The NSF CREATIV Initiative On Interdisciplinary Research – Another Example Of Thinking Inside The Box

Several months ago, the NSF announced the CREATIV initiative in  a Dear Colleague letter.  Since we have proposed a broader, interdisciplinary  approach to the assessment of risks to key societal and environmental risks in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: Dealing  with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and  Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press

I submitted an application to submit based on two issues:

1. The assessment of the skill at the top-down global climate model predictions of changes in climate statistics that are relevant to stakeholders in terms of the metrics they need

and

2. The quantification of the climate and other threats to these metrics with respect to selected key resources in water, food, energy, human health and ecosystem function.

My experience, that I have documented below, with the  program managers who handled this issue illustrates the problem with obtaining funding at the NSF in climate related studies unless you fit into their particular area of interest (i.e. there are “favored topics” despite what is announced in the Dear Colleague letter).

The CREATIV program itself is described as

CREATIV (Creative Research Awards for Transformative Interdisciplinary Ventures): a pilot grant mechanism under the Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) initiative, to support bold interdisciplinary projects in all NSF-supported areas of science, engineering, and education research.

The CREATIV program has these claimed goals

  • Create new interdisciplinary opportunities that are not perceived to exist presently.
  • Attract unusually creative high-risk / high-reward interdisciplinary proposals.
  • Provide substantial funding, not limited to the exploratory stage of the pursuit of novel ideas.
  • Designate no favored topics; be open to all NSF-supported areas of science, engineering, and education research.

In terms of “no favored topics” they write

No. There are no  favored topics. In terms of review  criteria, unusual promise for societal benefit can contribute to the broader  impacts of a proposal.

In the following, I have reproduced the e-mails involved in my interaction with the program managers at the NSF.  I have redacted their names, since these individuals just illustrate a culture at the NSF in the area of climate science that is clearly biased to perpetuating a particular viewpoint on the climate issue.

My First E-mail

Dear sir/madam

Well over a month ago, I submitted the short write up at the NSF website (using your form – http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/creativ/inquiry.cfm) on submitting a CREATIV proposal, but have not heard anything regarding my submission.

Please let me know who I should contact regarding its status. CREATIV is described at

http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12011/nsf12011.jsp

and was announced by Professor (NSF Director) Suresh, who I have copied to on his MIT e-mail address.

I submitted my information as requested in the text

“Potential proposers are encouraged to begin the process by submitting the CREATIV Inquiry Data Form, as explained on the FAQ page. Before writing and submitting a CREATIV proposal, it is the principal investigator’s responsibility to obtain written authorization to submit a CREATIV proposal by NSF program directors from at least two intellectually distinct divisions or programs.”

I completed this step [from http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12012/nsf12012.jsp#tdcl]

“As a first step, you are encouraged to fill out and submit the CREATIV Inquiry Data Form, here. Before submitting the form, you must identify at least one appropriate NSF Program Director to consider your inquiry.”

We listed a number of NSF Program Directors to assess and based our request on our interdisciplinary paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press.

https://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/r-365.pdf

However, so far, we have had no feedback from the NSF on our Inquiry submission.

Sincerely

Roger A. Pielke Sr.

My Response: Here is the first response which I received only after I copied the Director of the NSF.

Dear Dr. Pielke,

I am an NSF program officer.  I was not among the program officers that you listed on your CREATIV inquiry, but I am among those to whom your inquiry was routed.

It seems that perhaps the following NSF grants are already funding aspects of what you are proposing:

A. RESIN Grants from ENG/EFRI (RESIN = Resilient and Sustainable Infrastructure).  One example:

EFRI-RESIN: Assessing and Managing Cascading Failure Vulnerabilities of Complex, Interdependent, Interactive, Adaptive Human-based Infrastructure Systems http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=0836047

B. WSC Grants (WSC = Water Sustainability and Climate).  Some examples:

WSC-Category 2: Extreme events impacts on water quality in the Great Lakes: Prediction and management of nutrient loading in a changing climate http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1039043

Collaborative Research, WSC-Category 2: Regional Climate Variability and Patterns of Urban Development – Impacts on the Urban Water Cycle and Nutrient Export

http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1058038

C. RCN-SEES Grants (RCN-SEES = Research Coordination Networks – Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability).  Some examples:

RCN-SEES: Climate, Energy, Environment, and Engagement in Semi-Arid Regions (CE3SAR)

http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1140196

RCN – SEES: Sustainable Cities – People and the Energy-Climate-Water Nexus

http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1140384

So, I do not feel that the CREATIV path is a fit for your concept.  One path forward might be for you to put together an RCN-SEES proposal that would be built around your approach but would draw upon related ongoing NSF-funded research and researchers such as are described at the links above.  The next RCN-SEES deadline is already posted (Feb. 4, 2013).  Here is a link:

http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2011/nsf11531/nsf11531.htm

Another option might be to pursue CaMRA, as described in NSF’s posted FY 2013 Budget Request: “Creating a More Disaster-Resilient America (CaMRA) aims to catalyze basic research and education efforts in hazard-related science, engineering, risk assessment and decision making in order to improve forecasting and prediction of natural and technological hazards, mitigate their effects, and prepare communities to respond to, and recover from disasters.”

