Angels over Stanford

I had lunch today at the Quadrus cafe, just across the road from SLAC. This is where the angels eat. Years back, Sand Hill Road was buzzing with busy Venture Capitalists, shovelling their money into computer startups. Apparently they are still there, but now they are for looking for alternative energy technologies. Steve Kahn told me that office rental is six times higher around here than in Palo Alto.  This makes SLAC folks nervous. Will Stanford keep backing them when they could flog the land instead ?

On the way back I picked up Symmetry, the PR magazine for Fermilab and SLAC combined. By PR mag standards, its actually a pretty good read. The editorial took me by surprise – it was labelled “Positive News for Particle Physics”. (I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d kept up with Mark Lancaster’s web page or read this Physics World article )

Back before Christmas, panic and despondency hit US physics at pretty much the same time as the STFC crisis blew up in the UK. Work on the ILC and ITER was cut right back, and almost three hundred redundancies (“layoffs” in US-speak) planned between SLAC and Fermilab. Now it seems Congress has “appropriated” an extra $32M, and the President has announced a supplemental budget. The planned Fermilab layoffs have been halted. Its too late for 125 people laid off by SLAC, but apparently they might want to re-apply …

So how come Parliament can’t vote us some extra money ? Tough guy Willis wrote a stinging report … but he didn’t get us any money. Or did he ? Its pretty hard to tell in the UK system. It could well be that behind the scenes DIUS and the Treasury are doing what they can for STFC, slipping over extra LFCF or TSB money, so they can save money in their main budget etc etc .. but how would we know ? The only rule is that the Minister cannot imply that the Government made a mistake. There simply cannot be any publicly announced rescue. We all know that. But why not ?  Cue the Watcher to tell us its because the Government believes you mustn’t give in to children with tantrums.

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3 Responses to Angels over Stanford

  1. Michael Merrifield says:

    Although Parliament voting extra money to science in-year would be nice, I am not sure we would really want to pursue the US model for budgeting too far: there is a nearly endless process to try to reconcile the proposed budgets from the House, the Senate, and what the President might be prepared not to veto, which seems to come down to the wire more often than not creating huge uncertainties, plus the reconciliation seems to involve an obscene amount of “pork barrel” bribes to individual states to get their swing-vote politicians on board.

    In terms of rescue for UK astronomy, quite a lot of extra support seems to have flowed in. The depressing aspect is that STFC appear to be using this support to pursue its own agenda with the usual disregard for stakeholders: although much of the hardware budget now seems secure, nothing seems to have been done to roll back the swingeing cuts to the grants line. (and, yes Watcher this is my usual attributed personal view, with only its track record to support it.)

  2. Dave S says:

    It does seems a pity to spend tax money developing and running world-class facilities and experiments when academics could be blowing it on exotic foreign conferences.

  3. Michael Merrifield says:

    Yeah. Because holding conferences in nice places really is the thing that’s breaking the bank. Way to go on raising the bar on vacuous nasty remarks.

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