Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5 - report on the State of Science in the U.S.

This report was prepared for the Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. From the website:
In the face of so many daunting near-term challenges, U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface. Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: "Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position." Since that time we find ourselves in a country where much has changed--and a great deal has not changed.
So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm book was prepared? The unanimous view of the authors is that our nation's outlook has worsened. The present volume, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, explores the tipping point America now faces. Addressing America's competitiveness challenge will require many years if not decades; however, the requisite federal funding of much of that effort is about to terminate.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited provides a snapshot of the work of the government and the private sector in the past five years, analyzing how the original recommendations have or have not been acted upon, what consequences this may have on future competitiveness, and priorities going forward. In addition, readers will find a series of thought- and discussion-provoking factoids--many of them alarming--about the state of science and innovation in America.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited is a wake-up call. To reverse the foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and government officials--at all levels. This book, together with the original Gathering Storm volume, provides the roadmap to meet that goal. While this book is essential for policy makers, anyone concerned with the future of innovation, competitiveness, and the standard of living in the United States will find this book an ideal tool for engaging their government representatives, peers, and community about this momentous issue.
Available free online - linked above from the title of this blog post.

Monday, October 04, 2010

NSF Data Management Plans - language is out!

The National Science Foundation had said back in May of this year that Data Management Plans will be required in future grant applications, and that they would elaborate on this in October.

Academic librarians have been wondering if developing these plans might cause researchers to consult us about developing quality metadata for their data.  Ideally, thought should be given in advance of data collection to how research might be used in the future, by the researchers themselves, and by others, maybe even in other fields; tagging the data at its inception is most efficient. Looks like baby steps at the beginning, though.

Link to the NSF page where the language on Data Management Plans is published:

Specific language for various units within NSF (Directorate, Office, Division, Program, etc.) is here:

On that page is a link to an FAQ about Data Management Plans: 
For an example, here is Frequently Asked Question #3:
3. Am I required to deposit my data in a public database?
What constitutes reasonable data management and access will be determined by the community of interest through the process of peer review and program management. In many cases, these standards already exist, but are likely to evolve as new technologies and resources become available.

We're all in a brave new world.  If you are a UMass Amherst person and are interested in speaking with a librarian about how the Library might be able to work with you on a Data Management Plan, please get in touch!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Academy Rankings Tell You a Lot, But Not Who's No. 1 in Any Field

Jeffrey Mervis
Science 1 October 2010: 18-19. 

This week's release of the long-awaited assessment of the quality of U.S. research doctoral programs by the National Academies' National Research Council will disappoint those who simply want to know who's No. 1 in any particular field, because the NRC assessment can look quite different depending on your definition of "best." 
 This National Academies' NRC study was discussed in a recent meeting I attended of the UMass Amherst Faculty Senate's council which is the liaison to the University's Development Office.  Rankings of this kind are always of interest to University administrations, naturally. Everyone speaking about it acknowledged that the 'rankings' are problematic in a number of ways.  One member commented that the people doing the ranking wouldn't have first-hand knowledge of the  departments they were judging among - it's a matter of reputation, apparently, rather than anything based on real data. That said, people will make use of the numbers in whatever way will benefit their agenda.  From the article in Science:
To be sure, NRC does rank programs—but oh so carefully. Instead of assigning a single score to each program in a particular field, the assessment ranks the program on five different scales. Each score is also presented as a range of rankings reflecting the 5th and 95th percentiles of the scores it received. The scales themselves are based on 20 characteristics (see table, p. 19) that the NRC panel deemed appropriate for a quantitative assessment. Two are supposed to portray the overall quality of the program—one derived from a reputational survey (the R scale), the other from a quantitative analysis (the S scale). Three others rely on subsets that address important dimensions of quality: research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity. The report itself highlights the uncertainties generated by such an exercise by calling the results "illustrative rankings [that] are neither endorsed nor recommended by the NRC as an authoritative conclusion about the relative quality of doctoral programs."
 The report's Excel spreadsheets are available at or

News article from Nature: "Emperor penguin's old clothes are unveiled"

Fossilized feathers reveal colourful past.

A 36-million-year-old fossilized penguin skeleton found on a cliff-face in Peru has given scientists insight into how penguin feathers, originally used for flight, adapted to swimming. The fossil, found by palaeontology student Ali Altamirano of the Museum of Natural History in Lima, contained intact pigments which researchers say mean that, instead of the black and white plumage of modern-day penguins, the ancient bird sported grey and reddish-brown feathers.
Image caption: The fossilised remains of a giant penguin reveals the birds were not always black and white. - Katie Browne, U.T. Austin
... [article continues - click on title to go to the original article]