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The Most Valuable Data on Earth?

By Rebecca Carroll // 9:18 AM ET

NASA file photo

Earth data creates for the economy about 10 times what the U.S. government spends to gather it, and the White House wants that margin to grow even wider.

That’s the aim of the first National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, which the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released last week. The plan is a blueprint for federal Earth-observing projects “that help protect life and property, stimulate economic growth, maintain homeland security and advance scientific research and public understanding,” Timothy Stryker, who directs the U.S. Group on Earth Observations at OSTP, said in a blog post.

Stryker emphasized to Nextgov the value of the freely available and easily discoverable data. “Federal agencies manage a variety of observations of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land surfaces and the interactions among them,” he said. “Many kinds of Earth systems data are already available through agency Web portals and services, and we are working to make them even more discoverable through the administration’s various open data initiatives – including the Climate Data Initiative.”

Regular Nextgov readers know they benefit from government weather data in the form of forecasts, weather apps, satellite images and more. Earth observations also provide ...

If You’re Anonymously Editing Wikipedia from Capitol Hill, Everyone Will Know

By Rebecca Carroll // July 14, 2014

littleny / Shutterstock.com

There are socially acceptable ways to edit Wikipedia; anonymously from congressional offices is not among them.

Although Capitol Hill Wikipedia readers might have gotten away with the odd anonymous edit before last week, those changes are now tracked by @Congressedits, a self-described “bot that tweets anonymous Wikipedia edits that are made from IP addresses in the U.S. Congress.”

The crowd-edited Internet encyclopedia is not a mouthpiece for your boss’ political message, the reasoning goes, so even though just about anyone who reads the site can edit it, there are plenty of situations where you probably shouldn’t, including when you have any undisclosed conflict of interest.

(Definitely look at this Nextgov story from earlier this year: Should You Edit Your Agency’s Wikipedia Page? Probably Not)

In many cases, people have well-intentioned urges to edit their own Wikipedia entry (because they’re famous) or that of their boss or even a complete stranger. For instance, just a few minutes ago, a grammatically correct apostrophe was anonymously added to the Wikipedia entry for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, by someone on Capitol Hill. That wasn’t the best way to go about it.

The e-encyclopedia’s most prolific editors cultivate a ...

What Will Happen When Computer Chips Stop Getting Smaller?

By Rebecca Carroll // July 10, 2014

Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock.com

IBM is spending $3 billion to figure out what will happen when computer power stops doubling every few years.

The strange phenomenon -- called Moore’s Law -- was described in 1965 by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, who predicted the number of circuits that can fit on a processor would double every year as the technology evolved.

Ten years later, he had reason to believe the rate would slow to doubling every one to two years. Somehow, the pattern has held ever since, helping computers go from room size to desk size to lap size to phone size to nano size.

Although some disagree, another former Intel executive last year predicted Moore’s Law will cease to hold after about 2020, partly on the assumption that things can’t keep getting smaller forever, and they’re already pretty small.

“The current generation of chips, due later this year, have reached 14 nanometers,” according to Arik Hesseldahl of Re/code. “For a sense of scale, that’s only a tad thicker than the wall of an individual cell.”

Chips can get a little smaller, but what happens after that is the $3 billion question. The physical limits of silicon are what are holding ...

The National Security Argument for Spending More on Conferences, Travel

By Rebecca Carroll // July 1, 2014

michaeljung/Shutterstock.com

U.S. dominance in science and technology has traditionally fed U.S. military superiority -- a dynamic no one relies on anymore. The United States currently pays for less than one-third of global research and development, and that portion is expected to fall to 18 percent by 2050, according to sources cited in a new report from the National Research Council.

One interesting suggested response to the problem: Spend more on overseas conferences.

More broadly, the report argues the Pentagon should develop a departmentwide strategy to keep on top of international research “and to identify opportunities to leverage its research and development investments and collaborate internationally.”

Report authors laid out a continuum of approaches to becoming acquainted with international research projects, from most passive -- including data analytics and bibliometric analyses -- to more engaged and informative activities such as lab visits, conferences and actually funding projects (the most engaged approach).

The report -- which was requested by Army, Navy and Air Force research units -- notes that all branches of the military have research programs. "However, researchers at defense laboratories and research centers who wish to engage internationally face funding limitations and restrictions on travel and conference participation."

Federal spending on conferences has fallen ...

Government Emails Have Been Disappearing for as Long as…

By Rebecca Carroll // June 19, 2014

Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com

It’s looking like we’ll never know for sure what was in those Internal Revenue Service emails that were lost after a hard drive crashed in mid-2011. It’s also worth noting that government emails have been going missing for years.

In 2007, the Bush White House acknowledged it had lost some 5 million emails. At that time, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., suspected foul play, comparing the loss to the 18 minutes of missing Nixon tape and charging the excuse was “like saying, 'The dog ate my homework.'"

This time around, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of the IRS loss, “Please, let’s just skip past the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuses,” and plenty of people have likened it to the missing Nixon tape.

“Torture” memos of Bush-administration lawyer John Yoo were declared missing in 2010, as well as Securities and Exchange Commission emails in the Bernie Madoff case, according to Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that earlier this week called for investigations into government record keeping.

Disappearing emails actually go back to the Clinton administration, even though Bill Clinton himself only sent two emails as president.

According ...