Next up for Science in Congress: HR3433 – the Grant Reform and Transparency Act

Just got pointed to this by Mark Martin. There is a new bill making its way through congress – HR 3433 – the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011. It has a subtitle apparently of “To amend title 31, United States Code, to provide transparency and require certain standards in the award of Federal grants, and for other purposes.”
The full text of the bill and other information is available here.
I personally don’t know much about this bill but found some discussion of it here:
I have not formed an opinion of the act but thought I would share the information since it does not seem to be getting much attention but seems like it could have impact.  I note – one group that I respect deeply supports the act: the Sunlight Foundation which involves people like Ester Dyson and Lawrence Lessig.  Any opinions or insight on the bill would be welcome.

C-DEBI Research Support > Request for Research Proposals

Katrina Edwards on the Atlantis

I have always been fascinated by life in extreme places on the planet. And somehow I have managed to do projects on microbes from places like Antarctica, boiling hotsprings in Yellowstone and Kamchatka, acid pools, and more. The extremes are fascinating to me because they tell us a lot about the limits of life as well as indirectly about life in “normal” places.

And of course, I am not alone. Many many scientists are fascinated by life’s extremes. But not everyone ends up studying life in extreme environments of course. One reason for this is that many extreme environments that might be of interest are kind of hard to study. Consider the deep sea. Not so easy to do work there and just getting samples can be a massive undertaking.

Just imagine though. What if there were a way to “tag along” on an existing project studying life’s extremes at no cost to you or your grants? Even better what if there were a way to get extra funds to not just tag along on a project but to carry out detailed research at the same time?

Well, amazingly, there is such a chance right now. The C-DEBI “Center for Dark Energy Biosphere” project is calling for proposals. C-DEBI Research Support > Request for Research Proposals

They have money. They have drills. They have been and will continue to be collecting lots of samples from the bottom of the ocean and the crust below.  They are doing a bunch of microbiology (as well as other things). And they are calling for people out there to join them in various ways including;

And if you are interested they are heading out in a few days on a cruise to study the seafloor at “North Pond” a site in the bottom of the ocean on the Mid=Atlantic Ridge. For more information about this cruise see

I note – I was a visiting scientist for a few days at one of the C-DEBI meetings about evolution earlier this year. It was a great meeting – on Catalina Island – and I wrote a VERY long blog post about it: The Tree of Life: A “work” trip to Catalina Island: USC, Wrigley, C-DEBI, dark energy biosphere, Virgin Oceanic, Deep Five, & more. You can learn more about the C-DEBI project by reading that post.  And you can look at my pretty pictures below:

I note in addition, I am forever in debt to Katrina Edwards the PI of the C-DEBI project ever since she gave a frigging awesome tour to my kids of the Atlantis when it was docked in San Francisco

But regardless of the personal connections I have to C-DEBI, the project is very interesting and the fact that they are offering up funds to support “outsiders” who want to participate in the project in some way is great.

Single annual cycle for the National Science Foundation’s MCB, DEB and IOS Divisions.

Just received this from NSF and thought it might be of interest to some:

Dear Colleagues:

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated new procedures for the submission and review of regular research proposals to the core programs within the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). The changes for MCB were previously announced in a new solicitation (NSF-11-545).

Effective immediately, DEB and IOS will both operate on a single annual cycle of preliminary and full proposals. The initial deadlines for preliminary proposals will be in January, 2012 and the initial deadline for invited full proposals will be in August, 2012. New Solicitations NSF 11-573 (for DEB) and NSF 11-572 (for IOS) provide further details. Also see the Dear Colleague Letter NSF 11-078 and Frequently Asked Questions NSF 11-079 for additional information.

Both DEB and IOS will be hosting webinars to provide further information, please see the Division websites, (DEB) and (IOS), for details and contact information if you have questions or concerns. 

NSF requests for "conflicts of interest" lists drive me batty and seem to penalize collaborative, interdisciplinary researchers

OK, time to bitch and moan a bit.

I am working on a few proposals to the National Science Foundation where NSF asks one to include “lists of institutions, project personnel, and collaborators with Conflicts of Interest”.

Seems simple I suppose.  But not when you get down to the details.  For example I found some guidance from the NSF about this where they ask one to list coauthors, collaborators, co-editors, students, advisors, advisees, friends, relatives, and many other affiliations.

