07.13.09 by Daniel Mietchen
Editor’s Note: The following is an article by guest blogger Daniel Mietchen, PhD, originially written up for the Euroscientist, the blog of Euroscience.org. This first part of a two-part series on “What would science look like if it were invented today?” deals specifically with the implications of the transition from paper-based to electronic communication for the process of knowledge creation. It delves into the importance of collaboration and openness in science. FundScience.org cross-posts this article, as well as the forthcoming second installment, because of our passion to promote open science and collaboration, not only between scientists, but between the scientific community and the public. Note that the drafting takes place in a wiki, so you can join in.
The Internet represents an opportunity to change this system, one which has created a 300-year-old, collective long-term memory, into something new and more efficient, perhaps adding in a current, collective short-term working memory at the same time. With new online tools, scientists could begin to share techniques, data and ideas online to the benefit of all parties, and the public at large. (Robert J. Simpson, paraphrasing Michael Nielsen)
Sure, it is hard to imagine you reading this blog post in a world which hadn’t yet engaged in science but the question “What would email look like if it were invented today” was recently addressed during the presentation of the Wave protocol, and entertaining some similar ideas on reinventing science may perhaps be worthwhile: how would a system have to be designed that creates and structures knowledge such that these two complex processes can effectively feed on and adapt to each other, making use of the most appropriate technologies at hand? Both processes are highly interrelated but to facilitate the discussion, we will first consider them separately (in this and the next issue of the Euroscientist), and then provide a synthesis (to which you can contribute).
Part I: What would knowledge creation look like if it were invented today?
The basic components of research
Let us start by considering scientific knowledge creation — or research, for short. Within the framework of existing knowledge, this requires, as a first step, the identification (and perhaps further characterization) of a gap to be bridged or closed, albeit some methodologists prefer or even have to construct their bridges before choosing a suitable place to install them.
Once such a gap has been identified (we will leave a detailed consideration of this process for later), three basic components are necessary to close it, usually following each other as stages of a research project:
- Planning: an idea on how to bridge or close the gap
- Realization: the means to put the idea into practice
- Verification: independent assessment of the realization.
A fourth component is crucial to the process — appropriate communication during and across the three basic stages as well as beyond individual research projects. Traditionally, this was (and still is) accomplished separately for each of them:
- Grant proposals after an idea had been prepared for realization,
- Conference and journal papers once the realization had progressed, and
- Further papers (by independent investigators) once replication had been attempted (e.g. as a control experiment in a follow-up study).
The decoupling of this fourth component from the other three, however, is simply a trait our research landscape has inherited from the era of paper-based scientific communication, and by far not a technical necessity today when basically any kind of information can be shared instantly (with few exceptions, e.g. patient data) within and beyond the scientific community. For our purposes, we will thus reframe the concept of putting ideas or results on paper as putting them on a wiki, a blog, a dedicated online repository or successors of these (e.g. as blips or wavelets within the proposed Wave protocol) — in any case a shared research environment — from where they can be syndicated and aggregated in various forms and embedded in other digital environments.
Hello to public research environments online
In this kind of framework (best known as Open Science, henceforth public research environment to emphasize that the concept is applicable across disciplines and that communication in and with the public is different from science as we know it), individual contributions (or comment thereupon) can be automatically assigned a unique identifier (henceforth contribution ID; this may be a revision number with time stamp in wikis or databases, a DOI for journal articles or an ISBN for books), linked to its originator (henceforth contributor ID; usually the user name) as well as other relevant information (e.g. funding sources), and aggregated in various forms. In a paper-based system, contributor ID is mainly composed of an author’s surname plus some representation — variable across journals — of given names, such that a single contributor ID may be shared by different individuals whose names are identical or similar, while some individuals (especially those with multiple initials, with non-English characters, or who changed their name after marriage) may have more than one contributor ID. For online platforms, the contributor ID is generally unique within but not across individual online platforms, although a number of solutions towards unique identification of contributors have been implemented (e.g. OpenID), including some specifically targeted at scientists (e.g. Researcher ID).
