Brian Cox soft guy, Sarah Montague hard guy

When I was a postdoc, I took my science vairy seriously, and so got going every morning as soon as humanly possible. Absolutely the crack of coffee time. As my kids got older, School starting times were a bit of a shock. They start WHEN !!!???!! So anyhoo, I was actually awake at 7:30am when the STFC £80m hole was splashed on BBC Radio 4. Thinks. Can you splash a hole ?

Anyway it was a relief. Sarah Montague interviewed Brian Cox, the friendly media face of Particle Physics. The attitude of most PPers I know last week was worryingly paranoid (the barbarians are at the gates !!), but Brian’s line today was “I am sure this must be some kind of mistake, because the Government can’t have meant to damage Physics Departments this way”. Spot on . Straight after this, Sarah interviewed Science Minister Ian Pearson and she dived straight into Paxman mode. Felt almost sorry for the bloke. Every time he tried the standard parry – “well, lets get this in perspective, because X has increased by Y%” – she thrust straight back with “yeah yeah but are you going to give these poor bah lambs their £80m ?”.

Of course Pearson couldn’t open up his wallet on the BBC, but he did say there would “be a review” and that he is “sympathetic to the problems of physicists”, and .. this is the interesting bit … that they do “have some problems with the budgetary proposals of STFC, but don’t want to interfere because of the Haldane principle”. Wooahhh. Wossat mean ? Maybe “We have noticed that the problem is how much operating Diamond is costing” or “Why do they want to go to Mars ? Leave that expensive stuff to theAmericans” or maybe “The RAL canteen is oversubidised, there’s your problem mate”. Coo. Dunno. Watch this space.

15 Responses to Brian Cox soft guy, Sarah Montague hard guy

  1. The Anonymous Physicist says:

    Spot on with your comments. Some Orwellian re-writing of news is going on at the moment – earlier this morning, the main STFC article on the BBC website had the statement ‘STFC management only realised their mistake after the Comprehensive Spending Review, and then asked for more money’. Interestingly, that statement has now disappeared from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7137387.stm. I think that Brian Cox played it well, but we’ll have to wait and see what Pearson does in this latest review.
    ‘We’re going to have a review to see what we did wrong in the last review.’ hmmmm

  2. Stuart says:

    Andy, if you want a transcript of the Today Programme feature, I’ve put one on my blog.

  3. gwaum says:

    I was delighted to see that this year’s STFC Christmas cards were bought in aid of the Samaritans. Probably a sound investment.

  4. Brian says:

    Well, Sarah’s comment was that I said … ‘this must be some kind of mistake’ … what I actually said was that this was a mistake of cosmic proportions by the Civil Servants who head of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’. Clearly the most almightly errors werew made in determining the budgets and forward look financial plans of the Council – clearly the people heading the Fundiong Council are out of theoir depth – Keith, Richard, Peter, it’s time to think about other opportunities in your careers – we cannot allow High Energy Particle Physics to be ruined by your inability to recognise and support its future

  5. rob says:

    what a fiasco… facilities that have correctly forecast their costs will suffer horrendously to save facilities that have proven to have huge and erroneous budgets.

    still, it could be worse – london olympics, anyone? or scottish parliament… long live the civil service, eh? where would we be without those delightful buffoons?

    most accurate headline to date: “physicists eaten by giant donut”…

  6. Pip says:

    Take a look at the comments after this Nature news item
    http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071211/full/news.2007.366.html

    They are informed sources saying that the Diamond overspend is not the problem. One of them is an STFC insider who I spoke to a couple of days ago – who said that there has been gross incompetence in STFC’s CSR bidding process, including overlooking a submission deadline.

  7. andyxl says:

    Errmmm yes and no. Diamond (and ISIS-2) costs are the UNDERLYING problem; but these costs were known a year ago, so they are not the problem of the RECENT panic; this is because STFC failed to convince Government to give them the money for this..

  8. Anon says:

    surely the solution is cuts in money for these facilities then?

  9. andyxl says:

    As an astronomer, my answer would necessarily be biased.

  10. Brian says:

    Surely now is the time for the head of STFC to resign – overseeing such a shortfall in funding in any ordinary company would result in a cull of the Board – why should Civil servants be in any different a position

  11. The Anonymous Physicist says:

    DIAMOND operation and ISIS-Target Station 2 are on-budget. DIAMOND remind us about it here:
    http://www.diamond.ac.uk/News/LatestNews/12Dec07.htm

    Ok, it is DIAMOND saying it, but it’s actually true. The operating costs were known about since 2003, and are more than the original 1999 costs because of increased scope (duh!). Of course, DIAMOND are blaming STFC (more accurately, Daresbury) which is grossly unfair and untrue. Also, there are many voices at Rutherford that are asking why DIAMOND is employing so many people. They are still advertising!
    http://www.diamond.ac.uk/Jobs/CurrentVacancies/default.htm

    I blame Wellcome Trust and the French – it’s all their fault for f**king up the siting decision back in 2000, the French because they wanted to let SOLEIL catch up with the UK, and Wellcome Trust ‘cos they don’t like the frozen north. I’m very tired of seeing DIAMOND literature with ‘Relenza’ plastered all over it like it’s just a big advertising hoarding, just as a way for NICE to stump up money for a cr*p drug that doesn’t work.

  12. andyxl says:

    Well.. it would be incorrect to describe the Diamond and ISIS costs as “over-runs” as indeed they have been known for some time – I didn’t know it was as long as 2003. The real point I suspect is that the CLRC budget didn’t have enough to cover these well known costs. So STFC inherited this problem and it has been shifted. Makes the merger look like asset stripping.

  13. The Anonymous Physicist says:

    It’s looking more and more like this was all done beforehand – the smoking gun is the apparent ring-fencing of laser spend, which points to HiPER if I was a betting man. Asset stripping is right.

  14. AstroTurf says:

    So, if I’ve got this straight, it’s between the conspiracy and the cock-up:

    a) The conspiracy:
    There’s been a strategic decision to move out of old-hat trailing-edge stuff like ground-based astronomy, and shift the funds into the brave new world of laser fusion and Mars exploration, but the change is too radical to get through the usual research council channels, so they need to manufacture a crisis to force it through.

    b) The cock-up:
    The morons can’t get their own numbers right.

    The conspiracy theory would actually be quite a cunning plan.
    Can’t help thinking it’s (b) though.
    Does anyone know for sure yet?

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