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Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop 1 Introduction In the 1960s, the National Research Council (NRC) began carrying out broad disciplinary surveys of the status and long-term scientific outlook of two fields, physics and astronomy. These surveys, which were updated roughly every 10 years, became known as “decadal surveys.”1 Over the years, the astronomy surveys were particularly useful for two reasons. First, they developed clear priorities for major undertakings in space and on the ground. Second, they arrived at those priorities through a process that involved consultations with a significant cross section of the research community and that led to a broad consensus. They have come to serve as a model for other NRC disciplinary assessments. In recent years, other disciplines, recognizing the value of the survey process, have undertaken assessments of their own fields, among them space science and Earth science (from the point of view of space). In 2002 the Space Studies Board oversaw the completion of two new reports that expanded the creation of decadal-scale consensus strategies into the research fields of solar system exploration and of solar and space physics.2 The Space Studies Board initiated a new decadal survey study for Earth science and applications from space in 2003, and the report from that study was expected to be complete in January 2007.3 Currently in prog- 1 The most recent NRC astronomy and astrophysics survey report, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001), was completed in 2000. 2 NRC, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, and NRC, Solar and Space Physics and Its Role in Space Exploration, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004. 3 See NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, uncorrected prepublication copy, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
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Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop ress under the Board on Physics and Astronomy, Physics 20104 has introduced some new elements, including the involvement of scientists from other disciplines and policy makers with broad experience communicating science to the public and the Washington, D.C., federal government audience. The first volume of the series, covering elementary particle physics and relevant aspects of astrophysics, was recently released. The series will be completed in 2010.5 The most effective surveys succeeded in attaining several goals: (1) providing an authoritative assessment of the accomplishments of the field; (2) motivating a compelling scientific research program for the future and identifying areas that show the most promise for further progress; (3) presenting explicit priorities based on a consensus of the research community on the most important, potentially revolutionary science that should be undertaken within the span of a decade; (4) developing priorities for future investments in research facilities, space missions, and/or supporting programs; (5) ranking competing opportunities and ideas and clearly indicating which ones are of higher priority in terms of timing, risk, and cost of implementation; and (6) making the difficult adverse decisions about other meritorious ideas that cannot be accommodated with realistically available resources. All decadal surveys to date have been well received and influential with government decision makers, both in the executive branch—e.g., at the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense, and U.S. Geological Survey—and with Congress (in the relevant authorization and appropriation committees).6 As the NRC organizes new decadal surveys, beginning with an astronomy and astrophysics survey in 2007, it would be valuable to pause and consolidate the lessons learned from the most recent round of surveys. Government expectations remain high that the new surveys will be as good as or better than the older surveys for setting future priorities for federal investments. However, implementation problems have been encountered as the agencies and the scientific community try to follow the advice from the survey reports. These problems, which have been due to a combination of fiscal, technical, programmatic, and policy factors, suggest that it will be worthwhile to look for opportunities to continue the decades-long improvements to the NRC’s model for the survey process. One problem is related to cost and cost realism. Each survey report develops priorities for new space missions or ground-based facilities, which the survey 4 See http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bpa/projects_physics_2010.html. 5 NRC recently completed a decadal survey for aeronautics research (NRC, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006), but that study was not discussed at the workshop. 6 On more than one occasion during the workshop, government representatives referred to the decadal surveys as the gold standard for scientific advice to the government.
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Decadal Science Strategy Surveys: Report of a Workshop committees consider in terms of their expected development costs. However, many of the highly recommended missions or facilities subsequently experienced substantial cost growth that has threatened the viability of the overall science program strategy being recommended in the survey report. Ways must be found for future decadal survey committees to consider cost and assess cost realism, technological readiness, and technology risk as they recommend new missions, facilities, and program strategies. The second problem relates to how future decadal surveys will make priority lists most useful for decision makers and program officials. Some argue for a survey report that presents a single integrated priority list; others assert that a set of parallel priorities for different elements of a program is both more realistic to expect from an NRC committee and also more supportive of the programmatic flexibility that agency officials need. Furthermore, questions have been raised about how the agencies handle prioritized lists of recommended mission or facility investments compared with how they handle other core mission-enabling elements of an agency program (e.g., research grants and infrastructure). Thus, there is good reason to weigh the approaches that recent surveys have used so that future surveys treat these aspects as effectively as possible. A third problem is how to keep surveys useful over time, as the budgetary, political, and programmatic landscape changes. Unforeseen changes can, and often do, occur as a consequence of new scientific discoveries and technological advances, problems with large development projects, new budgetary opportunities or constraints, and/or changes in agency missions or priorities in response to national policy direction. To provide useful, long-range advice about scientific and programmatic priorities, surveys need to be as resilient as possible in the face of such change. The chapters that follow are organized according to the flow of the workshop agenda (see Appendix A). Chapter 2 summarizes the opening session, where five survey reports were discussed. Taking part as panelists were chairs of the NRC study committees and representatives from key federal agencies and Congress. Chapter 3 focuses on workshop discussions of a particularly challenging aspect of the surveys—namely, the treatment of cost estimates and the determination of a technology’s readiness to be applied in a space mission or a research facility recommended by the survey report. Chapter 4 summarizes the discussions in the final two sessions about the kinds of assumptions that underlie decadal surveys and lessons to be considered as future surveys are organized. Chapters 2 and 3 conclude with a set of key themes or perspectives that appeared to emerge as highlights of the first two sessions and that were further developed in the last two sessions. These highlights are not intended to represent a consensus of the workshop participants, but they do reflect viewpoints that were mentioned repeatedly and that appeared to draw broad agreement among the participants in the discussions.
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