The Opinion Paper

Much of the information about the universe that we have (indeed, much of our scientific knowledge) has come to us in the past half-century, as a result of government-funded science. There is no special pot of money for astronomy; money to fund astronomical projects has to come from the same funds as other scientific and general government projects. A lot of people (many of whom "work" on Capitol Hill) think that astronomy projects and other "pure science" should take a low priority. The purpose of this paper is to get you to thinking about what kinds of projects "deserve" these limited funds.

Ten percent of your grade in this course will be determined by a paper of 3-5 pages in length on the following topic:

You are in charge of providing researchers with funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF has had its funds slashed in recent years by Congress, so money is short. However, funding was slightly increased this year, so you can fund a few extra projects.  You must prioritize five projects on your desk, with the knowledge that low-priority projects might not get funded. The projects are as follows:

  1. Research and development on revolutionary new solar energy technology for the International Space Station
  2. Research into a treatment for Parkinson's Disease involving a rare plant that may soon be extinct
  3. Research into human nutrition to produce a low-cost, high-yield food source in connection with a joint US-Russia manned mission to Mars
  4. Research in genetic engineering focusing on animal immune systems
  5. Research and development of artificial intelligence in computers to assist in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Prioritize the projects and explain thoroughly your rationale for your choices. Pretend that you will have to deal with public opinion and disappointed scientists! You may use outside sources for information, or just stick to your own opinions. Don't try to "please" me by duplicating the way I would order them; believe me, you have no way of guessing what my priorities are! Remember there are no "wrong" or "right" opinions, only well- or poorly-defended ones!

Note that this is distinct from the research paper that can take the place of a test score! Your grade will be based on how well you present your standards and criteria for ranking the projects, and how well you stick with those standards when explaining how and why you ranked the projects the way you did. Your grade will NOT be based on length, the number of "experts" you cite, or how well your list agrees with mine!

A top-notch paper will probably have:

  • An introductory paragraph
  • 1-2 paragraphs describing the standards for ranking
  • 1-2 paragraphs for each project, explaining why you placed it where you did.
  • A concluding paragraph, with some final opinions about the "pure science" -vs- "practical science" debate.

The above is just a guide. Please exercise all the creativity you can, while still covering all the bases. Have fun with it!


Updated 7/5/06
By James E. Heath
Copyright 2006 Austin Community College