Each contribution ID can not only be linked to its contributor but also tagged (similar to the keywords currently accompanying manuscripts or grant proposals) and have their quality assessed (or rated, for short) by individual contributors (perhaps as a function of the overlap between the tags for their personal expertise and those of the contribution under consideration) according to a pre-defined set of evaluation criteria (e.g. appropriateness to the current stage of a given project, reliability of the information supplied, or presentation with enough context to be understood by specialists and/ or the public). Some journals already allow such ratings and further comments. However, none of them currently provides aggregations of ratings or comments by contributor, although technical standards for such purposes are operational (e.g. hreview). Despite possible herding effects and other sources of error, the principle feasibility (not the effectiveness) of generating and aggregating such user-defined metrics has been demonstrated on multiple online platforms, especially in non-scholarly environments (tagging: Flickr; rating: Ebay) but in some scholarly ones too (tagging at CiteULike).
No working implementation currently exists that would address the lack of incentives for scientists to engage in collaborative research assessment of this sort but since both publishers and funding agencies have managed to coerce scientists and their institutions into all sorts of behaviour during research assessment exercises in the past and present, they should have no problems providing incentives to participate in this one which has the added benefits of being both transparent and beneficial to the scientific community as a whole (it is of note in this respect that there are very few incentives in the current system to deliver timely, fair and detailed peer reviews for grant proposals or manuscripts). One way to do this would be to require that every reference cited should be rated by the citing researchers (some journals already single out a few references in this manner as being “of outstanding interest” or similar, but aggregating such ratings of single references in a global database like Open Library would be more helpful), another would be to include both the quality and the quantity of a specific researcher’s ratings (both active and passive) into the determination of the variable portion of her research funding, perhaps with some sort of normalization by the usage frequency of the tags involved (to balance between large and small fields of inquiry, and to avoid exaggerated claims). The remaining obstacles to a wider adoption of such transparent reputation schemes based on a public research environment with unique contribution and contributor ID schemes are thus not of a technical nature, and we shall assume these features to be available for the system we are about to design.
So far, we have only covered technical aspects of redesigning a research system emancipated from the paper medium but, as Michael Nielsen put it, “[T]here is a second and more radical way of thinking about how the Internet can change science, and that is through a change to the process and scale of creative collaboration itself, enabled by social software such as wikis, online forums and their descendants.” In a similar vein, Timothy Gowers started the Polymath project with a blog post discussing the following idea:
It seems to me that, at least in theory, a different model could work: different, that is, from the usual model of people working in isolation or collaborating with one or two others. Suppose one had a forum (in the non-technical sense, but quite possibly in the technical sense as well) for the online discussion of a particular problem. The idea would be that anybody who had anything whatsoever to say about the problem could chip in. And the ethos of the forum — in whatever form it took — would be that comments would mostly be kept short. In other words, what you would not tend to do, at least if you wanted to keep within the spirit of things, is spend a month thinking hard about the problem and then come back and write ten pages about it. Rather, you would contribute ideas even if they were undeveloped and/or likely to be wrong.
This short way of communication is taken to an extreme via the exchange of text messages over mobile phones and web platforms, particularly Twitter or the social aggregator FriendFeed, and even though scientists clearly form a minority on such platforms, they did begin to incorporate them into their research.
Quick poll: did you check any references in this post so far? How did you did that? And how do you usually do it when you read a paper? Sadly, even though most scientific journals now publish their content on the internet, most of the formatting is still being performed with paper as a target — only rarely are hyperlinks incorporated even in the online versions. Online environments, on the other hand, are built around hyperlinks and allow to embed basically any kind of media, for example the Science Commons video below that highlights the value of sharing scientific information.
Research seen in a new light
With the above remarks in mind, let us now reconsider the three stages listed above:
The conception of ideas is a process very specific to the problem at hand and to the individuals (or possibly even machines) dealing with it. Ideas may arise from intensive or superficial occupation with a topic, from experimental or theoretical work on it, from a literature search, from play with methods and concepts, and under multiple other conditions.
