Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

New backers to run Arecibo

The National Science Foundation this week revealed the make-up of the consortium that is taking over the operation of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

The new agreement is valued at $20.15 million over five years, subject to the availability of funds, and is scheduled to begin April 1, according to the statement.

The new partnership represents a mixture of academic and corporate interests. The Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Yang Enterprises Inc. in Oviedo, Florida, will partner with [the University of Central Florida] to manage the observatory. The team plans to expand the capabilities of the telescope, officials said.

This relieves the National Science Foundation (and the taxpayers) of the the cost burden for this facility, at least directly.

NSF to help fund the development of implantable antennas

What could possibly go wrong? The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing funding for the development of an implantable antenna for health care, including the possibility for “long-term patient monitoring.”

The project is being financed in collaboration with the National Research Foundation of Korea to create a high frequency antenna that can be permanently implanted under a person’s skin. “Antennas operating near or inside the human body are important for a number of applications, including healthcare,” a grant for the project said. “Implantable medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers and retinal implants are a growing feature of modern healthcare, and implantable antennas for these devices are necessary to monitor battery level and device health, to upload and download data used in patient monitoring, and more.”

The grant said that an implantable device could be used for “long-term patient monitoring” and “biometric tracking,” or using technology to verify a person’s identity.

Without any doubt there are many very useful applications for such an implantable device. Monitoring battery life on pacemakers is an obvious one. There will be a problem, however, if anyone but the patient can do the monitoring. I can see too many possible misuses occurring should it be in anyone else’s hands. At a minimum, there are big privacy concerns.

Facing tight budgets, a National Science Foundation panel has recommended the shuttering of five major ground-based telescopes.

Facing tight budgets, a National Science Foundation panel has recommended the shuttering of five major ground-based telescopes.

Stay tuned for loud screams of outrage. However, some of these facilities have not been very useful for years. Consider the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Radio Telescope. It was only rebuilt after it collapsed in 1988 because of the political clout of Senator Robert Byrd. By the time that reconstruction was finished, a process that took more than 20 years, the telescope was completely obsolete. Though it has done some good science, it is far outmatched by other radio telescope arrays.

Many of the facilities are funded merely due to bureaucratic and political inertia. For the astronomical community to be willing to recognize this is a good thing, for which they should be lauded.

Spending money on silliness at the NSF and NIH

Your tax dollars at work: Spending money on silliness at the NSF and NIH.

Coburn’s report identified a number of projects that will make most Americans—scientists and nonscientists alike—shake their heads. They include studies of: how to ride a bike; when dogs became man’s best friend; whether political views are genetically predetermined; whether parents choose trendy baby names; and when the best time is to buy a ticket to a sold-out sporting event. And it noted that “only politicians appear to benefit from other NSF studies, such as research on what motivates individuals to make political donations, how politicians can benefit from Internet town halls…and how politicians use the Internet.”

Read the whole thing, as it gives a scientist’s perspective of this waste, which is sometimes not as obvious as the examples above.

The Giant Magellan Telescope project has decided it will not participate in a funding competition offered by the National Science Foundation.

The 24.5 meter Giant Magellan Telescope project (GMT) has decided it is not interested in competing for funds offered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

With just US$1.25 million available to the winner, the NSF competition was less about money and more about prestige. The NSF has been adamant that it has no significant money to support either project until the early part of next decade. But the Thirty Meter Telescope, which will still respond to the NSF’s solicitation, believed that a competition would at least demonstrate the NSF’s intention to eventually support one project — and that the winner would have an easier time attracting international partners.

But the GMT says it can go it alone, at least for now. On 23 March, the group began blasting at its mountaintop site in Chile. And they say they are nearly halfway towards raising the $700 million they need to complete construction.

If the GMT has already raised almost $350 million without NSF support, it makes perfect sense for them to thumb their noses at this piddling funding from the NSF, especially since the bureaucratic cost of getting that money will probably be far more than $1.25 million.

More bad budget reporting

Once again a journalist as well as a science journal are spinning budget numbers to hide the fact that the present Congress is not imposing draconian cuts to science. If anything, they are not cutting enough, considering the dire state of the federal deficit.

First there is the headline, from Science: Senate Panel Cuts NSF Budget by $162 Million. Then there is the article’s text, by Jeffrey Mervis, which not only reaffirms the cuts described in the headline but adds that “the equivalent House of Representatives panel approved a bill that would hold NSF’s budget steady next year at $6.86 billion.” Mervis then underlines how terrible he thinks these budget numbers are by quoting Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland): “We’ve gone beyond frugality and are into austerity.”

This reporting is shameful. Not only is Mikulski full of crap, Mervis’s description of the budget numbers is misleading if not downright wrong. Here are the final budget numbers for the NSF since 2007, in billions of dollars (sources: Science, the American Geological Institute, and The Scientist):
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