Don’t panic yet …

The advisory panels have done their thing and reported to PPAN. The report of the Far Universe Advisory Panel can be found at this link, and that of the Near Universe etc can be found here. Both panels are offering one last chance to comment – FUAP has a deadline of Oct 8th, and NUAP will be telling us soon.

The reports have some interesting differences. The FUAP report has a very long term feel to it, concentrating on Big Questions and the “Crown Jewels”, meaning JWST, ALMA, ELT, and SKA, with barely a mention of the role of existing facilities. The NUAP report is more nitty gritty, with a mapping of ongoing programmes onto current facilities, as well as big future ones. I was pleased to see that both reports include a reminder that an infrastructure for HPC, data processing, and data management, including “internet based solutions” is also very important.

So read those, and gird your loins for Friday, as we expect the first draft of the report by the Ground Based Facilities Review. But we can afford anything new ?

Yesterday I heard from my University admin that a letter had been sent by STFC to all VCs/Principals explaining that as a necessary caution all new grants would be announced with a closing date of October 2010. Gulp. Rumour has it that the new STFC chair, Michael Sterling has decided that the doors are locked until this mess is sorted out. STFC are already on the case. Committee attendees no longer get biscuits.

OK. Ready ? Panic …. now.

67 Responses to Don’t panic yet …

  1. […] See the rest here: Don't panic yet … « The e-Astronomer […]

  2. Michael Merrifield says:

    Also on the STFC website:

    STFC Council policy on grants

    STFC Council examined progress of its current science and technology prioritisation exercise at a strategy session on 21 and 22 September. Without prejudging the outcome of the prioritisation, Council agreed that prudent financial management required a re-examination of upcoming grants.

    Council therefore agreed that new grants will be issued only to October 2010 in the first instance. This temporary policy is in place pending the outcome of the prioritisation exercise, expected in the New Year.


  3. […] to the e-astronomer the  STFC  has written to all Vice-chancellors and Principals of UK universities to tell them […]

  4. Dave says:

    So someone lucky enough to get an STFC grant in the current round can only advertise a post for less than 12 months duration? Does STFC expect anybody out there to find this attractive? Does this also apply to rolling grants up for review in the current round?

    I think we just lost a generation of potential postdocs…

  5. andyxl says:

    Dave – from private conversations today, I can re-assure you that STFC office folk understand this point. And they are hoping that by the time the prioritisation process is completed, they will be able to withdraw this limitation. But who knows. Much water still to flow under the bridge

  6. telescoper says:

    It seems that the intention is to delay astro rolling grant announcements until after the prioritisation thing is finished so the (hopefully temporary) October 1st 2010 end date will not actually apply. But you never know. STFC is totally skint.

    But pity the poor particle physicists with rolling grants due to start tomorrow (1st October) which will have only one year on them..

  7. Sarah says:

    It would certainly put this postdoc off from returning to the UK. I’ve heard “maybe in 6 months” too many times from PPARC/STFC. Other countries have money and much less of this arsing around.

  8. Dave says:

    I’m hearing rumours from elsewhere about a new 40M black hole in STFCs plans, which would eat most of the GBP.

    What was that you said about panicking now?

  9. Michael Merrifield says:

    But pity the poor particle physicists with rolling grants due to start tomorrow (1st October) which will have only one year on them..

    I wonder if they slipped under the wire: the grant announcements must have gone out and been agreed quite some time back if they start tomorrow, so STFC will have to reissue them and claw back funding already allocated if they are going to terminate them in 2010.

  10. Richard Wade says:

    No they didn’t “slip under the wire” and will be issued for just a year in the fist instance.

    • Michael Merrifield says:

      Thanks Richard. There was no value judgement implicit in the phrase — it simply means just make it.

      So, if these grants begin on October 1st, when were the grant letters, describing the terms under which they had been offered, issued?

  11. Paul Crowther says:


    Richard Wade will no doubt be able to comment further, but there is indeed a looming deficit of circa £ 40M for 2010/11, due largely to increases in major international subscriptions as a result of exchange rate fluctuations. Over the last year alone the subs to ESA went up by £17M and CERN by £5M. DIUS has helped out for the last 2 years but nearly half of their £90M subsidy was in the form of a loan, to be repaid (presumably to BIS) in 2010/11.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks for the confirmation.

      I guess the immediate corollary to this is that all scientists STFC scientists should start campaigning for the UK to join the Euro.

  12. JAT says:

    The impression has also been given that this ~£40m cut for 2010/11 is a permanent cut to non subscription areas lasting through to 2017. Even if we remain involved in all of the currently identified “crown jewel” projects in the draft consultation exercises there may be significantly fewer postdocs to exploit them. Meanwhile what about the innovative new ideas and infrastructure to support them? Difficult choices indeed.

