NSF FUD*

May 25, 2011

* Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Strictly speaking FUD is a management technique. Whereas with mushroom management you keep people in the dark and pour shit on them, with FUD you give them lots of information, but make sure half of it is misleading, and that staff are maintained in a state of fear. The executioner can always be glimpsed just over your shoulder. However, FUD is also a good description of the state of confusion and division created by the cost-cutting strategic reviews which we we all know and love.

A US colleague tells me that NSF must be either less panicky or dopier than NASA. Whereas the NASA side of the the decadal review fell apart within weeks (“WFIRST ? You made that up right ? Yeah, right, maybe 2025″), its taken NSF nine months to start backtracking. According to this Nature News blog post  Jim Ulvestad told the Town Meeting at the AAS that they are setting up a “portfolio review panel” to decide what to cut. They have capital issues – they promised to build LSST, and to cough up 25% of either TMT or GMT – but their real problem is operations, including LSST downstream of course. There will be no money left for grants. Sound familiar ?

I am sure such a panel will look at salami slicing – NOAO trimming, bare-bones style Gemini etc – but they may have to take a deep breath and think about closing something. Mesdames et Messieurs, faites vos jeux.


Keith 1 Profs 1

March 16, 2011

Just read a tweet from Rob Ivison :

some people won’t like it, certainly won’t acknowledge it, but it was a very good performance from Keith Mason in select committee hearing

Watch the show for yourself, but I find myself in agreement. More or less. The Profs were fine too, but Keith put the ball in the net. (Unlike Chelsea. Oh crikey, what am I doing, pretending I know about football ?) I noticed Ian Corbett sitting at the back. He used to be the spider at the centre of the web. I wonder what he was thinking ?

Here are a few bullet points. From the assembled profs :

  • Things are better, but starting from a low base
  • We need a stable environment
  • If any money becomes spare, put it in grants
  • The real problem is we spend only 1.7% of GDP on R&D. What happened to that target of 2.5% ? Oh, yeah, that was the last government
  • This overinvestment thing : yes there was a pulse but that was the joining fee. Nobody said we had to close stuff. And anyway we have closed stuff.
  • Instrumentation re-balance to labs : bad idea… it works now, don’t change it
  • Those Northern Telescopes : fairly cheap, although we reserve the right to disagree with each other’s numbers

Next, edited highlights from His Keefness and The Smith :

  • Should STFC fund all of outreach ? Don’t be silly
  • Northern Telescopes : yes we agree that would be good and can confirm we are trying to do this; but times are tight; lets be realistic
  • Ahem. Permit to read from 2001 Council Minutes. Says to pay for ESO we will need to withdraw from AAT, JCMT, UKIRT, and ING by the end of the decade. Hope thats a bit clearer.
  • Do all the tech work in the labs ? I would definitely disagree with that. Its not what we said. Permit me to read from the Delivery Plan.
  • Astronomy is important to the Nation. Do we have too many astronomers ? Absolutely not. That spending feeds back in to the economy. We are nowhere near the point of diminishing returns.
  • Grants ? Err, mumble, mutter. (Almost let a goal in there.)
  • Scientist balance on Council ? Same as BBSRC actually.
  • Would I do anything different if I started again ? I sleep easy at night, knowing we did the best we possibly could. (Oops. Candide-ian own goal at the very last minute).

So. It was a draw, but Keef scored both goals.

However. This Council minute thing. As it happens, I have a copy of the Council papers from Dec 2001. (I was on Council at the time). I can’t find this statement in the actual minutes, but it is referred to obliquely. However, amongst the papers was a copy of the “Strategic Plan for Astronomy” given to Science Committee on Nov 27/8 2001. It does indeed propose saving £5M/year by withdrawing from those telescopes, on the assumption of a flat budget.  But But But we have pulled out of Gemini, saving more than that… and after 2001, the Labour government increased science spending by a lot. So all that history is pretty irrelevant. Where are we now and what can we afford ?

Whats that spluttering noise ? Peter ?


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