If scientists can access all the scientific information relevant to their research, new ways of processing them can be invented: BioText Search Engine, for instance, allows to search the literature via figures from Open Access articles, while Pubfeed uses a corpus of user-defined seed papers to provide an automated stream of literature recommendations that can be fed into a feed reader. Upon visiting this platform according to her own schedule, the researcher can then just click on an item in the feed to go to the abstract, and with one more click to the full text (if she has access to it), suitable reference managers automatically download the article along with its metadata. Some such platforms even allow to host one’s digital library on the web and to share it (including metadata) with colleagues or collaborators — a service that tremendously facilitates collaboration but is necessarily of limited use in the realm of toll-access barriers, even if one was lucky enough to receive an eprint for personal use from the authors of a particular study.
In contrast to grants, it is usually hard to tell when a research project began. For simplicity, let us thus assume that it is started by being entered into the public research environment and tagged as an idea with suitable keywords. Similar to the above-described feeds for publication alerts, scientists (and possibly other interested parties, including dedicated robots with their own contributor ID that access the system via its API) subscribed to specific tags or contributors (or combinations thereof) will then automatically be informed of the existence of this new project and may add to it (e.g. comments, references, extensions, limitations, illustrations, links to suitable tools or relevant legal information or related ongoing projects or previous refutations of similar ideas, offers for collaboration or funding, suggestions for a timeline, or simply further tags, or ratings of any of these), to which the original contributor and anyone else interested may respond. All of this would require open standards and suitable licensing as well as provisions for security and against spam.
As a result of these interactions, the planning of a subset of proposed projects will have taken shape after a while, i.e. the necessary material, financial and human resources integrated with a tentative timeline to acquire some preliminary data. Once these are available, they will be posted in the same way as everything mentioned before — with the public research environment effectively acting as an electronic lab notebook — and immediately visualized and integrated with the relevant information available in the system by then, such that the procedures can be adapted as needed to gather the amount and quality of data necessary to bridge the targeted knowledge gap in its most recent state.
Searchable lists sortable by tags, contributors, ratings, envisioned budget or other metadata can then be compiled automatically. On this basis, science funders (which may include dedicated funding bodies but also other organizations, companies, groups of scientists or others, possibly even including lay people) would be able to browse (potentially even with the aid of automated or semi-automated proposal crawlers) through the available proposals meeting their criteria and to either fund them directly or to signal to other funders that they would be willing to fund a proposal in part (such a practice would particularly benefit transdisciplinary projects, which often fall through the grid in traditional research funding). No technical difficulties here, just cultural ones associated with the cherished habit of keeping ideas and results private until formal publication.
It is important to note that such a public research environment would allow for independent verification right from the start in that independent samples could be investigated in parallel by independent scientists (or even robots) following the same public protocol and posting their data in public as they arise — a situation far from being common in contemporary science, although not entirely new after successful completion of large-scale collaborative initiatives like the Human Genome Project.
The transition phase
One of the most frequently raised arguments against public research environments concerns the perceived danger of getting scooped of the information laid out under the eyes of everyone and their dog. But with a functional attribution system as described above, it will always be possible to point out, in public, who had posted what and when, thereby severely limiting the effectiveness of any scooping attempt. Furthermore, it is probably fair to assume that way more scientists would prefer to engage in collaboration rather than scooping, and so it is much more likely that the posting of ideas, results or analytical tools will result in constructive feedback early on, which may actually enhance their research. Indeed, once the paper-based separation of the communicative component of knowledge generation has been overcome, the incentives are going to shift towards releasing new information immediately. Until this is achieved — and this will take a while — the paper-based system will remain important, and our new system will have to be set up as a complement to it.
Interestingly, a public research environment would work best if the initiators of a project had a certain amount of baseline funding at their disposal to bring their research through the idea stage until the first preliminary data (when it is easier to get putative funders interested in the matter). Such baseline funding is realistic: A recent study on the cost effectiveness of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada found that the costs of the research grant peer review exceeded the costs of providing every eligible researcher with a yearly baseline grant of about CAN$ 30k. Furthermore, a possibility to invest in selected projects initiated by others (either in terms of reviewer effort or as active participant) is perhaps even better a form of research assessment than classical behind-the-doors peer review.
Given that a rating system implemented in our public research environment would almost certainly be less expensive than classical committee-based peer review of grant proposals (most online platforms can be used at no or low cost, no travel costs are incurred by the process, and all the effort spent on reviewing — currently often lost to society, particularly if a manuscript or proposal is rejected — could be used immediately by anyone), the new system would represent an improvement with respect to the current one, even if neither the quality of the research, nor the speed of communicating the results were affected. But both are bound to improve in the new system, leaving more money in the research funding system that can actually be spent on research than this is currently the case.