Best wishes,

XXXX

My Reply

Hi XXXX

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful reply.

These programs certainly would fit with out bottom-up focus, but a deadline of February 2013 for the next RCN-SEES deadline (Feb. 4, 2013) for just submitting, means it would be 1 1/2 years or more from now before we would have any funding, even if we were successful in a proposal.

Since our research; as presented in our papers

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2012: Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press. https://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/r-365.pdf

Pielke Sr., R.A., and R.L. Wilby, 2012: Regional climate downscaling – what’s the point? Eos Forum, 93, No. 5, 52-53, doi:10.1029/2012EO050008. https://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/r-361.pdf

shows that the current approach of regional and local downscaling of multi-decadal global model climate predictions for use to determine vulnerabilities to key societal and environmental resources is seriously flawed, we feel it is important to examine the value of the bottom up approach. The IPCC type scenarios are, at best, a subset of what climate threats that will be faced in the future.

The CREATIV option seems to be the only option to use in the near term. Please advise, however, if the programs such as

EFRI-RESIN: Assessing and Managing Cascading Failure Vulnerabilities of Complex, Interdependent, Interactive, Adaptive Human-based Infrastructure Systems

WSC Grants (WSC = Water Sustainability and Climate).

Collaborative Research, WSC-Category 2: Regional Climate Variability and Patterns of Urban Development – Impacts on the Urban Water Cycle and Nutrient Export

RCN-SEES: Climate, Energy, Environment, and Engagement in Semi-Arid Regions (CE3SAR)

RCN – SEES: Sustainable Cities – People and the Energy-Climate-Water Nexus

have any closer deadlines to submit [I assume the last two have a Feb 2013 date for new submissions).

Sincerely

Roger

The Response:

 Hello Roger,

My colleague YYYY has kindly provided information on WSC below.

There is some chance that EFRI-RESIN may have another solicitation, but that is not yet decided, and, at any rate, the deadline would be after the next RCN-SEES deadline of February 4, 2013.

In my message below (with relevant links), the following two are already existing NSF RCN-SEES grants that I was suggesting may have a relationship to your concept (they are not funding opportunities separate from RCN-SEES with the deadline of February 4, 2013):

RCN-SEES: Climate, Energy, Environment, and Engagement in Semi-Arid Regions (CE3SAR)

RCN - SEES: Sustainable Cities - People and the Energy-Climate-Water Nexus

The Response from the other NSF Program Officer:

Roger:

The Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) competition is likely to have its next deadline in around 18 months, although this is uncertain and the specific requirements for proposals may change. The current solicitation for large awards is funding research that focuses intensely on one watershed or that compares water sustainability issues in two or more watersheds. The solicitation requires that proposals integrate the work of experts from fields in engineering, geosciences, biosciences, and social sciences. Some of what you want to do may well fit with WSC.

Best wishes, YYYY

My Response

Hi YYYY

Thank you for your feedback. What I am interested in is not large funding, but about 1750K to 200K per year for three years to further examine:

i) shortcomings of the top-down (IPCC; CCSP) (outcome) vulnerability approach and,

ii) provide examples of the more holistic, inclusive assessment of vulnerabilities in our bottom-up (contextual) approach.

Since I am leading, as Editor-in-Chief, a 5 volume set of books which introduce this perspective (and provides examples), I would be able to leverage from the work that we are producing in this volume and to work with a number of those colleagues to assist in building on it. One issue with the set of 5 books is that there remains considerable existing emphasis on the narrower top-down, global climate model dominated view, and a focused study on the bottom-up approach is needed.

My Editors are Faisal Hossain on water resources (Tennessee Technological University); Jimmy Adegoke and Caradee Wright on human health (CIRS; South Africa); Tim Seasteadt and Katie Suding on ecosystem function (University of Colorado/ UC Berkeley); Dev Niyogi on food (Purdue); and George Kallos on energy (University of Athens, Greece).

My proposal is very straightforward. It is to determine the major threats to a selected examples of local and regional water, food, energy, human health, and ecosystem function resources to short term weather events (e.g. tornadoes), multi-weekly and seasonal long events (droughts) and multi-year and decadal variability and change (e.g. an increase or decrease in the 30 year warm season maximum temperatures), and also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risks from weather and climate issues can be compared with other risks in order to adopt optimal preferred mitigation/adaptation strategies.

The questions to be asked to a selected group of stakeholders (chosen by working with those who worked with me as Editors) are:

1. Why is this resource important? How is it used? To what stakeholders is    it valuable?

2. What are the key environmental and social variables that influence this    resource?

3. What is the sensitivity of this resource to changes in each of these    key variables? (This includes, but is not limited to, the sensitivity    of the resource to climate variations and change on short (days);    medium (seasons) and long (multi-decadal) time scales).

4. What changes (thresholds) in these key variables would have to    occur to result in a negative (or positive) outcome for this resource?

5. What are the best estimates of the probabilities for these changes to    occur? What tools are available to quantify the effect of these    changes? Can these estimates be skillfully predicted?

