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Comment this is really a new problem? (Score 1) 254

Amazon (generally) isn't profitable. They need to find ways to make more money to stay in business. Is it surprising that they're trying to get more profit out of their store? As a customer, yes, that's annoying. I would love convenience, flexibility, and low prices for ever and ever. But, every other store on the planet is also trying branding, partnering and placement tricks like this to turn a profit. That candy isle at the grocery store checkout isn't there as a service to the customer.

Comment limitation is not financial (Score 2) 442

The limitation is not financial. Space exploration isn't expensive compared to other large infrastructure projects. Space exploration is very difficult and really exciting to work on. Given the opportunity, it could suck the attention and political talent away from domestic infrastructure projects.

In the upper levels of the government, there are a handful of roles from which a person can realistically manage the combination of congressional and bureaucratic oversight necessary to get "large" things done. If we're going to Mars, the director of NASA needs to be a superstar with a ton of facetime with Congress. That person can be the "visionary" science expert in Washington, or the "establishment" expert in Washington, but he can't "just" be a good administrator.

Chuck Bolden is a great guy, but he's not calling up his personal friends in the VC community like Arati Prabhakar (DARPA director and current "visionary" expert) or playing a key role in high stakes international diplomacy like Ernest Moniz (Sectretary of Energy and current "establishment" expert). Both of those administrators specialize in military related work. As long as the focus in Congress (and the media) is defense, it's going to be hard to break into that scientific leadership role focusing on anything but defense.

Comment Re:And what this tells us... (Score 2) 90

I'm a pretty good scientist, and I enjoy xkcd.

As a physicist, I don't expect the #1 book in "Physics" to be written by a professional physicist (although Randall has a physics degree and has worked a "physics" job). By definition, professional physicists don't specialize in mass market entertainment. Randall does specialize in entertainment, and I appreciate that he's using that expertise to write about science. If you don't like his approach, that's ok; there are other folks out there producing content about science differently.

Comment Re:NSF does credit products now [Re:"writing" has (Score 1) 122

That's not what I mean. Internally, how does NSF set its budget? Do the PMs get their money based on "other products" or papers published? If the "selection pressure" on program officers is to stick to the metrics (papers published), then they're going to pass that down to their performers.

I have been a program officer in other government agencies (not NSF), and I speak from my experience there. Our mission was technology transition, but our personal performance metrics were papers published. We rarely transitioned any technology (lots of SBIRs and industry collaborations, but those aren't actually technology transition). We did sponsor a lot of papers.

Your characterization of NSF "allowing" non papers on a CV is fairly shocking. In my experience, it's encouraged to have non-papers on a CV to at least pay lip service to the idea that science leads to broader societal impact.

Comment Re:"writing" has nothing to do with it (Score 1) 122

Maybe you didn't understand what I was talking about. Your grant proposals and tenure review processes are secondary effects here. The primary driver is how the government sets its budget internally.

I've been a grant officer. Of course we like seeing practical applications! It's wonderful to see people somehow get past the system to develop something that we can at least pretend is practical. The bottom line is, though, that papers published and students graduated are the hard metrics used to bash weak program managers in the internal budget fight. The other metrics go in the "other" category. If you don't have the numbers in the hard metrics, you don't get funding to give out grants.

Look at all the stuff you're referencing. If you don't see that those things are all related to the cycle of publish-citation-publish, you're not paying attention.

I'm in industry now. Guess what I need from the academic groups I sponsor? Paper publications! That's what my investors want to see: more publications, so that's what I need from the folks doing basic research. The company is good at practical work, I don't need to outsource that.

Comment "writing" has nothing to do with it (Score 4, Insightful) 122

Science today is judged by two metrics: papers published and students graduated.

It's important to actually understand that statement if you want to understand some of the quirks and problems with scientific culture.

You do not get credit for projects, advancements, talks, transition to industry, programs, results, etc. The government granting agencies only track papers published and students graduated when comparing different granting offices. Put another way, the government internally sets funding targets for each sub-field based on papers published and students graduated. Thus only papers published and students graduated are meaningful to science (again, not results, but papers).

Papers and # of PhDs became the currency of science, and are used to judge everything from the readiness of a student to graduate to the differential societal contribution of different scientific fields.

This has led to a situation where if you want to graduate students in fields like particle physics, you need to include them on the very rare papers that come out. Failing to graduate students would lead to a decrease in funding. For a student to get "credit" for working at CERN or NASA, that student needs to be on a paper. It's as simple as that.

Comment Re:Grants to Researchers vs Institutions (Score 1) 120

I used to be a government scientist overseeing grants. I was always astounded that professors did such a poor job reading and understanding their contracts (and budgets). Industry was always much better at this, and university administrators were usually ok, but professors had no idea whether shifting money around would get them a slap on the wrist or potential jail time (tip: it's both). Aisen committed a crime here, if NIH wants to pursue it. You HAVE to clear this kind of thing with your granting agency, and get that signed off by your old institution BEFORE you move.