A small change in the design of the research system — switching from paper-based to web-based communication of ideas, results and verifications — may have profound consequences: within the scientific community, the permanent communication of progress during the course of a project will shorten the feedback loops, allowing to improve or update the design of any research project on the run and to link it to other gap-closing or even maintenance work on our shared corpus of knowledge. Beyond the scientific community, a scientific cycle that is completely open will allow new ways of interaction with society at large, particularly the media: Instead of maintaining a stream of “scientists found out” broadcasts as they do today, the media could add in some issues of the “scientists are currently investigating — let’s see how they do it” variety, and everybody and their dog could join. Such strong interaction with the public via the internet also set the frame for the discussion of the second aspect of science — knowledge structuring — to which we will turn next, and you are warmly invited to participate.
This post was written up on the basis of multiple and ongoing discussions in several online environments, particularly the Science 2.0 group at FriendFeed. Specifically, Björn Brembs, Cameron Neylon and Michael Nielsen provided comments on an earlier draft.
06.26.09 by FundScience
FundScience Receives $100,000 Donation
Pittsburgh, PA – June 21, 2009
FundScience, an organization dedicated to enabling public funding of scientific research projects, announced today that it has received its first corporate donation in the amount of $100,000. The donation was received from Check Giant, a financial services company. This initial donation will support first year operating costs and allow FundScience to carry out its central goals, including the funding of small research projects.
FundScience is an online charitable organization which aims to create an open platform for funding the research of promising young scientists. Its mission is to generate start-up funding for pilot projects while raising public awareness of basic research. Founded in 2008 by David Vitrant and Mark Friedgan with the goal of creating a virtual collaborative ecosystem for scientists and the general public, by drawing on the growing online giving market as well as social networking , thus promoting science education and reducing the average age of independent scientists. FundScience is based in Pittsburgh, PA, USA and is currently accepting public donations. For more information, visit http://fundscience.org.
06.25.09 by FundScience
Below is a reprint of our most recent press release. Read the actual press release here.
Getting The Public Invested in Science
Pittsburgh, PA – June 1, 2009
FundScience is an online charitable organization which aims to create an open platform for funding the research of promising young scientists. Its mission is to generate start-up funding for pilot projects while raising public awareness of basic research. The organization intends to fill a well recognized funding gap of the major players in research funding: the government, foundations and the private sector, which tend to focus on seasoned scientists. FundScience identifies itself alongside these groups but provides an unconventional source of funding by drawing on the growing online giving market as well as social networking.
FundScience has discovered a market that is excluded by the current funding process: young researchers needing small amounts of funding to initiate research projects and create the data necessary for accessing larger and more sustainable forms of funding. By communicating these funding opportunities to the general public in an accessible fashion FundScience can help these young researchers generate the funds necessary to get their research started. By providing opportunities for these researchers at an earlier stage in their career, FundScience can lower the average age of researchers receiving large funding grants, provide money for training, and get young researchers trained for the competitive grant writing environment. It aims to educate the public about science and the research process, from grant writing to funding, all the way to the results, enabling everyone to be a part of scientific discovery. FundScience will create an ecosystem for scientists to collaborate with each other and general public.
FundScience has engaged scientists from various fields to leverage the well trusted peer review process to vet submitted projects prior to public review. For projects determined as viable by peer review FundScience will provide a platform to enable active and open communication between the researchers and members of the community in order to engage the public in the details as well as enable these projects to receive donations. FundScience provides additional resources by publishing general interest science articles on its blog and is in the process of securing free access to tools to assist scientists in collecting and processing data.
Later this year FundScience will put out its first open call for projects.
FundScience has been established and managed by two former Carnegie Mellon roommates, David Vitrant and Mark Friedgan. In the first couple of months of the organization’s existence it captured the attention of many publications and was featured in Science, The Scientist, and was picked up by several blogs. Mark’s philosophy of leveraging open technologies to drive success in an online business can also be found in his recent interview with Forbes.com.
