1999 October Follow-Up Site

UCAR Forum Followup Information

Strengthening Fundamental Understanding

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University Relations Committee (URC) Presentation

Protecting Life & Property | Maintaining Environmental Quality |
Enhancing National Economic Vitality | Strengthening Fundamental Understanding |

Strengthening Fundamental Understanding
Break-out Session #4
12 October 1999

Co-chairs: Guy Brasseur (NCAR); Kerry Emanuel (MIT)

Co-chair plenary summary of the breakout session

Following are paraphrases, not direct quotes, of the discussion.

Guy and Kerry presented overheads outlining major issues as they saw them.

Speaker #1: If there were no NCAR, would we create the same institution today? Can you/would you build an NCAR and what would it look like? There seemed to be no interest in this question and Speaker #1 left the room.

Speaker #2: The issue here is fundamental understanding, which is distinct from research.

Speaker #3: Agreed with Speaker #2. There is also a human resource issue: how to provide the right people to achieve these fundamental understandings.

Speaker #4: We should create "virtual labs" with funding shifting among institutions.

Speaker #5: ?? Didn't get his comment

Speaker #6: In order to get funding you have to frame a fundamental research question as a focused, named program.

Speaker #7: Need to work toward observing capabilities that are really focused, not just "mom and apple pie." For example we need more moisture measurements. .

Speaker #8: What do we need to measure? Need to focus on what we need to measure, how often based on correlations, etc.

Speaker #9: Sometimes you don't need more measurements. You may need to observe another variable altogether.

Speaker #8: Sometimes we tend to measure what the instruments can do rather than what we need.

Speaker #10: Do we analyze the data we have? There is a mass of satellite data from space that's never analyzed; not much is spent on data analysis.

Speaker #11: Universities don't develop instruments any more.

Speaker #12: Look at fundamental application problems and what fundamental understanding is needed to solve them. We tend to identify the applications and let that drive the fundamental understanding.

Speaker #13: Disagreed with the general tenor of the discussion. History is full of examples where the establishment, following one route, determined the resources and a (young) researcher from left field came along and "blew the whole game." You can't open the door to the bureaucrats to decide what's important. People in this room are the establishment and think they know what's important [but they may not].

Speaker #14: There is a serious problem with the political process driving the scientific process. The money is not in disciplinary science, it's bureaucrat-driven. In astronomy, telescopes are overcapitalized (believe it or not) and there are not enough grants to use the "glass." Increases in the NSF budget didn't help basic research budget.

Speaker #15: Was disturbed by the tenor of Bob Corell's remarks. Doesn't like the new NSF initiatives [taking up so much of NSF's budget].

Speaker #16: Science is driven by what can be funded. In the 1970s there was an initiative [at NSF? ] called "research applied to national needs," It failed because the research community didn't buy into it.

Speaker #10: We are spending an increasing proportion of our research budgets on assessments and the search for consensus, not on new discoveries. We are asked to answer a few questions based on what you already know - a danger. The community is becoming consultants to the decision-makers.

Speaker #17: It's important to maintain a body of fundamental research. These days we have to sell that fundamental research as yeilding benefits [to society].

Speaker #18: Astronomy sets priorities for the decade. They all got together and decided that their top priority was the Hubble Space Telescope and they got it.

There followed a general discussion of whether astronomy really was better organized-how the current priority setting is going, what the relative size of the astronomical community is and whether their funding is in fact declining.

Speaker #13: Compared to atmospheric research, astronomy is "pathetic" on societal relevance, but they get funding because people are interested.

Speaker #19: Astronomical community is in fact poorer.

Speaker #20: Physics lived for decades on the Manhattan Project. (Maurice had some other examples.) Many fundamental discoveries wouldn't have been made if society had funded purely curiosity-driven research. Maurice likes the BASC reports focus on integrated observations and analysis, with an emphasis on modeling.

Discussion here shifted to human resources: Are we attracting the best minds?

Speaker #21: Are we attracting the cream of the crop - the top 5%? I don't think so. They are attracted to esoteric topics.

Conveners: What are the barriers to attracting the "best and the brightest"? Are the atmospheric sciences attracting fewer people?

Speaker #22: Science recruitment has leveled off. Part is the economy. Curricula don't meet students' expectations. Students were saying to John Firor they wanted to be educated to save the world, but were educated too narrowly. Or They come into environmental classes wanting to "save the world," and what we teach them has no relevance.

Speaker #16: We say the number of bright students has gone down but really it per school that they have gone down because there are more schools training atmospheric scientists. Students get more money in fields like computer science.

Speaker #11: They want to "save the world" but they don't want to pay the price. But the problem is the downfall of K-12 education in this country. In the 70's there was more emphasis on the economy - then the environmental problem came.

Speaker #10: I don't think NCAR has found a way to link with K-12 even thought they have tried very hard.

Speaker #23: The collapse of K-12 education isn't the root problem. The problem is the parallel decline in the values. We live in an anti-intellectual culture and basic science is an extremely intellectual pursuit. Intellectual success is not valued in society.

Speaker #24: People recognize what they want to do on their own. They don't need a meeting. Look at community models: We provide community models that save people from having to write their own code. Students need resources to save having to learn equations.

Speaker #14: Has wondered privately whether we should not use community models to educate scientists.

Speaker #22: Opposite experience with CCM3. They port it to a workstation and then they tear it apart. He thinks there is a definite problem with retaining students. Some of the best oceanography PhD candidates have left the field altogether after passing their exams, but before they finished. Maybe they don't like their advisor's lifestyle.

Speaker #25: If the education supply line has collapsed the universities are affected,

Speaker #7: Are our students as good? At the U of Oklahoma with 130 meteorology majors we graduate 25 or 30 (75% are out of state.) UCAR could conduct a survey-a five-year database of where students are going.

Speaker #26: We show students exciting interdisciplinary problems in K-12 and then we put them in undergraduate programs where the curriculum is entirely disciplinary-based.

Speaker #11: Students are not put off by hard work, but are put off by the type of work - doing proposals.

Speaker #8: Related is how we treat our postdocs in this field - having these people work on someone else's problem; they are working on the research of more-senior scientists.

Speaker #11: to continue the discussion send email to emaunel@texmex.mit.edu


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