Shank’s Pony versus Decadal Supertanker

It looks like Tom Shanks is gearing up for the rumoured review of UK ground-based facilities. This is is what some of his cryptic allegories refer to. Meanwhile the US Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics in full swing. The community involvement is intense. Considerable numbers of people are involved in the various panels and sub-panels of course, but there are also multiple open submission requests – for white papers on science, on the state of the profession, on theory and computation, and for information on “activities” i.e. telescopes, missions, laboratories etc. As with the European Astronet Roadmap process, the idea was to debate the science first, and concrete facilities later.  The science white paper deadline already passed, and resulted in 334 submissions. These make fascinating reading, or at least the tiny fraction I have dipped into do so. The “State of the Profession” call was also intriguing, producing 69 submissions. Some of these are pleading for special areas of expenditure, like the ballooning program, or “Strategic Theory” but others cover a strange variety of topics, including the loss of physical contact with telescopes, open source software in astronomy (see Sarah’s post), and the energy consumption of astronomers. This last one, led by Brit ex-pat Phil Marshall, also has an associated wiki site, where you can sign up to be a supporter. The general conclusion is that we travel too much so we should have more virtual meetings. I am thinking of re-creating Aspen in Second Life and charging you all for coming to my Institute. What d’you think ? Bicycles free of course.

There are two calls open now – one for white papers on Technology Development, Computation, Theory, and Laboratory Astrophysics, and another for information on “activities”. The latter is a two stage process. At first anybody can submit anything; but then the panel will request more detail on some activities… This is where the blood will start to flow, as the tension rises on the big ticket items – TMT, SKA, LSST etc. So at the end of the day the process will be intensely political, but people have really tried to focus on the science questions first; and absolutely nobody has an excuse to say they weren’t asked, or its all a stitch up etc.

Its a very expensive process; directly in terms of panel members time and associated administration, and even more in terms of how many community brain-hours are used up, that could have been spent writing papers for the Astrophysical Journal.  Could the right answers be concluded much more efficiently with a few wise heads in a room ? This is the problem that STFC will face again….

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16 Responses to Shank’s Pony versus Decadal Supertanker

  1. Sarah says:

    I saw that paper on energy consumption and I totally agree that we should make more of an effort to reduce our mileage. I tallied up my trips in 2008 and was shocked that I’d travelled about 42,000 km (>25,000 miles), most of that by air. And while I travel frequently, I only made one long-haul trip. Astronomers who travel to Chile or Hawaii several times a year will easily beat this number! This is tough on our bodies, minds and social lives – as well as the planet (although we may well be keeping a few more airlines in business). I don’t know about Second Life meetings but there are a few online meetings services that I’ve had good experiences with, we should make use of those more often.

  2. Tony says:

    “The general conclusion is that we travel too much so we should have more virtual meetings.”

    I’ve often thought it a little obtuse of astronomers to bemoan light pollution while clocking up so many air miles. (Even more so when my suggestion that one of the two annual *virtual* observatory meetings should be online was dismissed out of hand.)

  3. Monica Grady says:

    Hi Andy,
    My inaugural posting to your blog!

    I am currently working 2 days per week for STFC, on a variety of projects – one of which is to set-up and oversee a review of GB facilities. Thus confirming the rumours. We have indeed asked a “retired royal high priest of god RAS now to examine entrails and rationalise ground-based temples, possibly for multidisciplinary worship”, and are currently recruiting 4 acolytes to serve with the god. It is probable that we will meet in the Great Pyramid at Swindon some time soon. And we will be co-ordinating our input with that from the Astronet review, as well as working with NUAP and FUAP.
    best
    Mon

  4. Tom Shanks says:

    My goodness, Monica, I wish I had you on hand a bit more often to confirm all my other predictions!

  5. Monica Grady says:

    What I don’t know is over whose entrails we will be poring….

  6. Michael Merrifield says:

    I am on rather shaky ground to comment on air miles, since I am posting this from Kuala Lumpur (30C and thundesrtrms, in case you were wondering), but (perhaps unsurprisingly) we were discussing exactly this point the other day, including the Second Life option. While I can picture the day when we give up visiting telescopes entirely, and replace many routine meetings with videoconferences, I really cannot imagine our scientific community functioning without getting together in person from time to time to provide the vital human spark to our endeavours. However, watching my teen relations happily communing via IM with people all over the World whom they have never met, I suspect that my inability to envisage it is simply because I am a dinosaur.

  7. Tom Shanks says:

    Monica, we may have a volunteer – are dinosaur entrails any good for poring over?

    Seriously though, Andy only hired me to make these guest appearances on his blog to keep things ticking over while Mike was out of wi-fi range. Now that his rather worrying silence is over, maybe I can retreat back into obscurity again!

    Andy- you owe me £3.50.

  8. Tom Shanks says:

    Monica, we may have a volunteer – are dinosaur entrails any good for poring over?

    Seriously though, Andy only hired me to make these cameo guest appearances on his blog to keep things ticking over while Mike was out of wi-fi range. Now that his rather worrying silence is over, maybe I can retreat back into obscurity again!

    Andy – you owe me £3.50.

  9. andyxl says:

    Tom : so good you said it twice. Does that mean I owe you #7.00 ?

  10. Tony says:

    Oh dear, stuck with a US keyboard, Andy?

  11. andyxl says:

    No, a Microsoft keyboard that doesn’t understand my Mac.

  12. Tom Shanks says:

    No more contributions without new subscription to http:// keep.your. blog.going.com

  13. Tom Shanks says:

    No more contributions without new subscription to http://www.keep.your .blog.going.com

  14. michael Merrifield says:

    While happy to do my bit for STFC, I draw the line at volunteering my entrails.

  15. Tony says:

    I think all astronomers should line up to donate their entrails until STFC find the ones that give the right message. Donors should of course be given preferential treatment in future calls.

  16. […] all by himself I reckon.) This should be able to dovetail nicely with the US decadal survey, as discussed in an earlier post. It needs to report well before November, as thats when the crucial Gemini Board meeting is … […]

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