05.29.09 by Daniel Gaddy
One of the key goals of FundScience is to provide a fun, interactive method to educate the public regarding the science that directly affects their lives. Interestingly enough, a lot of other people are now attempting to do the same thing. I was listening to NPR’s Science Friday just now and host Ira Flatow was discussing DNA Art with two artists who incorporate DNA and genetics into their artwork. Furthermore, yesterday The Scientist had an article about GQ magazine’s “Rock Stars of Science” spread, which organizers “hope will help heighten the public’s awareness of these biologists and their work while showcasing the need for greater science funding.” In addition, last week Nature News profiled SciFlies, an organization very similar to FundScience. Their website has the following to say:
At SciFlies.org, we envision a world in which people have a better awareness of how science supports them sustains their well being. Our mission is to create a movement that connects people from all walks of life with scientists and researchers, and provides a vehicle for them to fund micro-research projects that expedite the discovery of new breakthroughs and advance scientific progress in labs across the globe.
Using social networks, video, new media, and other online tools, we want to broaden the experience of discovery for everyone, especially young people. Getting kids excited about careers in science, technology, engineering and math is a great way to ensure the competitiveness of our nation and improve the quality of life for people everywhere.
We believe scientists are heroes. If you do too, please investigate the work of the scientists and researchers showcased on this web site and support them with a donation.
This suggests that many groups within our society are independently coming to the conclusion that science is interesting and needs increased public awareness. More importantly, funding for science is an absolute necessity. It is time for the scientific community to embrace modern, “outside-the-box” methods of funding, including avenues such as FundScience and SciFlies. Public funding for scientific research is a largely untapped reservoir. While some segments of our society may be resistant, I think the majority are thirsting for science, technology, innovation and information. The problem is reaching these people, and letting them know how they can participate and help. This is where organizations such as FundScience come in. However, in order for us to grow and be successful, we need your help. Spread the word about FundScience – tell your friends, family and coworkers about us. You can now follow us on Twitter @fundscience and we are working on moving into other social media sites. Finally, we are now accepting public donations, so if you feel that what we are trying to do is important, please consider supporting us.
05.21.09 by Daniel Gaddy
Predictably, the National Institutes of Health is reportedly overwhelmed by the submission of approximately 20,000 Challenge Grant applications, which is more than double the amount typically received in a normal review period. NIH is supposed to award the grants by the end of September. In order to review this number of grants in such a short time period, it has recruited more than 15,000 extra reviewers and will take an editorial board-style approach. One obvious issue with so many applications and reviewers is that the pool of reviewers comes from the same pool of applicants. This creates potentially serious conflicts of interest, and unprecedented headaches for the NIH staff to find reviewers with expertise in a particular field, but who did not submit grant applications to the NIH branch that represents their field of interest!
Furthermore, grants are primarily submitted through the website Grants.gov, which accepts grant applications from 26 federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation. The system is already inundated with around 20,000 submissions, causing countless submission problems ranging from generally sluggish performance to system crashes. With the application deadline of May 29th looming, many more applications are expected, along with additional problems. As alternatives to Grants.gov, DoE is accepting applications through their e-Center portal, NSF is accepting applications through Fastlane, and other agencies have established alternative mechanisms of grant submission. However, it would not be terribly surprising if the grant awards were delayed due to the unprecedented number of submissions.
In related news, NIH is examining its financial conflict of interest policies following a number of high-profile incidents involving extramural researchers. Comments are due by July 7.
The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
As a priority Open Government Initiative for President Obama’s administration, Data.gov increases the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. Data.gov provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of Data.gov.
Public participation and collaboration will be one of the keys to the success of Data.gov. Data.gov enables the public to participate in government by providing downloadable Federal datasets to build applications, conduct analyses, and perform research. Data.gov will continue to improve based on feedback, comments, and recommendations from the public and therefore we encourage individuals to suggest datasets they’d like to see, rate and comment on current datasets, and suggest ways to improve the site.
A primary goal of Data.gov is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Some existing datasets relate to Health/Nutrition and Science/Technology. It will be interesting to see what types of datasets appear on this site in the future.