  13. Richard Wade says:

    While it is true that things will be very difficult next year (in no small part due to international subscription issues), the real concern, that has lead to the current restriction on grants, is the future of public spending. So the focus of the current prioritisation exercise is not just on balancing the books for next year but more importantly on preparing for likely tough decisions as public spending is squeezed. I need to stress that we do not have specific guidance from BIS regarding future budgets but we can all read the newspapers and Treasury Forcasts.

    • JonB says:

      Richard, does this count as specific guidance?

      Lord Drayson’s office to the Register:

      “There is no cause to anticipate tough times or tightened public funding for science. The science budget is ring fenced.

      Current financial problems at the STFC arise from a variety of factors [see “Big Science Budget Blunder Bloodbath’ below] and pre-date Lord Drayson’s appointment as a science minister.”

      So maybe we can all relax after all? Seems a bit odd to pre-emptively massacre science. It bet the NHS don’t close hosptials because of what they read in the papers!

  14. […] crisis confirmed By Dave Thanks to comments on the e-Astronomer’s blog we now have confirmation of a funding crisis in 2010-2011 for the UK astronomy and particle physics […]

  15. John Peacock says:

    Not to minimise in any way the dire problems that UK science faces – but we’re not alone. I’m visiting Caltech, which historically has not been short of a bob or two. They’ve laid off 300 staff and are talking of salary cuts for the remainder. Keck is looking at a future of no new instruments. The University of California is in a much worse situation, with its budget cut by 20%. Already, staff have had salary cuts of 5-10% imposed, and that’s just for starters.

    It’s interesting how the idea of doing something similar in the UK is never raised: would you take a 5% salary cut if that made the difference between the UK staying in CERN or pulling out? Possibly people might consider it for CERN, but I suspect doing so for ESA and ESO would stick in the throat: most people would just wonder why these organisations can’t be made 5% cheaper. The UK isn’t the only European state with funding problems, and much of the pain comes because these subscriptions are so high. If the big members of ESA and ESO pressed for economies, I’ll bet they could be found.

    • Mark McCaughrean says:

      Since many of you on here know that I recently jumped ship from the severely listing HMS Yookay to join ESA, I thought this might be an appropriate moment for me to delurk and make my first post here.

      John makes the point that surely economies on the order of 5% could be made at ESA and ESO, and I’m sure he’s right in general. However more specifically in the case of ESA at least, you need to remember that the vast majority of the money that we take in via subscriptions from the member states is returned back to industry in those very same member states.

      An awful lot of effort is expended to ensure that the geo-return (as the jargon goes) is closely in proportion to the original national subscriptions. Within the science programme, we have the “luxury” of being able to balance return across the whole slew of our astronomy, solar system, and fundamental physics missions: in optional programmes (e.g. exploration, launchers, telecoms, navigation, manned spaceflight, Earth observations, etc.), things have to be balanced at a much finer level of granularity, which can make life very difficult for programme managers.

      So to zeroth order, ESA functions as a clearing house which takes in deposits and then returns them to those same depositors (or at least their industries) in the same proportions, albeit after subtracting its administrative overhead. In order to cut costs significantly at ESA then, you would need to address the costs charged by European aerospace industry in order to carry out the tasks we set it.

      Or you could just tell ESA to stop taking on so many missions or projects, but that misses the point. Viewed slightly cynically, European governments are just using ESA as a mechanism for subsidising and promoting their high-tech industries and they like doing so. How else can you explain the fact that we received an agency-wide funding increase of just under 20% at the last ESA Ministerial back in November, at a time when the world economy was not exactly in a robust state?

      But what about those ESA overhead charges, you may ask? Well, I can say that we are indeed being exhorted from the DG on down to cut our internal costs: just this week at our Directorate’s management meeting, we had a presentation on the requirement to cut travel costs by at least 5% over the coming year. I’m sure we can do that fairly straightforwardly in my department, but let’s keep things in perspective. The total agency bill for travel last year was just over €40M, whereas the total ESA budget was €3.6B, i.e. ESA’s travel costs are just over 1% of the total. Even if we cancelled all travel, it’d have a minimal effect.

      • JonB says:

        This is a very good point. ESA is excellent, some of its science and technology is excellent and we should be proud to be members of it. I don’t think we should be into attacking it all. However, its goals (unlike CERN and ESO) include direct strategic subsidy of industry. So why should increased industrial subsidy come straight out of the hide of science & universities?

        Not incidentally, I would be rather certain that if our other international subscriptions operated “juste retour”, they would be significantly more expensive.

      • Mark McCaughrean says:

        I agree entirely, Jon. As others have pointed out here, the problem that the UK faces with respect to rising ESA subscriptions is that much of these costs come from the same budget as responsive mode grants. That seems crazy to me, given ESA’s explicit juste retour and industrial subsidy policies: other countries appear to deal with the issue more sensibly, firewalling bottom-up basic science off from top-down subscriptions.

