My second day at JPL included conversations with Gautam Vasisht (JPL) about adaptive optics systems, Geoff Bryden (JPL) about the abundance of Earth analogs, and Alina Kiessling (JPL) about intrinsic alignments and weak lensing. On the latter we discussed the problem that most of the theory is based on dark-matter-only simulations, but this is precisely a problem where the baryons matter a lot! With Vasisht I learned that JPL has a "clock" up in one of the buildings that shows you the current counts of exoplanet candidates, confirmed exoplanets, and planets in the habitable zone! Plus a huge model of the Mars Lander. Awesome!
At the end of the day, Leonidas Moustakas (JPL), Curt Cutler (JPL), and I argued about the flow from experimental design (think: satellite astrophysics project) to quantitative results on the parameters or scientific questions of greatest interest. They are thinking about making standards and principles for doing this flow, thereby strengthening the quantitative arguments in their proposals for new (and complex) projects. We discussed the challenges of doing something of general value, but they have decided (very sensibly) to start with a few very specific projects to use as "poster children" for the idea. One challenge is doing this with the right "language" such that people from different scientific backgrounds can agree on what's being said at each stage (think of words like "bias" and "noise" and "model" and "systematic" and so on).