You need to read your actual grant (or contract) as well as your data management plan, your clinical study protocol, etc... The project is not intangible. It has a contractually defined scope, owner, location, requirements, and performer. There are clauses that are triggered when one of these change. The government often does not enforce these conditions, because they have nothing to do with the metrics used to rank program dollars at most granting agencies.

The equipment bought with that money, the data generated, all of that stuff is owned by the government and held by the university in trust. It's rarely done, but the government can ask for equipment and unused materials back from any research project, or ask to use equipment (which generally should be kept in operating condition at the expense of the university).

Legally (and this is never enforced), you're required to include the cost of any government owned equipment you're using at your university in every grant cost proposal to fairly compare with organizations that don't have access to on-site government owned equipment.

The selection of grants is not simply based on scientific criteria, but often has much to do with the institution, politics, and economics. It takes a lot of work before you can convene a selection committee. Internal politics in the government covers geography, alumni networks, personal networks, public vs private institutions, universities vs companies, government employees vs private... before a decision based on science, there have been years of committee battles fought to prep a committee for certain expected proposals.

Data ownership here is the big one. The current PI inherited this data from UCSD when he moved there. That's not his even by your definition.

Bottom line, a grant is a contract with the government. You don't really want to be violating government contracts when that's how you're paying your bills.

Comment plans and term sheets (Score 3, Interesting) 129

There are a lot of reasons to criticize Silicon Valley, but being positive about a plan and having to deal with difficult term sheets are hollow complaints.

When you start ANY new project, there is a period of time when the project is not funded and does not have the necessary people to get it done. Startups are no different in selling a dream than any university professor, large company project lead, or government program manager.

The main point of TFA is that startup employees are starting to get more sophisticated in evaluating stock options coming from the common pool compared to investors' preferred shares. Preferred shares and liquidation preferences are tools investors use to reduce risk, and they are detrimental to employees (and founders) of a startup... except that without those investors, nothing could happen. Investors are going to get leverage somehow, and if you're smart, these clauses are not a problem.

Inflated valuations compound these issues. It should be obvious that early high valuations are bad for employees. Potential startup employees SHOULD understand that going to work for a company that is highly valued and has large investments offers much less financial growth opportunity than working for a company with a low valuation and small investment.

If you're a founder, keeping your valuation low during early stages of a startup company is much, MUCH smarter than arguing for a high valuation. This push for early high valuations is driven by lots of money sloshing around looking for a place to sit. That is a legitimate problem in Silicon Valley. As a founder, it may sound great to take in an extra $10 million, but if you don't need that money and can't actually justify that valuation, you've limited your company's future options (no IPO for you) and made it much harder to hire smart employees.

Comment not buying it... (Score 1) 106

This project (Armstrong suit conservation) is a no-brainer for good PR. Some congressman, grant manager, or corporate donor should jump to sponsor this. Congress has been a mess the last few years, but no one at NASA, NSF, or on their donor list was willing to step up? They get $1.1 billion in federal set asides and grants and $200 million in big donations, but no one in those funding streams was interested in being linked to preserving Armstrong's space suit? Really?

My problem is the implication they're making that they can't do the project without crowdsourcing it. I just don't believe that at all, and I think it's terrible to mislead the public like this.

I would rather they had just said they were working on a multi million dollar display of artifacts for the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, that they wanted to give everyone a chance to contribute, and that this suit restoration kickstarter is how they've chosen to do that. I think they'd raise the same money, but it would be a much more honest engagement with the public. The Smithsonian isn't a startup or a struggling artist, they don't need urgency and hyperbole to get people's attention.

Comment Re:except the IAEA is still a thing. (Score 4, Insightful) 79

I agree that a new gadget doesn't actually change anything about nuclear monitoring in Iran. Also, you may want to see what IAEA actually said about Iran before making such a strong statement. You're flat out wrong about the IAEA and Iran. The IAEA repeatedly complained about Iran's lack of cooperation and militarization of nuclear sites. I also think you're underestimating the leverage the Iran had here. The US didn't have a choice, we HAD to make a deal because we lost this fight.

You can't argue that Iran enriched to bombmaking levels and simultaneously claim they didn't pursue a weapon. Uranium for energy is 4% enriched. Uranium for a bomb practically starts at 20% enriched. Iran took material up to between 19% and 20%. Cute, because research reactors use that grade, but Iran was producing much more 19.75% LEU per month than their research reactors could use in a year. Using this material in an electricity generating reactor is needlessly expensive and wasteful. In sufficient quantities, this material can be made into a bomb, and Iran passed this "sufficient quantity" line a while ago. The purpose of IAEA inspections (and UN resolutions, sabotage, assassinations, sanctions, etc.) was to prevent this from happening. Crossing this line didn't send a message that they're just doing research or working on power systems. The message they sent to the international community is that they effectively had a bomb, and we couldn't stop them. That they then came to the negotiating table willing to throw that material out speaks to their willingness to be a civilized member of global society. Doubters will expect to see some of that material end up in the hands of terrorists, but whether that happens or not is a real test of Iranian intentions. If Iran simply wanted to nuke Israel, they could have done that already.

