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What would convince you that funding science is worthwhile?

Now that we are seeing some of the final FY 2012 appropriations being passed in both the House and Senate, I thought that it would be good to do a budget post. There were many Calls For Action last week to scientists, encouraging them to call/write to their Representative in the Senate to support the FY 2012 NSF budget at a level of little over $6.8 billion. I believe that the Senate did pass a series of appropriations that included the FY 2012 NSF budget, by a vote of 69 to 30.This year, perhaps more than any other year, there has been an incredible amount of discussion surrounding the Federal Budget. But I do not want to go into rehashing those events.Federal Funding for scientific agencies fill a significant detriment in the country as more and more companies are cutting their R&D departments. The Federal Government has the ability to encourage more R&D by creating aspiring mandates, such as the Fuel Efficiency Standards  announced in July in which current technology will not reach those goals, requiring companies to be innovative in order to comply with the mandates.  The funding appropriated to agencies in turn provide the Federal Government with the knowledge and research for feasible and high-achieving mandates that can in turn develop new markets and encourage innovation. Larger R&D departments = more jobs, better economy.A part of me wonders, why it is not an easy decision to continue to fund agencies like the NSF? $6.8 billion sounds like a lot of money, but it only comes out to, on average, $22/year/person. Is it the need to know what scientists are using the funds for? Does the tax-payer not want to support appropriations to these agencies because there is no accountability? I realize that this past spring, when the Senate report, The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscopecame out, much of the media focused on the “absurdity” of robots folding laundry. But in that anecdote they failed to recognize the importance of studying computer simulated unordered tasks. The report fails to understand the process of science and its outcomes. The reason that I bring this report up is that although the report claims that a lack of accountability justifies cutting the agency’s budget, it is not clear to me that more accountability would fix the problem. Thus, I want to ask: would the public like access to publications as a means of accountability?Currently, a majority of peer-reviewed research is published in journals that require a license for access. These licenses are very expensive and institutions pay a significant amount of money for access to these publications. Currently, the Office of Science and Technology Policy has put out a call for input on allowing public-access to publications and it will be very interesting to see the responses.

In case you haven’t seen this yet: Jon Stewart parody, what are we scientists up to?! 🙂

What are some other means to better illustrate that funds towards scientific research is worthwhile?

Excellent post in Science Progress: In defense of the NSF

*edit 11.09.11: New initiative unveiled by NSF that will allow some proposals that will not go through the traditional review process. This new initiative is perhaps a means to address Congress’ criticism of NSF not funding “transformative research”? CREATIV 





An Academic’s Experience at Wikimania

Since I was doing a significant amount of tweeting about Wikimania, I thought that it would be good to do a quick post about the conference. As my first conference not (directly) academically focused, it was nice to form these new unique connections, to see and meet so many people committed to an amazing cause. Sure the media goes after the comedic aspect of edit wars and vandalism but deep underneath that are a group of people who voluntarily commit time, efforts and talents to make it so that accurate information is freely available to as many people as possible.  It also never ceases to amaze me how this even works the way it does.

“Making fun of Wikipedia is so 2007.” Sue Gardner

The Wikimedia Foundation has educational initiatives, research into how to encourage experts, and projects focused on the global south.  Their mission is what I ideally wish every institution could strive for.  **

I was especially intrigued by the Wikimedia Foundation’s research on expert contribution. As a few of you might have remembered, there was a call for readers of various academic journals (Nature, Science, Scientific American) to fill out a survey about their anticipated contribution and interactions to Wikipedia. The results from that survey were presented at the conference and are available at: MetaWiki. One of the major conclusions is that many experts would more likely offer their expertise to reviewing articles rather than contributing to writing articles. It is perhaps strange – but similar to the system of peer-review – that editorial responsibility although seemingly to have a small direct benefit for the amount of time spent on it, may actually be a means for Wikipedia to gather expertise.  I am excited for the follow-ups that the foundation will be doing to gather more data on this finding and means of executing an initiative to gather more expert contribution.

It was also exciting to learn that the Department of State developed and runs an internal wiki called Diplopedia, and has been presenting their progress at Wikimania for the past few years!  I have not written too much about the Wikipedia Educational Initiatives that I have had the opportunity to be a part of in this blog yet (which I should alleviate soon), but along with the communication skills gained in using Wikipedia as an educational tool, the technical skills on how to use a wiki will also be beneficial and it is great to see the Department of State illustrate this with the internal wiki they are developing based on Wikipedia.  When information can be easily shared it saves time and resources as new employees can quickly be caught up and benefit from experiences of other employees.   Part of me always thought that this type of system would be deployed through out industry but that is definitely not the case. I have had a few friends express stress and frustration with the disorganization and lack of resources to be adequately caught up on projects.

In addition, I also learned about a requirement for some submissions to RNA Biology to also submit a Wikipedia entry to be considered for publication. This is really exciting to hear as I am an advocate of increasing expert contributions to Wikipedia. Now this apparently has been required since 2008, so the efforts I heard about at Wikimania were how to get more journals to be on board with the same type of requirements. RNA Biology is a very limited examples because there are quite a few restrictions to the types of articles that require a Wikipedia article, and so there is some need to discuss how to expand the guidelines to other tracks and to perhaps convince the editorial boards of other journals to require similar requests. What do you think? How do you feel about the movement towards open science? What are your fears?


***As I am at the point in my life where I am debating about the benefits and drawbacks of walking away from the Ivory Tower, the chance to get to see the workings of an institution like Wikipedia and all of its projects reminds me of how I had once thought that academics worked the same way.  And the hope that because it exists, one day maybe academics will work this way, and if so I would want to be a part of it. But also, because what I have experienced so far is not this beautiful ideal, I also do not see the Ivory Tower changing soon enough.