US Physics in trouble too

January 8, 2008

Two excellent web pages are collecting information on the STFC funding crisis. The first, centred on Astronomy, is Paul Crowther’s page. The second, centred on Particle Physics, is Mark Lancaster’s page. They are both full of reliable and sane information, so do check them out if you haven’t already. Looking at Mark’s page tonight I picked up that the US Science Budget is in trouble too; and minutes later I got an email from an alarmed US chum…

There are news articles here at New Scientist, and here at Cosmic Log. These articles are about the plug being pulled on the International Linear Collider, but its actually much wider than this. There are good summaries at the American Institute of Physics, and on the Unofficial ITER Fan Club page.

The overall science budget increase was 2.6%, i.e. flat cash, and this is the story across most areas. But, within the DOE budget, High Energy Physics was actually CUT – $696M next year versus $752M this year; and ILC was given $15M versus a $60M request. At the same time, BaBar is closing six months early, and 200 staff are being laid off at SLAC.

Astronomy funding comes from both NSF and NASA. The story on NSF overall looks bad – up 1.2% i.e. losing spending power, but its not clear yet what the effect is on key astronomy programs – NOAO, NRAO, Gemini, LSST, my old chums at NVO, and so forth. Probably more news will come out during the current AAS meeting in Texas.

For NASA the news is confusing. They get 3.1%, but there are various commitments and strings attached. For example, they are instructed to spend more on SIM than they planned. A recent post by the Bad Astronomer describes a talk by NASA Administrator Griffin, in which he seems to warn obliquely that there isn’t enough money to do everything. And of course Mars gets LOADSAMONEY.

The Murder of PPARC ?

January 8, 2008

Hard to believe, but the following exchange is quite genuine. It is an extract from the Sixth Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology, HC203, the Scrutiny Report for session 2005-6, published April 2007, and including evidence taken on Jan 17th 2007 (section “Ev49”)

Dramatis Personae

Chris Mole : an MP who was a member of the Committee.

Malcolm Wicks : Science Minister at the time (now its Ian Pearson).

Keith O’Nions : DG of Science and Innovation. Mr Big.

Plot so far

The infamous merger of CCLRC and PPARC to make STFC has already been stitched up agreed, and Wicks and O’Nions are being grilled on whether its all happening as planned …

Now Read on :

Q294 Chris Mole: Minister, last year the Government published the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004–14 subtitled Next Steps and then held a consultation on it. What has been done since the publication of the responses to the consultation document in September last year to move forward the Next Steps agenda?

Malcolm Wicks: I think some of the discussion we have had already is relevant to this… (blah blah … then continues ..) The statutory instruments have now gone through the two Houses so we are well on the way to establishing that formally in April; is that right, Sir Keith?

Professor Sir Keith O’Nions: Formally in April but it will probably be July before warm bodies are—I will stop.

Malcolm Wicks: Stop there. I think that is a very large part of it. We have also, of course, put forward the plan to merge two of our leading research councils, those concerned with large facilities, which I need to know more about. Again, I wonder if Sir Keith could just bring us up to date on where we are, but in terms of statutory instruments we have got formal approval.

Professor Sir Keith O’Nions: It went through to the Technology Strategy Board and the STFC—a merger of PPARC and CCLRC went through the two Houses at the same time. We are completely on track with STFC.

Malcolm Wicks: Did you say “merger”? I though you said “murder”.

Professor Sir Keith O’Nions: No, it was definitely a “g”.

Malcolm Wicks:
Oh, it was a merger, yes, which is the way to look at it, of course.

Professor Sir Keith O’Nions: That is on track for starting in April at the beginning of the new financial year. There is a chief executive designate, Keith Mason. We have interviewed for a chair and later this week I will be putting advice to the Minister and Secretary of State on a chair for STFC and, of course, that is a prime ministerial appointment ultimately. That is where we are.

Wicks (sotto voce): Diss Mole guy is a problem. Keith, I want you to make shure he got company on der way home, capiche ?

O’Nions (perfectly boldly): Hey, I ever let you down ?

Well, ok, I made up that last bit, but the rest is verbatim. Talk about letting the cat out of the bag.