Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Decadal Report

As virtually every US astronomer knows, the 2010 Decadal Report was released on Friday the 13th, August 2010. Personally, I was on vacation at the time and missed the live webcast. What I have gathered is that if you work in a field that was prioritized by the report and would benefit by WFIRST, then you think the report is great. Otherwise, you think the report sucks.

Kidding aside, I'm not here to discuss the science prioritization. I'm here to discuss the small part of the report relevant to the Women in Astronomy blog, the chapter entitled "Astronomy in Society."

After downloading all 81 MB of the report and giving it a cursory read, I note that they say all the right things about bringing in more minorities and women into astronomy. I'm glad that they also note that retention of women in particular is tied into the narrow career trajectory that astronomers are expected to follow. However, the thing that I think is missing from the report is integrating these issues of diversity in with the science priorities.

There are definitely some subfields of astronomy that have fewer women than others. Offhand, I would list cosmology, theory, and instrumentation as those that have fewer women, and exoplanets and extragalactic observation as those that are more enriched with women. So if the top science priorities are high redshift astronomy, exoplanets, and fundamental physics, I'd guess that exoplanets are enriched in women and the other two depleted.

What I would like to understand is how program prioritization based on the Decadal Report's recommendations is going to affect the demographics of the astronomy community. But given the way the panels were subdivided into science topics separate from demographics, perhaps it was inevitable that an integrated perspective would be lacking. What we can do with this report now that the science priorities for the next decade have been announced is to encourage young women to pursue growth fields and hope that they succeed.


  1. I, too, got back from vacation and downloaded the report. I was somewhat surprised (though hearing how others have gone, I shouldn't be) that there wasn't more attention paid to any of the aforementioned issues. They say the right things, but they don't say nearly enough. There needed to be more related to the career trajectory issues for all, too.

    I'll just have to keep pulling ladies over to the darkside of instrumentation with me. Or trying, at least. Today's my first day back from a week gone, so I can't wait to chat with my favorite people about the report.

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  3. Although it was obviously good that the report discusses these issues—better than the alternative of not mentioning it at all—I am not sure it helps much: The recommendations are vague to the point of being content-free. No funding allocation was endorsed, and no specific projects were endorsed. An exhortation to work on this problem is not what we need; I think we are all aligned on that. What we need is resources and programs that show results.