the goal is to make it easier for private companies to invest in promising research, regulatory changes may be more effective than a funding council geared toward supporting potential innovators and/or innovative companies.  Hopefully this kind of examination will take place (if it hasn’t already) between now and 2017, when this possible Council will be discussed during the mid-term review of the Horizon 2020 research programme.

There are other things worth following in the Commissioner’s speech.  Two things that I will be very interested in watching are his proposal for a European Research Integrity Initiative and the idea of developing a research data repository for the EU.  (I don’t think putting it in the cloud is necessarily the greatest idea, at least not without serious access control provisions.)

Next PCAST Meeting Returns To NITRD And Ponders Getting Older

The next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) takes place on July 14 at the National Academies in Washington, D.C.  While this is not on a Friday (as has been the custom) the public portion of the meeting will still be from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern time.  No agenda is available at this time at the PCAST website, but the Federal Register notice provides some indication of what will be discussed.

The PCAST will discuss its review of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.  PCAST is obligated to do this review periodically, and the next report would be its third during the Obama Administration.  Also scheduled for the meeting are presentations on aging and for human spaceflight.  My past experience suggests that comments on space exploration will dominate the public comment session scheduled for the meeting.

You will be able to view the meeting live on the 14th, through the usual webcast provider.  A more detailed agenda should be available by the beginning of July.

National Library Of Medicine Urged To Lead More On Data

Last week National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins approved a report on a new strategic vision for the National Library of Medicine (NLM) (H/T ScienceInsider).  The Director requested the report at the beginning of the year, and it arrives not quite 3 months since the retirement of NLM Director Donald Lindberg, who led the Library since 1984.

NLM is responsible for a number of program related to medicine and health-related data.  PubMed is perhaps the best known outside of the biomedical community, but NLM operates many other health-related databases, physical artifacts and other records.  But the report calls fro NLM to be more of a leader in biomedical information across NIH, the federal government, and internationally.  This will include an expansion of NLM activities in data science and biomedical informatics, and the Library will need to be systematic and considerate in how it expands while continuing to deliver quality service to its many stakeholders.

The report contains specific suggestions about how NLM could expand its offerings and improve its services.  For instance, it suggests that the Big Data to Knowledge program be located in the NLM.  But with the Library needing a new Director, many of these actions will likely wait until that person is on board, and can determine the necessary adjustments to resources and personnel to implement these recommendations.

In Case The American Community Survey Disappears

Earlier this month members of the House voted to cut funds from the Census Bureau in order to support other projects in the same Appropriations bill.  Coupled with the persistent efforts to gut the American Community Survey and it seems likely we may need to prepare for a future where this resource may not be available.

That may seem like a daunting task, but I think it’s not impossible.  I say this because of the effort of Nathan Yau, who has created a 2015 version of the Statistical Atlas of the United States.  He wasn’t happy that the Census Bureau was not producing a new edition of the Atlas (or of the Census Atlas it released based on 2000 Census data).

It’s a lovely piece of work, and if he had some extra help (and/or more time), I think Yau, or other data scientists, could take the raw data and create updated versions of statistical resources providing need context to policy decisions and other important questions.  But without the data that the American Community Survey can provide, we all lose.

The National Parks Service As A Science Agency

In this week’s edition of Science, the editorial covers the upcoming centennial of the National Parks Service (NPS) and how it has supported science.  Written by Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt and the science adviser to the National Park Service Gary Machlis, the editorial describes how the NPS has served as a field study location for researchers in many fields, and encourages scientists to continue to do so.

The NPS scientific apparatus includes a number of different tools, in a wider variety of fields than you might expect.  This likely isn’t news for ecologists or researchers in related fields, but I think the NPS centennial could be a wonderful opportunity to help demonstrate that science and technology matter to many different government agencies.

I want to close by re-emphasizing some of the recommendations in the editorial.  The research data generated in the park system should be as widely shared as practical.  Researchers should be encouraged to use parks sites for study, and this includes citizen scientists.  You can recreate and investigate in the National Parks.

 

My Comments On The Next National Action Plan For Open Government

Earlier this month I noted that the White House is seeking input on its third iteration of the National Action Plan for Open Government.  You can submit comments via email or on a Hackpad collaborative platform (you will have to register on Hackpad to submit via that platform).

Guidelines are pretty broad, and the Hackpad provides some categories to guide submissions.  The organizers have populated many of the pages with content from an Open Sunshine Week brainstorming event in March.  Since I mouthed off about submitting comments on the National Action Plan related to scientific integrity policies, I thought I’d share what I submitted (via the Other Topics section of the Hackpad platform).

“The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should commit to collecting information on federal agencies compliance with their scientific integrity policies (including OSTP’s own scientific integrity policy).  The public should be able to view information on how many complaints each agency receives, a brief description of the claims, and the disposition of each case.  Additional details on scientific integrity cases should be available on request from OSTP, with appropriate exceptions consistent with open records laws.”

It’s not terribly detailed, but it’s at a level of detail consistent with other submissions on the platform.  Ideally, there should be a website where interested members of the public can get information on how agencies have been implementing their scientific integrity policies.  I’m not proposing a massive data dump of information, but to have enough summary information that interested parties can pursue additional information with the agency.  It would also, I hope, prompt the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to continue monitoring the issue across the government.  It seems that once the agency policies were posted, the OSTP acted like the job was done.  But it’s only just started, and having a public reminder of that strikes me as a good thing to do.