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The Week of February 26
Start your week fully informed with a preview of what's ahead in science policy and funding along with a recap of last week's news.
The Week of February 26
House Science Committee to Review Sexual Harassment
The House Science Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday focused on sexual harassment in science. An all-woman expert panel will describe how federal science agencies and research institutions handle claims of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct and it will offer recommendations on improving the reporting process and overall culture in science. Among the witnesses are Rhonda Davis, head of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, who is leading the implementation of NSF’s new reporting requirements on harassment; and Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, who has played a key role in the society’s adoption of an updated ethics policy that defines sexual harassment as scientific misconduct. The hearing follows the committee’s recent bipartisan request for a Government Accountability Office report on how science agencies handle claims of sexual harassment against researchers.
Next-Generation Geostationary Weather Satellite to Launch
The second of four satellites in the $11 billion Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) - R series is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the GOES network, are holding a pre-launch news conference and science briefing to discuss how the satellites are expected to enhance weather forecasting. The first satellite in the series, GOES-16, launched in November 2016 and took over NOAA’s geostationary observations of the eastern U.S. on Jan. 8. The new satellite, to be designated GOES-17 when it becomes operational, will eventually take over observations of the western U.S., extending geostationary coverage by state-of-the-art observational satellites to the entire country.
Planetary Science and Astrophysics Panels Meeting
Two meetings this week are apt to offer insights into the implications of NASA’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for its Planetary Science and Astrophysics Divisions. The National Academies committee conducting the midterm review of the current decadal strategy for planetary science will be meeting on Monday through Wednesday. Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green will be presenting and may address the Trump administration’s proposal to expand the division’s funding and add new lunar science and planetary defense programs to its portfolio. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz will provide a program update at a meeting of the interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee. The administration is proposing a long-term decrease in the size of NASA’s astrophysics budget and the cancellation of its flagship Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
Fusion Panel to Review Strategies of Several Countries and Companies
A National Academies committee tasked with charting potential futures for the U.S. burning plasma fusion research program is convening this week in San Diego, California, at the headquarters of General Atomics, which hosts the DIII-D tokamak funded by the Department of Energy. During the open portion of the meeting, which will be webcast, the committee will receive presentations on the fusion strategies of Korea, Japan, and China, delivered by representatives of each country. In addition to learning about General Atomics’ fusion plans, the committee will hear from a co-founder of the company Tri Alpha Energy on the “capability and prospects of private-sector fusion ventures.” In closed session, the committee will also meet with staff from the ITER fusion facility.
NSF Briefs Governing Board on Competitiveness Act Implementation
At its first meeting of the year, the National Science Board received an update on implementation of last year’s American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which made the first major changes to the agency’s authorizing statute since the America COMPETES Act of 2010. National Science Foundation officials described steps they have since taken and summarized their recent interactions with Congress, such as a Senate hearing on the act held last month. One goal of the legislation was to strengthen NSF’s facility management practices, and in response the agency has created a Facilities Governance Board and created a chief facilities officer position, among other actions. Jim Ulvestad, the first person to occupy the new role, stressed that facilities do not now all report to him and that he is not in charge of the Large Facilities Office. Rather, he said his role is focused on coordinating information flow, ensuring facilities oversight is uniform across the agency, and keeping the Office of Director “fully in the loop.” Other presentations delivered at the meeting are available here.
More DOE Budget Documents Released, NSF’s Expected Soon
The complete fiscal year 2019 budget request documents for the Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration are now posted here. The full documents for DOE’s other offices are still not yet available. The last-minute addendum to the request has delayed the budget rollout for several agencies. The full document for the National Science Foundation is set to be released this week.
Science Coalitions Advocate for FY18 Spending Boosts
Four D.C.-based advocacy coalitions, representing numerous scientific organizations and universities, as well as private companies, sent letters to congressional appropriators this month urging them to allocate new funds, made available through the recent bipartisan budget deal, to science agencies and programs. The Energy Sciences Coalition letter calls for a $5.7 billion appropriation for the Department of Energy Office of Science, which would reflect 4 percent real growth above fiscal year 2017 levels. The Coalition for National Science Funding letter calls for a $8 billion appropriation for the National Science Foundation, representing 4 percent annual real growth from the fiscal year 2016 level. The Coalition for Aerospace and Science letter calls for a $20.5 billion appropriation for NASA, a 5 percent increase above the House proposal for fiscal year 2017. And the Coalition for National Security Research letter takes a less specific approach, urging appropriators to provide robust funding for Department of Defense Science and Technology and warning of the consequences of proposed cuts. (AIP is a member of ESC, CNSF, and CAS.)