To make a very long story short.  NSF wants you to make a list of anyone who possibly should not review your grant.  And if you are involved in many large collaborative projects or teach or train a lot of students.  Well, you are screwed.  For example, if they really want me to be thorough, I would probably have to list more than 500 people.  This would include a few hundred co-authors and hundreds of collaborators (e.g., on some projects I am working on with the Joint Genome Institute there are hundreds of people involved in some way).

Why does NSF ask for this?  Apparently, to help them select reviews for grant (I note, as far as I have seen, other granting agencies do not ask for this information).  If I were to do this as thoroughly as they ask, it would probably take me 2-3 full days of work – compiling the entire list of all who I collaborate with in some way on the many large projects on which I work.  I note – they don’t just ask for a list of names.  They ask for current organizational affiliations.  I published some papers four years ago with people who I have not met and have no frigging idea where they are now.  In some cases I might be able to figure this out with google but in others it might be impossible.  Even when easy it would take many minutes of searching per person to be sure.  So with some 500 people on my list (actually, probably more) it could take many many many hours just to figure out where people are now.

Anyone heavily involved in genome sequencing would probably have a massive list to go through.  Actually anyone involved in any large scale collaborative science project would have a pretty big list.  So, in a way, NSF is punishing people who do large scale projects like this by giving us extra work to do.  If you don’t collaborate with anyone or train anyone, well, you get a free pass and have no work to do here.

Do you get the feeling I am annoyed by this?  I used to compile a relatively full list.  But I have given up making it complete.  I now do my best to list major collaborators and coauthors but even that takes a long time.  And it all seems a bit inane.  Why can’t NSF just ask reviewers to declare their conflicts like other granting agencies?

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fact that they ask for this as an Excel spreadsheet saved in csv format.

Received my first soliciation regarding "Broader Impact" reqs for grants

Got an interesting email the other day:

What do the following research programs have in common?

1. Lost Ladybug Cornell (Cornell University, NY)
2. Museum of the Earth (Ithaca, NY)
3. Crossing Boundaries (Hobart and William Smith Colleges, NY)
4. High School Polar Outreach Project (Charleston, SC)
5. Go Inquire Project (George Mason University, VA)
6. Project Wetkids (University of Southern Mississippi)

Answer: They decided to hire Next Interactives to develop a highly engaging research website to help fulfill their Broader Impact and Outreach requirements.

Sound interesting? Simply reply to this email for a free website consultation.


Outreach Project Manager
Next Interactives LLC
Our portfolio:

This seems to be focused specifically on the “Broader Impact” requirement in National Science Foundation grants.  I have never received a solicitation like this before.  Anyone else out there get anything like this?  What do people think?  I think it is possibly a good thing that some companies are thinking there is a niche for them in Broader Impact and outreach assistance.

A call for Open Access supporters to favor grant proposals from researchers promising Open Access publishing

In the world of scientific research, perhaps the most critical step is the acquisition of funding to do research. A key component of grant reviews these days are “Release Policies” for data, tools and research materials. In general, the more “Open” one is with these release policies, the more likely one is to get a grant. This of course makes great sense. If one is going to keep ones data or tools or material private for as long as possible, then one is not advancing science as rapidly as someone else who did the same work but also released everything rapidly.

I believe now is the time for the same thing to be done regarding Open Acces publishing. One can use the same litmus test here. Imagine two grant proposals, to do identical work. And furthermore, asssume the researchers will succeed in their work. And one researcher promised to publish in an Open Access manner while the other promises to publish in a non Open manner. Again, assuming everything else is equal, I think the proposal promising Open Access publishing HAS to be scored higher than the one promising non Open publishing.

Certainly in NSF proposals this could be considered as a component of the Broader Impact criteria and people should write it into their grants. If anyone has any ideas about how this could be specifically incorporated into NIH or DOE or other grants please let me know.

So I call on researchers who support Open Access publishing in any way to start to bring this up on grant panels and in grant reviews. And to score proposals accordingly. That is, if someone has a record of publishing in Open Access journals, they should be moved up a notch compared to others. Just how much is a “notch”. That should be up to individuals. But it is the principle here that is important – publishing in Open Access journals should be a component of grant reviews.