The year is 2018. The United States remains in a prolonged economic downturn, and pressure continues to mount on federal government agencies to reduce costs through any and all means. Despite the fact that it comprises only 0.2 percent of the total annual Budget of the United States Government, the National Science Foundation has been identified as a target for cost savings. The agency has received particularly harsh criticisms from both Democrats and Republicans for the high salaries and rich benefits it provides to staff that supervise the distribution of research funds to institutes of higher education.
In a bold and unprecedented move, the executive board of NSF has decided to fire every Program Director and Program Manager at the agency and replace them with junior scientists who are paid entry level salaries. You are one of those junior scientists. You have been selected along with five other new hires to serve as co-directors of a long-standing program called Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change, commonly abbreviated as P2C2. The overarching goal of P2C2 is support the scientific objectives of the United States Global Change Research Program by fostering understanding of the climate system at timescales longer than the instrumental record. Along with your colleagues, you are responsible for setting priorities for research conducted under this interdisciplinary initiative, and making decisions about how best to allocate nearly $10 million worth of American tax-payers' money every year.
Unfortunately, on your first day on the job, you and the other co-directors receive an urgent request from Dr. Subra Suresh, the Director of NSF and your ultimate boss. In his message, Dr. Suresh explains that NSF has been instructed by the United States Congress to report on the return on investment provided by your program. Because of a severe drought affecting their home states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, a pair of influential members of Congress have become convinced that the Earth's climate has changed and will continue to change in the future due to human activities. This shift in thinking has led them to conclude that past climate history is no longer helpful for making decisions about the future and that NSF should terminate P2C2 and put the money towards a better use. Dr. Suresh calls on you and your team to help him argue for the continuation of support to P2C2 when he testifies in front of Congress later that afternoon.
Over the next two days, you and the rest of your team need to produce two resources that will help Dr. Suresh to explain the value of paleoclimatology and save your program (and your jobs).
First, compose a tightly-written, single-spaced two-page report that defines the field of paleoclimatology and outlines how it contributes to priority issues in modern climate science. Take particular care to address the central question that will be posed to Dr. Suresh at the Congressional hearing: If the climate of the future will be different from the climate of the past, what is the justification for studying paleoclimatology? Given that the two most vocal critics of your program hail from the Upper Midwest, your report should also provide at least one or two examples that illustrate how insights from climate history can help address important questions that related to future climate change, natural resources or hazards in that region.
Second, Dr. Suresh understands that members of Congress do not always read written reports and that his best opportunity to make the case for P2C2 will be through a brief oral presentation at the hearing. Please prepare a short (10-minute) presentation that explains why NSF should continue to support paleoclimatology. You will need to develop a clear central message, present strong supporting examples and assemble a set of powerful visuals to hammer home the importance of this research. Starting at 10:15AM on Friday, several of you will need to deliver a 'dry-run' of this talk to Dr. Suresh's assistant so he can understand how you intend this material to be presented to Congress.
Because both tasks must be completed in only two days, you may need to split your group into two teams and work on each resource in parallel. Good luck, junior Program Directors!