Thursday, January 15, 2015

Several items, including interesting reading

  • Celebrity scientist Lawrence Krauss has written an article (pdf) about whether celebrity scientists are good for society, and noting that celebrity \(\ne\) greatest scientific researcher, necessarily.  In response to the title ("Celebrity scientists:  Bad for science or good for society?") it's tempting to be snarky and respond "Why not both?". Note that this guy is conspicuously absent from the article.
  • Hat tip to the Angry Physicist for pointing out this article about the US military academies.  I found it genuinely shocking.  I'd always had the impression growing up, based on anecdotes I guess, that West Point and Annapolis in particular were incredibly selective and could be very academically demanding.  The academy graduates I've met over the years had only reinforced this idea by being very impressive people.  I was very dismayed to read about the apparently low academic standards.
  • I was dismayed by two NSF-related issues in the last week.  First, NSF has gotten increasingly rigid about enforcing minutia of their guidelines over the last couple of years.  This is particularly frustrating when combined with guidelines that are themselves ambiguous (e.g., saying that a preproposal must include certain items, but not saying whether other items like collaboration letters are desired, or worse, forbidden because adding extra material can be grounds for getting bounced without review), and then being hard to reach for clarification.  This is a further sign that they are understaffed and overwhelmed.
  • Second, in the Major Research Instrumentation call, NSF no longer allows grant funds to pay for technical staff.  That means that an approach that had previously been extremely helpful (have NSF pay for 75% of a staff person the first year, 50% the second, and 25% the third, so that a university can taper in technical staff support over time) is no longer possible. 
  •  An old friend of mine does an excellent podcast, and he spent some time talking with me - it was really fun.


Don Monroe said...

Any link for the first NSF item?

Douglas Natelson said...

Hi Don - no link, just my personal experience. I had some questions about the guidelines for the EFRI program (preproposals due last Friday - this one had a success rate last year of something like 3-5%, and it isn't going to be better this time around). They said that preproposals had to include certain items. They didn't say what to do about others (e.g., a "facilities and resources" document). On some items they had marked "N/A" in the online submission system, but not others. I sent two emails to several program officers with several questions. I got one response that partly answered one question. After a few days, I picked up the phone and had to get several people deep into the list to get a person on the line, who answered my questions. Even there was ambiguous wording about things like the list of names for conflict of interest (does "single alphabetical list" mean it should or should not be broken down by PI/co-PI? Would they kill a proposal for an improperly formatted list?). Part of the call asked for two items to be emailed to a NSF address immediately after submission (a list of COI people and a 1-page "vision" ppt slide). There was no acknowledgment of receipt of the files. I sent them a second time just in case and asked for an acknowledgment - nothing.

I understand that they're under tremendous pressure from Congress,etc. to be sticklers about the ever-changing details of proposal formatting and content. However, extreme rigidity about that stuff, plus ambiguous wording of requirements, plus understaffing-induced lack of responsiveness to questions, is a depressing combination.

Anonymous said...

So, for reasons I haven't tracked down yet, my version of Google Chrome is throwing up "[Math Processing Error]" for most of the links in the posts on your blog. Amusingly, the first one I encountered was your nod to Mike Kaku. I thought you were just being snarky. :)

The page loads fine in Firefox, by the way, so I figure it's something weird in my Chrome configuration

Douglas Natelson said...

Bernie, I think chrome must be gagging on MathJax, the script that's used to render LaTeX in the posts. The not-equals sign in the first paragraph is an example. Hmmm....

If others are having this issue, please let me know.

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