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Re: Another way to look at proprietary periods
Cool, I was hoping for an education on this topic!
I think you make great points that most likely shoot mine to hell. The
part that seemed "not right" to me is twofold:
1. If the instrument is public, why isn't the data public?
2. Are we discouraging additional science that can be done with the
data while it is kept private by the PI?
To use your example, I could take the data and look for variable stars
in the field. Maybe I find something interesting that the original
astronomer had no intention of looking for. Instead of waiting a year,
we can start studying it now, at no harm to the astronomer studying the
This would require scruples, and I think most amateurs think that
science is more "pure" than the commercial world we are immersed in.
I'm sure I'd think different if it was *my* project the HST was pointed
On Wednesday, May 28, 2003, at 04:47 PM, Stupendous Man wrote:
> Several people have commented on the policy of proprietary data
> periods on publicly funded telescopes such as HST.
> Consider a system in which all the data is made available to the
> public as soon as it is taken. If I'm an Unscrupulous Astronomer,
> I'll look at the schedule and find a project which is right up
> my alley: "UBVRI observations of SN 2003xx". Aha! I plan to set
> aside several hours the day that the data becomes available. As soon
> as it appears on the archive site, I download it, do a very quick
> job of reducing and analyzing the results, and write a quick
> paper, "Optical photometry of SN 2003xx". I submit it at 4 AM
> that night to Astronomical Journal. The editor and referees find
> a number of errors, but I fix them and eventually (two months later),
> the paper is accepted. As soon as it is (or even earlier), I hold
> a press conference and announce "The latest amazing discovery
> from the Hubble Space Telescope!"
> About a month after THAT, the astronomer who actually designed
> the HST observing proposal submits _his_ version of a paper based
> on the same data. This paper has all the work done properly the
> first time, and includes references to other observations of this
> object which the astronomer has been collecting for some time.
> It's by far a superior work. He submits it to Astronomical Journal,
> but the editor rejects it: "Sorry, this has already been done."
> When he tries to hold his own press conference, the newspapers
> say, "What's the point? This is old news."
> Net result: astronomers realize that the way to get ahead in
> life is to grab the data which someone else has planned and
> do a sloppy job analyzing it. Most astronomers don't bother to
> submit good requests to HST any more, since the days they put into
> the effort are wasted. Many papers are written quickly, rather
> than well (which is not to say that this doesn't already happen :-( ).
> The bottom line: a loss to the scientific community.
> There are plenty of systems which work in the "me first, me best"
> mode in our society; for example, the American economy, or
> certain sectors of the Internet. I tend to side with those who
> believe that science isn't well suited for this mode of operation.
> Actually, I could go on for hours talking about how the quality
> of the average astronomical paper has ALREADY decreased markedly in the
> past generation ... but I'll hold myself back :-)