6. What actions (adaptation/mitigation) can be undertaken in order to    minimize or eliminate the negative consequences of these changes (or to    optimize a positive response)?

7. What are specific recommendations for policymakers and other    stakeholders?

I hope you can direct me to where I can seek funding for this effort prior to 2013.

Sincerely

Roger

The Response 

Roger:

To the extent that your project is descriptive and essentially a literature review, the project is probably not appropriate for NSF whose mission is to support basic research.

If elements of your project are likely to produce a theoretical or methodological advance, then the project is probably appropriate for the DRMS Program. The next target date is August 18 with funding decisions in November and December.

Best wishes,

YYYY

My Reply

Hi YYYY

The approach is quite a bit more than a literature survey, as stakeholders would need to be interviewed and data analyzed. It is a more robust approach the current top-down method, as we concluded in our AGU book chapter and the EOS article. The top-down approach is currently receiving quite large amounts of NSF funding, yet the basic science robustness of this approach has not been adequately vetted.  This would be part of our research.

I do see under list of activities for the Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) -https://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/wp-admin/edit.php

that you fund small grants that are high-risk and of a potentially transformative nature (EArly-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research - EAGER).

Our approach would be to test if the current top-down global climate model multi-decadal prediction approach is fatally flawed as a major driver of impact studies(as we have found so far in our studies), and that funds are being wasted on this methodology. This would be a transformative finding if our finding is confirmed.

To my knowledge, there is no coherent NSF program that is looking into this issue.

Best Regards

Roger

Their Reply

Roger:

The DRMS proposal officers have concluded that your proposed project does not seem to be sufficiently risky and transformational to warrant DRMS encouraging you to submit an EAGER proposal. The notion that one can usefully look at the incremental threat to a sector from any particular hazard is not a great conceptual leap forward. There is no reason your proposed project should not undergo NSF's peer review procedures.

Best wishes,

YYYY

My Reply

YYYY

Where in the NSF (or elsewhere for that matter) is the assessment of the skill of the IPCC-type models in the prediction of changes in multi-decadal regional climate statistics being completed? It is these model results that are being given to the impacts communities. If our conclusions, as summarized in the peer reviewed articles I sent to you, are correct, NSF is wasting a lot of money. It would seem this is more than an incremental issue. There are two parts to what I have proposed, and this assessment of climate prediction skill is the first part. I am familiar, and support the assessment of the decadal predictability initiative of the NSF (as an initial condition), but this is distinct from the use of the multi-decadal climate change predictions. Best Regards Roger

My Second Reply since I was not getting a response

YYYY

Do you plan to reply to my request for information as to which NSF funded projects are assessing the skill of multi-decadal regional climate predictions?

The regional climate model predictions for the coming decades that are being provided to the impacts communities is not basic science unless their predictive skill can be determined.

To my knowledge, however [and as we summarized in the Pielke and Wilby, 2012 EOS article], they have not been shown to have skill even in a hindcast mode when compared with observed variations and long term changes in climate statistics.

This assessment is very much needed (unless you or others provide information that refutes my finding) and is one of the two pillars of my proposed study. This, as I have written, is hardly an incremental study, but underpins a large amount of spending by the NSF.

I also plan to post regarding this issue on my weblog in the coming days, but would like your feedback first on my question.

Best Regards

The Response:

Roger:

The appropriate responder to your question is in the Geological Sciences Directorate, not the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate. I do not know if NSF is funding projects that are assessing the skill of multi-decadal regional climate predictions.

Best wishes,

YYYY

My Reply

YYYY

Thank you for the quick reply.

Please let me know who I should contact in the Geological Sciences  Directorate.

In terms of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Directorate, however, I am under the understanding that climate impact studies on society are funded  which use (and have their fundamental basis on) the regional climate model  projections. If my understanding is incorrect on this, please let me know.

Best Regards

Roger

Their Reply

Roger:

One good way to find out what NSF is funding is to check out abstracts of  awards listed on the NSF website (www.nsf.gov). You can search by keyword,  program, etc. The website also describes the different programs in the  atmospheric sciences division of the geosciences directorate.

Best wishes,

YYYY

My Reply

YYYY

We have already done that and there are no grants that we found that assess the model skill as I have outlined in our papers. They are quite well aware of the issues I have raised on this subject in the Geosciences Directorate and have chosen to ignore them. The only exception is their new focus on decadal predictability, which, however, is still distinct from the multi-decadal impact studies based on the IPCC type projections.

My point of seeking funding outside is

i) that programs that examine societal and environmental vulnerability are using the results from the multi-decadal global climate model predictions as an essential part of their studies. These results are then being used (misused in my view) by the policy and political communities.

and

ii) The Geosciences Directorate has chosen to arbitrarily accept the model predictions as applied to impact studies as robust. They have ignored, so far, attempts to get them to properly assess this issue.

My bottom-line conclusion is that there is really no basic science aspect to these NSF funded impact studies [which appear across the NSF funding spectrum], yet NSF continues to fund them.

Best Regards

Roger

Their Reply       None

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