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 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.

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

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.

Latest XPrize Wonders How AI And Humans Might Just Work Together

The IBM Watson AI XPrize was announced earlier this summer (H/T TechCrunch).  Teams have until December 1st to register (early bird deadline is October 15) for the four-year competition, which concludes at the April 2020 TED conference.  The goal is a bit more open-ended compared to other XPrizes, in part to accommodate potential changes in AI technologies and capabilities.  This explains the ‘wild card’ portion of the competition, where companies who did not submit at the beginning of the competition have the chance to develop proposals for consideration in later years.

Teams must develop a four-year plan for applying AI to a grand challenge, including milestones, testing processes, and overall solution.  The plans must have some description of the anticipated AI technologies involved as well as how humans would work with these technologies in addressing the grand challenge.  Each year, a team will submit a report and testing results.  Should they wish to be considered for that year’s Milestone Awards (as defined in their plan), the team will need to apply for a spot at the annual IBM World of Watson.  Of the (up to) 10 teams accepted, two will be recognized with Milestone Awards, and some teams will be eliminated from further consideration.

In the third year of the competition, the field will be reduced to three teams, and these teams will give a TED Talk at TED 2020 prior to the final prizes being awarded.  Over the four years of competition, a total of $5 million will be awarded.  Most of that will go to the three finalists ($3 million for first, $1 million for second and $500,000 for third) with the remainder distributed for Milestone prizes.

Again, teams have until December 1 to register, with competition ramping up early next year.  The involvement of IBM Watson makes sense.  Watson is the computer best known for competing on Jeopardy! a few years ago, but it has made strides in artificial intelligence since then, with IBM working to provide services for those seeking to process large amounts of unstructured data in ways that more closely resemble human thinking.  While I don’t see any indication that IBM is looking to integrate Watson into the competition like Intel has incorporated its technology into some of its competitions, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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.

Draft Arctic Research Plan Open For Public Comment

Last week the White House released the draft Arctic Research Plan for 2017-2021.  It’s available for public comment through August 21.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program wants people to sign up online for an account at its website in order to comment.  It also appears that signing up for such an account is the only way to read the draft plan.

There are nine research goals for the plan:

  1. Enhance understanding of health determinants, and support efforts that improve the well-being of Arctic residents;
  2. Advance process and system understanding of the changing Arctic atmospheric composition and dynamics and resulting changes to surface energy budgets;
  3. Enhance understanding and improve predictions of the changing sea-ice cover;
  4. Increase understanding of the structure and function of Arctic marine ecosystems and their role in the climate system, and advance predictive capabilities of regional models;
  5. Understand and project the mass balance of mountain glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet and the consequences for sea level rise;
  6. Advance understanding of processes controlling permafrost dynamics and the impacts on ecosystems, infrastructure, and climate feedbacks;
  7. Advance an integrated, landscape-scale understanding of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the potential for future change;
  8. Strengthen coastal community resilience and advance stewardship of coastal natural and cultural resources by engaging in research related to the connections among people, and natural and built environments; and,
  9. Enhance environmental intelligence gathering, interpretation, and application to provide decision support.

If you’re still not sure whether or not to sign up for an account in order to review and comment on the plan, check out the FAQ page.  It describes how the draft plan differs from the existing plan, and outlines not only the research goals listed above, but the policy drivers for the plan.  Listed below, the drivers are the desired outcomes of the plan, which would be informed by the research goals.

  1. Enhance the well-being of Arctic residents. Knowledge will inform local, state, and national policies to address a range of goals including health, economic opportunity, and the cultural vibrancy of native and other Arctic residents.
  2. Advance stewardship of the Arctic environment. Results will provide the necessary knowledge to understand the functioning of the terrestrial and marine environments, and anticipate globally-driven changes as well as the potential response to local actions.
  3. Strengthen national and regional security. Efforts will include work to improve shorter-term environmental prediction capability and longer-term projections of the future state of the Arctic region to ensure defense and emergency response agencies have skillful forecasts of operational environments, and the tools necessary to operate safely and effectively in the Arctic over the long term.
  4. Improve understanding of the Arctic as a component of planet Earth. Information will recognize the important role of the Arctic in the global system, such as the ways the changing cryosphere impacts sea-level, the global carbon and radiation budgets, and weather systems.

This plan does appear to include more research on socio-economic impacts related to the Arctic.  Once the comments have been submitted, the intention is to submit the plan to the relevant federal agencies in September.  This may seem like a rush, but with the Arctic Science Ministerial scheduled for late September in Washington, D.C., I think it makes sense to have some form of the plan in front of the people likely to attend the Ministerial.