Astronomical Jury Duty

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Eric KorpelaProject Donor
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Message 892761 - Posted: 8 May 2009, 19:38:13 UTC
Last modified: 11 May 2009, 21:42:27 UTC

A few weeks back, I got a jury duty notice. But I had to reschedule for the fall because I had already committed to jury duty of a different kind: Astronomical Jury Duty.

The way government funding of the sciences works in the U.S. might not be the way most people think it does. You don't typically call up your congress people and ask them to insert a line item into the federal budget. Although that can be lucrative if done right, it won't earn you to many friends among your colleagues. There are still hard feelings about such an event that happened a few years ago and ended up threatening funding to a lot of worthwhile programs; our beloved Arecibo was among them and is still threatened.

The more typical way is to submit proposals to the agencies that fund the sort of science you want to do. In our case those agencies are NSF and NASA. One way that NSF and NASA evaluate which proposals to fund is to assemble a review committee of scientific peers. In essence it's a jury, and part of the unpaid duties of a scientist (in addition to reviewing papers before publication) is to serve on these committees. So I was sent a pile of proposals and summoned to Washington. I can't tell you which committee I was on, or what the subject matter was, but that I was on a committee is considered public knowledge and is subject to FOIA requests.

It makes sense that people who understand the field are the best ones to evaluate proposals. But in some ways it's a little strange. The people you are reviewing are competitors to some extent. Imagine if you made doohickeys and wanted to sell some to the government. Would you be happy if the government flew all the other doohickey manufacturers to DC so they could give their opinions of your doohickeys? Well it's strange, but it seems to work.

Typically, it seems, that the agency is able to fund 20% of the proposals to the program I was reviewing. Last year was bad, only 15% of the proposals we funded. This year, with some help from the economic stimulus package, they're hoping to do much better.

Oh, and one of our proposals(*) was funded, which will help make up for some of the reduced level of donations we've been getting. Won't make up for all of it, so we'll still be operating with the same level of personnel.



(*) Different government agency. It's not like they let us review our own proposals. ;)


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Profile Johnney Guinness
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Message 893706 - Posted: 11 May 2009, 20:28:17 UTC - in response to Message 892761.  
Last modified: 11 May 2009, 20:28:56 UTC

Good on you Eric for doing your Jury Duty, it does sound like an interesting process, almost having to ask your enemies to stand and judge the merit of your science proposals.

And glad to hear your proposals received funding, its good news!

Thanks for the update Eric,
John.


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Profile Johnney Guinness
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Message 894163 - Posted: 13 May 2009, 12:07:48 UTC - in response to Message 892761.  
Last modified: 13 May 2009, 12:31:45 UTC

Oh, and one of our proposals(*) was funded, which will help make up for some of the reduced level of donations we've been getting. Won't make up for all of it, so we'll still be operating with the same level of personnel.

(*) Different government agency. It's not like they let us review our own proposals. ;)


I also noticed a new acknowledgment on the bottom of the front page here;

SETI@home admins wrote:
SETI@home and Astropulse are funded by the National Science Foundation and donations from SETI@home volunteers


It seems that the NSF pay more attention (and grants) to science projects that can produce concrete science results. NASA don't call it SETI, they call it Astrobiology and Astrobiology is the new SETI of the 21st century. Gently steering the SETI@home project in this new direction could pay dividend in the coming years. Even the SETI Institute have changed direction and their website now has a large emphases on learning and education.

NASA Astrobiology; http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/

NASA SELECTS “AMES RESEARCH CENTER TEAM” FOR ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE; http://www.amesteam.arc.nasa.gov/

May 7, 2009 - NASA AMES wrote:
NASA awarded five-year grants, averaging seven million dollars each, to 10 research teams from across the country to study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe


Well done again on getting the funding.

John.

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Profile Gary CharpentierCrowdfunding Project Donor
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Message 894225 - Posted: 13 May 2009, 16:23:51 UTC - in response to Message 892761.  

