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.

Canadian Science Review Seeking Additional Public Input

The Fundamental Science Review taking place in Canada continues apace.  Led by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan with the assistance of an advisory panel, the Review is required as part of the current Canadian budget document.

After taking initial public comments and meeting with stakeholder, last week the Review started a second phase of public comment.  Those interested in commenting should visit the website, pick the link for the stakeholder group they belong to, and answer the questions and/or provide feedback as you like.  There are specific questions for Researchers; Institutions and Administrators; and Students, Trainees, and Postdocs.  Other interested parties should also feel free to provide feedback, but there are no specific questions for you.

The Review is asking for submissions up to September 30.  The plan is to conclude the Review by the end of the year, so the deadline seems quite reasonable.

More Details On August Bioethics Commission Meeting

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Commission) next meets on August 31 in Philadelphia.  The Commission recently released a draft agenda for the meeting, which will focus on the role of national bioethics advisory panels, both in the U.S. and around the world.  (As usual, you can access a webcast of the meeting from the Commission website.)

This topic has been a focus for the Commission of late, and with no additional meetings scheduled (as of this writing), a report on this topic (formal or not) may be the last one from this Commission.  Those interested in a peak at what the Commission might release should look at the History section of the Commission website.  It’s focused on the U.S., but the Commission has cast a broader net in its study of the topic.  Hopefully some of it’s work on advisory bodies outside of the U.S. gets a broader audience before the Commission disbands.

I’ll take time to be more reflective of the Commission’s work after the August meeting (and any subsequent meetings, should there be any).  But 26 meetings since 2010 and at least 10 substantial reports reflect a significant output from the Commission members and staff.

Government Releases Federal Source Code Policy

On Monday the federal Chief Information Officer, Tony Scott, announced the release of the Federal Source Code policy.  It covers custom source code developed by or for the Federal Government, and is intended to encourage its sharing and re-use by other government agencies.  Additionally, at least 20 percent of this source code must be shared with the public, and the policy will encourage agencies to share more.

The policy is straightforward, and includes general guidance for agencies to determine when and how to develop custom source code.  It also encourages the sharing of source code as open source software.  This supports government transparency, and it also allows for improvement of the shared code through the collaborative ethos of the open source community.  This isn’t the first time that the government is sharing source code, as federal agencies have been sharing code on Github for some time.  This includes the new data.gov website, which will serve as a portal to custom federal source code and a resource for agencies working to comply with the policy.

Agencies have 90 days to develop a policy for complying with the Federal Source Code policy.

Ahmed Zewail, 1946-2016

Dr. Ahmed Zewail, 1999 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Linus Pauling Chair and professor of chemistry and professor of physics at California Institute of Technology, passed away on Tuesday, August 2.

Dr. Zewail’s scientific accomplishments are extensive, as might be expected of a Nobel Laureate.  I want to acknowledge his work in the area of science policy.  He served on the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) from 2009-2013, and was one of the first Science Envoys of the Department of State.  He traveled to the Middle East during his service as a Science Envoy, and has worked throughout his life in encouraging science education and research in his native Egypt.  He founded the Zewail City of Science and Technology shortly after being recognized with the Nobel Prize, and it was inaugurated in 2011 in the greater Cairo area.  A new campus has a major opening scheduled for later this year.  He was also working as one of the members of the United Nations Scientific Advisory Board.

As Margaret Warner writes for PBS NewsHour, Ahmed served as a mediator during the 2011 revolution, doing what he could before events overtook nearly everyone.  She reports that Zewail will receive full honors at his funeral in Egypt next week, something reserved for very few, and in Zewail’s case, well deserved.

U.S. Government Grants Moon Landing Authority To Private Company

Today Moon Express announced that the federal government granted the company authority for a lunar landing in connection with its 2017 lunar mission.  This is the first of three planned missions that the company has arranged with Rocket Lab USA for lunar exploration and development.  Two of these missions are scheduled for 2017 with the third taking place at an as yet undetermined date.

Moon Express will use the MX-1 lander it has developed.  Having received Milestone prizes in landing and imaging from the Lunar X Prize competition (for a prototype lander), the company is working on a mission-ready craft for deployment next year.  The company is focused on resource extraction from the Moon, so scientific instruments and experiments are a secondary purpose (or additional income stream).  NASA and possibly other organizations may take advantage of this opportunity, should Moon Express be successful.

Moon Express is not alone in trying to reach the moon.  The Lunar X Prize is still in the competition phase, and of the 16 teams still in it, Moon Express is a leading contender to take the Grand Prize.  It would need to successfully land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters, and send back HD quality video (Moon Express plans to send a telescope, but may have other video options for the lander).

It’s worth noting that SpaceX would need to obtain similar approval from the government for its planned missions to Mars.  This is required under the Outer Space Treaty, which makes member states responsible for all space activities by both governmental and non-governmental organizations.