Monday, May 20, 2013

500th BESC Bioenergy Publication

Congratulations to the Bioenergy Science Center (BESC) for its 500th publication. BESC has been up and running for about five years, at a cost of about $25M per year, so my rough calculation is that that makes about $250k per publication. Given the high overheads associated with the full cost recovery model that national labs must work with, that's competitive with the output from typical grants from other funding agencies.

Publication numbers don't tell the whole story, though. From what I can see from my smallish role in the organization,  BESC has been run in a particularly highly-managed and coordinated way. This contrasts with the ideal of the liberated, isolated researcher following his/her own flights of fancy to brilliant, unpredictable discoveries.  Rather, BESC researchers have been focussed on largely common questions concerning the recalcitrance of biomass to deconstruction and have delved deeply into them from a variety of angles. As a result BESC has carved out a distinctive niche, with a fruit of 500 interlinked, targeted publications. This shows how large centers, focussed on a theme of strong societal importance can function, a model of research that hardly existed 20 years ago. Furthermore, in the case of BESC, there were initial doubts as to whether the delocalization of the center (over the South East, Colorado and New England, for example) could ever lead to a high degree of effective coordination. These doubts have been dispelled:  BESC has shown how to do it, setting a clear precedent for highly integrated, geographically delocalized, targeted research by a large number of scientists.

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