05.15.09 by Daniel Gaddy
New guidelines for the use of embryonic stem cells have been proposed by the National Institutes of Health. Many scientists were excited when President Barack Obama announced on March 9th that restrictions enforced by the Bush administration would be overturned. Under the Bush administration policy, only 21 embryonic stem cell lines that had been established prior to August 2001 qualified for federal funding. The new policy draft was released April 18th and, after much scrutiny from the science community, has been deemed by many scientists to be even more restrictive than the Bush administration policy.
The new policy requires consent forms that specifically mention human embryonic stem cell research, forbid donating eggs for the benefit of a specific person, and contain multiple other stipulations that were generally mentioned on older consent forms, but not specifically defined. The new rules are to be applied retroactively to existing embryonic stem cell lines, and therefore could have a serious impact on existing and proposed research. In fact, the vast majority of the 700+ existing embryonic stem cell lines would be ineligible for federal funding under the new policy.
The NIH has issued a Request for Comment in regards to the proposed “Draft National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research Notice”. Prior to enacting these changes, the NIH must obtain public comment. These comments are taken seriously in determining whether the proposed changes will be enacted.
Stem cell research has been a hotly debated issue and responding to the request for comment is a way for individuals, scientists and lay-persons, to have a say in the discussion. We encourage you to make your voice heard.
The deadline for a response is May 26, 2009. The notice can be found at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-9313.htm. You may submit a comment through the following website: http://nihoerextra.nih.gov/stem_cells/add.htm.
- Obama’s Stem Cell Guidelines Threaten Research
- Obama Lifts Ban on Stem Cell Research
- Draft of stem cell research guidelines unveiled
03.10.09 by Daniel Gaddy
On February 13th, the United States Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that provides significant improvement to federal science funding, and President Obama signed the bill into law on February 17th. Below are two newsletters that have been forwarded to many of us in the science community. These reports provide details about the package and its impact on science funding. The first report is from the US Congress, outlining where the $787 billion will be spent. The second report is from Howard Garrison, the Director of Public Affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and specifically deals with the funds allocated to the NIH.
United States Congress
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
Creating Jobs, Supporting the States and Investing in Our Country’s Future
The United States is facing its deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, one that calls for swift, bold action. The goals of this legislation are the same as they have been from day one: to strengthen the economy now and invest in our country’s future.
This legislation will create and save jobs; help state and local governments with their budget shortfalls to prevent deep cuts in basic services such as health, education, and law enforcement; cut taxes for working families and invest in the long-term health of our economy. We do all of this with unprecedented accountability, oversight and transparency so the American people know their money is being invested responsibly.
To accomplish these goals, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $311 billion in appropriations, including the following critical investments:
- Investments in Infrastructure and Science – $120 billion
- Investments in Health – $14.2 billion
- Investments in Education and Training – $105.9 billion
- Investments in Energy, including over $30 billion in infrastructure – $37.5 billion
- Helping Americans Hit Hardest by the Economic Crisis – $24.3 billion
- Law Enforcement, Oversight, Other Programs – $7.8 billion
Investments in Infrastructure and Science include:
- $7.2 billion for Broadband to increase broadband access and usage in unserved and underserved areas of the Nation, which will better position the U.S. for economic growth, innovation, and job creation.
- $2.75 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to secure the homeland and promote economic activity, including $1 billion for airport baggage and checkpoint security, $430 million for construction of border points of entry, $210 million for construction of fire stations, $300 million for port, transit, and rail security, $280 million for border security technology and communication, and $240 million for the Coast Guard.
- $4.6 billion in funding for the Corps of Engineers.
- $1.2 billion for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements, long-term care facilities for veterans, and improvements at VA national cemeteries.
- $3.1 billion for repair, restoration and improvement of public facilities at on public and tribal
- $4.2 billion for Facilities Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization to be used to invest in
energy efficiency projects and to improve the repair and modernization of Department of Defense facilities to include Defense Health facilities.
- $2.33 billion for Department of Defense Facilities including quality of life and family-friendly
military improvement projects such as family housing, hospitals, and child care centers.
- $2.25 billion through HOME and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill
financing gaps caused by the credit freeze and get stalled housing development projects
- $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program for community and economic
development projects including housing and services for those hit hard by tough economic times.
- $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas
and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.