NSF to Shutter Its International Offices
The National Science Foundation announced on Feb. 21 that it will be closing its three overseas offices — located in Belgium, China, and Japan — by this summer. According to reporting from Science|Business, NSF’s decision is based on budgetary considerations and understaffing issues at the agency’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and is not politically motivated. In its statement, NSF emphasized that the office closings are “an opportunity to modernize and broaden our international collaboration,” and that the agency will continue those efforts by “[deploying] NSF experts for short-term expeditions to selected areas to explore opportunities for collaboration.” NSF will be holding a briefing on March 1 that will discuss the changes to its overseas offices.
University of Central Florida to Manage Arecibo Observatory
The National Science Foundation announced on Feb. 22 that a consortium led by the University of Central Florida will take over management of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The contract is expected to run for five years, over which time NSF will decrease its annual funding for the facility from about $8 million to $2 million as part of its broader plan to divest from several astronomical facilities. The university says that among the strategies it will pursue to help pay for operating costs are “offering short-term operational partnerships for telescope time to the scientific community and private and public agencies; seeking donations; seeking additional partners; and setting up tourism programs around the facility that will generate revenue and help the local Puerto Rican economy.”
State of Lunar Science Report Released
The Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, a forum established in 2004 to support NASA, released an interim report last week on the state of lunar science and opportunities for future work. NASA’s Planetary Science Division requested the report last April to update a 2007 National Academies report, “The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon.” The new report reviews progress made on the research agenda detailed in the previous report and identifies three new high-priority subjects for research: the lunar volatile cycle, the origins of the moon, and lunar tectonism and seismicity. It arrives in the wake of NASA’s revelation of plans to establish a new lunar research program within the Planetary Science Division to complement the Moon-centered human exploration program that President Trump ordered late last year.
Academies Committee Examines Extent of Research Irreproducibility
At its second meeting, a National Academies committee examining reproducibility and replicability in research heard from a panel of experts on the subjects. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and an early critic of research replicability, said the problem is “very extensive.” He emphasized the wide differences across scientific fields in the use, applications, and extent of reproducibility and replicability, but warned that investigators in nearly all fields underestimate experimental bias. Brian Nosek, director of the Center for Open Science, cautioned that while the full extent of the problem is unknown, it is “extensive enough to know it’s improveable.” He recommended the scientific community establish norms, incentives, and requirements that encourage researchers to share their work.
Space Council Appoints Advisory Panel, Holds 2nd Meeting
On Feb. 21, the White House announced 29 appointees to the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group. Its members range from former astronauts and leaders of private sector space companies to Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A few currently work in science-focused positions: G.P. Bud Peterson, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology and a member of the National Science Board; Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative and a former director of NASA Ames Research Center; David Wolf, a visiting engineering professor at Purdue University and a former astronaut; and Pamela Vaughan, a science teacher. The next day, the National Space Council held its second meeting, which focused on regulatory reform.
AAAS Meeting Highlights Biomedical Innovation Efforts
The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which concluded last week, included a number of addresses and sessions at the intersection of science, policy, and society, with a focus on national efforts underway to promote biomedical innovation. In his plenary address, former Vice President Joe Biden described cancer research as at an “inflection point,” saying breakthroughs are possible if the scientific and health communities are open to changing their traditional practices. He described how the private Biden Cancer Initiative is working to complement the National Institutes of Health’s new Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Cori Bargmann, the Chan Zuckerberg Science Initiative’s president of science, also addressed the meeting, describing how the initiative is making investments and experimenting with new ways of organizing the scientific community, with the goal of eradicating all disease by the end of the century. The issues surrounding sexual harassment and other misconduct in the sciences were also a major subject of discussion throughout the meeting.