It's not likely that they simply want a civilian power industry. If that's so, they're going about this very differently than other countries have. The "normal" way to do power industry uranium enrichment is to run enrichment using a multinational corporate entity "owned" by multiple governments. In this way, regional and worldwide rivals can keep eachother in check while ensuring a domestic, cost-effective supply of uranium. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan all have civilian power industries without weapons programs and without nationalized uranium enrichment. Each of those countries went through this transition to regional nuclear (electricity) power without the drama and dangerous actions Iran has taken (kicking out the IAEA inspectors).

Now, it's completely absurd to argue that Iran will make money off of enriching uranium, the market is not there, and will not develop in the foreseeable future. The worldwide capacity for uranium enrichment is far in excess of what the power industry needs. After Fukushima, there is a huge surplus of power-grade uranium out there. Russia, in particular, runs it's enrichment factories well below capacity. Russia would love to supply uranium all over central Asia.

It is also absurd to argue that that Iran would be unable to create a domestic source of uranium for electricity using the international standard structures. Several other regional power level countries have done this. Early in negotiations, when everyone thought Iran simply wanted a power industry, Russia offered to partner with them in the normal way. It would make sense for Iran to partner with other regional powers getting into nuclear energy (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan) as well. That we don't see the typical partnership out of this strongly implies that Iran wants more than a power industry. They want to be treated like part of the "nuclear weapon club" without triggering immediate war with Israel by actually testing a bomb.

None of this means that the deal with Iran is bad, but everyone needs to be realistic about what's really going on. Iran has effectively had a bomb for many months. The west "lost" the fight of sabotage and sanctions versus Iranian nuclear development, and we weren't willing to escalate to direct armed conflict. This was about the global community negotiating from a very weak position, needing to provide sufficient "respect" to Iran, IN ADDITION to removing sanctions to convince them that further nuclear development is unnecessary. They have already demonstrated that the UN and IAEA can't stop them from making a bomb, we can hope these organization are more effective in the future, but why would we expect that? So, they get more leeway or "rights" than any other non-weaponized nuclear country.

Given the situation, it's understandable for Israel to be flipping their shit. If we misjudged Iran, they will suffer for it. It's also understandable for people to call this a "bad deal." Those people don't understand that we lost.

Comment widespread (Score 1) 165

The federal government and universities do the same. For all the talk about fair employment, I don't know that many leaders of large bureaucratic organizations have the ability to enforce fair employment practices on their people.

The bottom line is that offices that do this are not going to be good places to work, whether you're a contractor or an employee. I've worked in government for really great managers who were required by law to do stupid things to their employees. Government managers are often balancing contradictory requirements, and you end up with situations like this all the time.

Comment Re:Actor's agent is also an employer? (Score 2) 88

This is a silly analogy, actors are unionized and the actor-agent relationship is mediated by the union, just as the actor-employer relationship is. Working through the union is such a big part of acting culture that Ronald Reagan ran it for a while. ... if you are going to make an acting analogy, Uber is more like SAG, than a super-agent. Sure, there are other unions an actor could join, but most actors are going to make the most money working under SAG rules. The difference here is that the actors get a vote in how SAG is run.

Comment just ask any postdoc... (Score 1) 503

We have a reputation based economy in academic scientific research. Like in StarTrek, this works well when there is growth. As long as there is no external limit on advancing good people into desired positions (professor), developing a good reputation leads to professional success. In a stagnant economy (i.e. the past 7 years), people who have developed enough reputation to justify independent projects have no opportunity to do so as resources for additional positions aren't available.

Comment Re:good for her (Score 2) 467

I did leave that off. Because of the money they raised, they needed to boost revenue significantly. This is where people get the idea that she did the "dirty work" of trying to institute advertiser friendly policies (including firing people who were internal advocates of community over profit).

People didn't give Reddit millions of dollars to be nice to the community, they invested that money to squeeze profit out of the community (and to trigger a higher performance based buyout clause from the initial Conde Nast deal). That was a problem she inherited. Obviously those efforts have been a debacle. I think she (and the board) honestly thought that being PC police and having a hands off approach to the community was the better business decision. It's not like they picked her at random to lead the company, they knew what they were getting. It wasn't until the community shut down the site that they all realized this approach is bad. Both she and the board are now paying for those mistakes.

Huffman has made his money off of Reddit, he doesn't need another big payday, and the board will have very little effective control, they can't lose another CEO. I don't think he goes back to Reddit if the board is still strong. Good news for the community, probably bad news for the investors and advertisers.

Comment part of a broader effort (Score 3, Interesting) 74

This is part of a broader DARPA driven effort to expand what biology is capable of.

The end goal is to be able to create new materials (better fuels, medicines, building materials, etc) using biology. This requires expanding the "toolkit" biology uses to incorporate biologically incompatible elements, chemicals and processes.

So, starting from the end: We want a better biofuel. To do that, we want proteins that can better incorporate inorganic catalysts and work at higher energies than existing biology. To do that, we need different amino acids and protein construction machinery. To do that, we want to expand DNA to code for these new amino acids.

This is a "good" DARPA project in that we're not able to do all of this yet. What this means is that technology is pushed forward significantly, and we're able to clearly identify the real challenges.

The goal of science is to build better mousetraps. The goal of nature is to build better mice.