I see your Sith thread locked just in time



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Message 894294 - Posted: 13 May 2009, 20:21:22 UTC

All very interesting Eric. Having spent many years in the cut-throat world of doohickey manufacturing (as well as widgets, gizmos and other bits and pieces), I have sat on several standards and regulations committees where the competitors try to put aside their natural differences to work for the betterment of the whole industry, and maybe even all mankind. It is a struggle, but I would like to think that serious scientists (like you) would be better at that sort of thing than filthy capitalists and their lackey running dogs (like me).



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Eric KorpelaProject Donor
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Message 894312 - Posted: 13 May 2009, 21:07:17 UTC - in response to Message 894294.  

It is a struggle, but I would like to think that serious scientists (like you) would be better at that sort of thing than filthy capitalists and their lackey running dogs (like me).


Scientists are humans, too. Well, most of the ones I know are.

The rules are set up pretty well to avoid conflicts of interest. Proposers can name people who they don't want to review the proposal which can help avoid true enemies from killing each other's work. In addition, nobody reviewing the proposal is competing for a share of the same pot of money, and you aren't allowed to review proposals from your own institution or those of recent collaborators.


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Message 894681 - Posted: 14 May 2009, 19:00:39 UTC - in response to Message 894312.  

Scientists are humans, too.


Oh yeah? Prove it! I want to see a full doctoral thesis on the subject, complete with a peer review and finalized by a panel of judges. We'll just see about scientists being "human"! You're not fooling anybody!

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Message 894781 - Posted: 14 May 2009, 22:46:08 UTC - in response to Message 894681.  

Scientists are humans, too.


Oh yeah? Prove it! I want to see a full doctoral thesis on the subject, complete with a peer review and finalized by a panel of judges. We'll just see about scientists being "human"! You're not fooling anybody!


Now OzzFan, you know that's not practical nor objective. A peer review would have to be done by scientists. But since the subject of the thesis is whether scientists are human, they are automatically disqualified as biased. Catch 22.

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Message 894805 - Posted: 15 May 2009, 0:13:51 UTC - in response to Message 894781.  

Scientists are humans, too.


Oh yeah? Prove it! I want to see a full doctoral thesis on the subject, complete with a peer review and finalized by a panel of judges. We'll just see about scientists being "human"! You're not fooling anybody!


Now OzzFan, you know that's not practical nor objective. A peer review would have to be done by scientists. But since the subject of the thesis is whether scientists are human, they are automatically disqualified as biased. Catch 22.


You catch on fast, young padawan.

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Message 895013 - Posted: 15 May 2009, 17:32:54 UTC - in response to Message 894781.  

Scientists are humans, too.


Oh yeah? Prove it! I want to see a full doctoral thesis on the subject, complete with a peer review and finalized by a panel of judges. We'll just see about scientists being "human"! You're not fooling anybody!


Now OzzFan, you know that's not practical nor objective. A peer review would have to be done by scientists. But since the subject of the thesis is whether scientists are human, they are automatically disqualified as biased. Catch 22.


Perhaps we could have the review done by accountants then. Or maybe lawyers.

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Message 895041 - Posted: 15 May 2009, 18:35:42 UTC - in response to Message 895013.  

Scientists are humans, too.


Oh yeah? Prove it! I want to see a full doctoral thesis on the subject, complete with a peer review and finalized by a panel of judges. We'll just see about scientists being "human"! You're not fooling anybody!


Now OzzFan, you know that's not practical nor objective. A peer review would have to be done by scientists. But since the subject of the thesis is whether scientists are human, they are automatically disqualified as biased. Catch 22.


Perhaps we could have the review done by accountants then. Or maybe lawyers.


...but surely we all agree that they are even less human? At least the lawyers are. The accountants are great at least one time per year.

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Message boards : SETI@home Staff Blog : Astronomical Jury Duty


 
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