Decadal Review Tea-Leaf-Reading

I was a little surprised to find out from Casey Law that Nature recently ran a news piece about the astronomy Decadal Review process — and they didn’t just report on it, they actually got a group of prominent astronomers together for dinner to discuss their impressions of how well the review process works and what its outcome might be this time around. Unfortunately, the article’s behind a paywall, so you probably can’t read it, but here’s a link to it if you have a university Internet connection.

I’m not the most gung-ho SKA supporter on the planet, but I was surprised to see how low it ranked in the Nature group’s list of priorities. As far as I can tell it was never mentioned during the hour-long panel discussion (paywalled transcript link) and the group ranked it last out of seven projects that they’d recommend for funding. Ouch.

You can rationalize a bit by saying that the SKA is more than a decade off, and the group even talked about how major projects have recently taken two iterations of the Decadal Review to get significant momentum behind them, while this is the first go- round for the SKA. Still, maybe this is a sign that the SKA community needs to get more aggressive about its PR. On the more personal front, this is a little scary for hopes that the Decadal Review report will push funding for ATA expansion as preliminary SKA work.

Another thing that disappointed me was that the group didn’t spend any time discussing “state of the profession” issues like the ones discussed in the whitepaper I helped write. This didn’t surprise me at all, but I still wish more people out there (especially the leaders of the community) would be more engaged in thinking about, well, the state of the profession. We can certainly continue to limp along as we have for a long time, but I feel like there’s a tremendous room to improve the system, if only a bit more money, time and effort would be put in that direction.