- $27.5 billion is included for highway investments
- $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
- $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation
- $1.3 billion for investments in our air transportation system.
- $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity
- $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs — especially those improving energy efficiency in aging buildings.
- $2 billion for full-year payments to owners receiving Section 8 project-based rental assistance.
- $2 billion for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes.
- $1.5 billion for homeless prevention activities, which will be sent out to states, cities and local
governments through the emergency shelter grant formula.
- $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects.
Environmental Clean-Up/Clean Water
- $6 billion is directed towards environmental cleanup of former weapon production and energy
- $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements.
- $1.2 billion for EPA’s nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.
- $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal
facilities in rural areas.
- $1 billion total for NASA.
- $3 billion total for National Science Foundation (NSF).
- $2 billion total for Science at the Department of Energy including $400 million for the
Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E).
- $830 million total for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Investments in Health include:
- $19 billion, including $2 billion in discretionary funds and $17 billion for investments and
incentives through Medicare and Medicaid to ensure widespread adoption and use of
interoperable health information technology (IT). This provision will grow jobs in the
information technology sector, and will jumpstart efforts to increase the use of health IT in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other medical facilities. This will reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health care for all Americans.
- $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs to fight preventable diseases and conditions with evidence-based strategies.
- $10 billion to conduct biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stem cells, and to improve NIH facilities.
- $1.1 billion to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, NIH and the HHS Office of
the Secretary to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different health care services and treatment options.
Investments in Education and Training include:
- $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, including $39.5 billion to local school
districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, or other purposes; $5 billion to states as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures in education; and $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education and for modernization, renovation and repairs of public school facilities and institutions of higher education facilities.
- $13 billion for Title 1 to help close the achievement gap and enable disadvantaged students to reach their potential.
- $12.2 billion for Special Education/IDEA to improve educational outcomes for disabled children. This level of funding will increase the Federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.
- $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500. This aid will help 7 million students pursue postsecondary education.
- $3.95 billion for job training including State formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth programs (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth).
Investments in Energy include:
- $4.5 billion for repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology.
- $3.4 billion for Fossil Energy research and development.
- $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid.
- $6.3 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants.
- $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
- $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research.
- $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced batteries systems and
components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States.
- $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar
projects and for electricity transmission projects.
- $1 billion for other energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses,
transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances.
Help for Workers and Families Hardest Hit by the Economic Crisis includes:
- $19.9 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food
Stamps, to increase the benefit by 13.6 percent.
- Child Care Development Block Grant: $2 billion to provide quality child care services for an
additional 300,000 children in low-income families who increasingly are unable to afford the high cost of day care.
- Head Start & Early Head Start: $2.1 billion to allow an additional 124,000 children to participate in this program, which provides development, educational, health, nutritional, social and other activities that prepare children to succeed in school.
- State and Local Law Enforcement: $4 billion total to support law enforcement efforts.
- $555 million to expand the Department of Defense Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP)
during the national mortgage crisis.
Unprecedented Oversight, Accountability and Transparency
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan provides unprecedented oversight, accountability, and transparency to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested effectively, efficiently, and as quickly as possible.
- Funds are distributed whenever possible through existing formulas and programs that have proven track records and accountability measures already in place.
- Numerous provisions in the bill provide for expedited but effective obligation of funds so that
dollars are invested in the economy as quickly as possible.
- The Government Accountability Office and the Inspectors General are provided additional funding for auditing and investigating recovery spending.
- A new Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board will coordinate and conduct oversight of recovery spending and provide early warning of problems.
- A special website will provide transparency by posting information about recovery spending,
including grants, contracts, and all oversight activities.
- State and local whistleblowers who report fraud and abuse are protected.
- There are no earmarks in this bill.
The full text of the bill can be found here.
” I have just finished speaking with Raynard Kington, Acting Director of the NIH, and he has given me the basic outline of how NIH will allocate the new funding from the stimulus bill:
As we know, the legislation provided a total of $10.4 billion. Of this sum, 1.3 billion will go to NCRR [National Center for Research Resources] ($1 billion for competitive extramural facilities; $300 million for shared instrumentation). Another $500 million goes to intramural facilities and $400 million gets transferred to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
A total of $8.2 billion goes to the NIH Office of the Director [OD], of which $7.4 billion is transferred to the I/Cs [Institutes/Centers] with $800 million remaining in OD for trans-NIH initiatives.
