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Writing a Proposal

Article <>
From: (I. Neill Reid)
Subject: Re: Hale Bopp photos
Date: 16 Nov 1996 17:49 PST
Organization: California Institute of Technology

In article <minnie-1311962031050001@>, (Gary/Robyn Goodwin) writes...
>In article <E0tnsq.CL8@murdoch.acc.Virginia.EDU>,
>pcp2g@karma.astro.Virginia.EDU (Twisted STISter) wrote:
>> In article <01bbd0cf$ef55b5c0$98462399@default>,
>> Ray Laliberty <> wrote:
>> >Gary/Robyn Goodwin <> wrote in article
>> ><minnie-1211960738080001@>...
>> >> In article <01bbd061$06d8d7a0$89462399@default>, "Ray Laliberty"
>> >> <> wrote:
>> >>
>> >> > From what I found by browsing through the Hubble datasets at
>> >> >,
>> >> > it appears that ALL Hubble Space Telescope datasets are subject to a
>> >> > wait period of 1 year. So exactly 1 year from the time the data
>> >> > was collected, NASA will release the data to the public,
>> >> > not necessarily including the finished photograph.
>> >>
>> >> there is a discrepancy in what you are saying. Last year the august,
>> >> september series of HB taken by the HST was posted within weeks. I agree
>> >> with Mark, the postings this year stop in May and those this year are
>> >> from ground based scopes.
>> >
>> >That may be true, but if you check the website, there is a release date of
>> >1 year after the date of observation. I think it's a dumb idea myself,
>> >but that's what I found.
>> Data taken by HST is indeed held private for 1 year. This 'embargo' gives
>> the astronomer that made the proposal a chance to reduce and analyze the data.
>> Time (and money!) on HST is very competitive, so it is in the community's
>> best interest to put the data on hold for a year. Getting a proposal passed
>> to observe on HST is an arduous and time-consuming task. If they simply
>> released the data immediately no one would ever propose anything!
>Maybe I'm confused here... you're saying that knowledge is postponed in
>favor of competition?

No, he's actually saying that competition is postponed in favour of knowledge.

Writing a proposal to gain HST time to investigate a particular phenomenon is time-consuming - to do it properly can take anywhere from 2-4+ weeks of effort. The over-subscription is about a factor of 5 (closer to 6 this year) i.e. there's five times as many orbits asked for as are available. That means that to gain time you need to write a strong proposal that convinces the Time Assignment Committee

  1. that the scientific question is interesting
  2. that you have sufficient expertise to be able to deal with the technical and scientific problems and produce results that will have some significant impact on our understanding of that question.

Suppose you get the time, and then get the data. Now, tackling any scientific question requires a lot of work - it's very, very rare that you get a picture back and say ah-hah (or Eureka, drip, drip) - that's the answer. Usually you need to process the data, match the answers against models, run more models, check the answers against other complementary datasets, and then maybe arrive at some conclusions. Then you write a paper (which always takes longer than you anticipate). This all takes time. Shortcuts and skipping steps usually result in flawed conclusions.

Suppose the HST data were widely available to everyone as soon as they were taken. That puts much more pressure on the proposer to get an answer from the data before someone else, working on the same subject, arrives at their answer. That means you're more likely to push through a quick analysis, which will produce a superficial (and perhaps wrong) conclusion. That means there will be even more second-rate papers, with misleading and incorrect conclusions, published. Look at the crappy papers that were generated in the first couple of months of the availability of the Hubble Deep Field data. Publishing your results is of paramount importance in science - and, unfortunately, quick and dirty results can often attract more attention than more considered analyses. So the less noise introduced into the system, the better.

Accurate, thoughtful scientific research requires time - so a 1-year waiting period is a very, very minor price to pay. Besides, why the rush? The data aren't going to go away.