Here is the basic outline of how the $8.2 billion will be spent. There will be three major mechanisms with the bulk of the funding going to mechanisms 1 and 2:
1. R01 applications already in the funding queue Two years of funding will be provided for those applications that can benefit from two years of funding and align with I/C priorities. A few applications may get four years of funding
2. Administrative Supplements to existing grants Existing grants with at least one year to run may be given the opportunity or asked to submit supplements that further the goals of the I/Cs. These will be handled at least in part by requests from the I/Cs and likely with some calls for proposals and could involve equipment, extended funds for postdocs who were not able to move to their own position, summer students, related projects, etc. There may be other priority issues that the I/C staff want to see funded.
3. Challenge Grants
A new RFA [Request For Applications] will be released within a week or two for a new, two-year program of cross-cutting, highly innovative projects, $1 M total per project.
Mechanisms for the $400 M for AHRQ [Agency for Healthcare Research Quality] are not yet finalized.
>From what I have learned, this is excellent news. More information will be available shortly.”
Howard H. Garrison, Ph.D.
Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Director, Office of Public Affairs Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 9650 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20814
A lot of this may be incomprehensible to the layperson, but what it basically means is a lot more money has been made available for science funding via the NIH, as well as other agencies. The basic mechanisms of the NIH funding are to provide additional money to existing, qualified grants, and to begin funding many new, short-term grants (RFAs). This could go a long way toward stimulating the sciences, as well as the economy as a whole. Much of this money will go toward infrastructure, meaning the construction of new research buildings and laboratories, which provides jobs to the construction industry. When the new labs are constructed, institutions will need to hire new faculty, new Postdocs, new students, and new technicians. This is very good news for those of us in the science community, who have felt a significant crunch over the past several years. Nonetheless, it cannot be overstated that this is a short-term fix – a bandage to stop the bleeding, so to speak. Long-term solutions to science funding will depend upon multiple avenues of support, not solely federal funding. This will also require a fundamental change in our values – as a nation, it is time that we, once again, begin understanding and advocating the importance of science and science education.
The complete list of NIH challenge grants resulting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 can be found here.
01.23.09 by Daniel Gaddy
By now, everyone should be aware of the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme, which swindled $50 billion from investors. What you may not be aware of is the impact of this scandal on science. Multiple private foundations that fund research have announced that they were victims of Madoff’s scheme. These organization include the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, the Picower Foundation, and the Wunderkind Foundation, and potentially others that have not publicly announced they are victims. When we combine the funds lost as a result of the Madoff scheme with the effects of the current economic downturn, which has cost some private foundations up to 30-40% of their assets, we begin to paint a frightening picture of private research funding. Many of these organizations have announced that they will not be able to fund new research projects in the coming fiscal year, while others have ceased all grant-making, including the payment of grants that have already been awarded, for at least the coming fiscal year.
The effects of this are already being felt at research institutions around the country, including right here in Pittsburgh. Timothy Greenamyre, a Parkinson’s Disease researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, has announced that he lost a $750,000/year grant from the Picower Foundation, which will be closing its doors altogether in the next few months. Furthermore, my own boss has announced that he will not receive renewals of previously-awarded grants from both the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, two organizations that have suffered losses due to the poor economy.
If you have read this blog before, you know that most funding for biomedical research is awarded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You should also be aware that the funding levels of the NIH are among all-time lows as the budget of the NIH has effectively been dropping for the past 8 years. Unfortunately, with the inability of private foundations to fund new awards, and in some cases not even being able to honor their previous obligations, more and more researchers are going to turn to the NIH, and the percentage of funded grants will undoubtedly drop even further over the next year. As a result, many outstanding research projects will not be funded, and many academic scientists may even lose their labs if they are not able to replace lost funding.
We all suffer from this. Scientific advancement requires money, and lots of it. Without science funding, diseases remain uncured and unchecked, healthcare practices and techniques are unimproved, and our overall technological advancement is inhibited. While no one can accurately predict what the coming year holds, we can say that, right now, the foreseeable future of science funding looks grim.