        Keep in mind that ESA costs include the mandatory general and science budgets, but also the optional programmes. I’m not sure to what extent the UK’s recently increased subscription to ESA reflect the latter, i.e. choices made to put money into optional programmes. ExoMars under Aurora, yes, but I don’t know if the UK subscribed new money to telecommunications, navigation, and Earth observations at the last ministerial and, if so, which UK budget(s) that comes from.

        In passing, I’ll take the opportunity to note that the long-awaited science mission extensions paper was passed yesterday by ESA’s Science Programme Committee (i.e. delegations of all of the member states), ensuring that XMM-Newton, Integral, Mars Express, Venus Express, HST, and SOHO will continue their operations over the next couple of years at least. This is very good news for we scientists.

        Plus you will no doubt have seen the excellent first images from Herschel’s SPIRE+PACS wide-field mapping mode on the BBC and elsewhere yesterday. As a near-IR astronomer who finds Herschel a little, err, spatial resolution challenged (!), I can nevertheless see how exciting these new results will be to the star formation community and to the extragalactics once those surveys start. A lot of UK science money (on SPIRE in particular) well spent, I reckon. Planck is doing extremely well as well …

        Sorry, we now return to the normal service of doom and gloom …

      • John Peacock says:


        You have a fair point to an extent. Translated, it says that almost all the ESA money gets given to aerospace industry, and STFC has no way of pressuring them to keep costs down. But how hard does ESA press them? If ESA felt there was a real danger that its viability was threatened by members such as the UK going bankrupt, it would be very much in its interest to persuade industrial contractors to deliver economies. Even if times were good, it’s surely ESA’s responsibility to do this. Now, you’ll probably reassure me that ESA already has layers of committees devoted to just such a purpose. But have they really turned the screw as tight as possible?

        And anyway, your argument doesn’t apply to ESO.

      • Paul Crowther says:

        Mark, Jon

        Since UK industry benefits so enormously from membership of ESA, science ministers in general – and Lord Drayson in particular – are not going to let our ESA subscription lapse, but it is the subsidy from the science research budget which grates (at least for general ESA contributions). Why shouldn’t the general ESA budget then be administered by BNSC or a UK space agency? This would take any liability for this component out of the lap of STFC?

        As Richard Wade publicly states in today’s Sunday Times, that leaves CERN or ESO membership at risk. Ditching either would leave large UK communities vulnerable to being let out in the cold. Dropping out of ESO alone wouldn’t solve STFC’s cash flow problem, but would torpedo ground-based astronomy’s number one priority from last week’s (excellent) draft GBFR. If ESO was dropped, that might affect other priorities, such as the current lack of interest in Gemini South. CERN on the other hand would be more terminal for many in the PP community, already highly concerned over the current Oct 2010 grant’s threshold. Charts showing CERN costs fairly static and ESA ever increasing don’t allay their fears over the apparent push for space, regardless of the consequences elsewhere.

      • Mark McCaughrean says:

        A couple of additional points in response to John and Paul’s comments.

        Pressure on industry to reduce ESA costs comes more directly and practically from the programme managers rather than committees, in my experience. BepiColombo is one example where our Projects department is in very frequent ongoing negotiation with the prime contractor to reduce costs, as you’d hope.

        That said, we can only ultimately do what is approved by SPC, AFC, IPC, and Council, all committees comprising delegations from the member states. I think it’s fair to say that some of these committees are occasionally torn between making efficient use of and/or saving money, and making sure money gets to their national industries regardless of whether it’s entirely effectively used.

        After all, keep in mind that some of our optional programmes are actually oversubscribed at the Ministerials: the member states want to give us more money than we think it’ll cost to carry out a certain programme, knowing of course that that money will flow back to their industries. There’s a bit of a game that goes on there, with nations jockeying to contribute the largest amount and thus move in to pole position in the decision-making processes.

        As far as I know, much of the new UK money that is coming in to ESA is for the optional programmes (telecoms, Earth observation, ExoMars, and so on), not the mandatory science programme (which is essentially capped at a certain fraction of each country’s GDP). Does anyone know how much of that extra optional programme money comes out of STFC? For ExoMars/Aurora yes, but Earth observation, Galileo? The following BNSC page has some of the answers:

        Looking at that, I agree that it’s somewhat mysterious why the STFC proportion of the overall UK space science budget (44% today vs 23% in 2000) has grown so much compared to the contribution from DIUS (or now BIS) (28% today vs 51% in 2000), while the overall budget has risen by £90M.

        Finally, I’m surprised that no-one has brought up MoonLITE in this thread yet as a top-down (non-ESA) space project which may also end up competing for STFC’s basic science money.

      • Paul Crowther says:


        In 2008/09 STFC met 100% of ESA’s compulsory science budget, 40% of its general budget (64% since April 09) plus Aurora. According to this breakdown using the BNSC figures, STFC would have contributed £82M to ESA last financial year, which is pretty close to figures from STFC’s own Annual Report (£84M).

        NERC’s Annual Report for 08/09 indicated a £47M spend on ESA, which is presumably split between earth observation plus an approx 20% share of the general budget.

        MoonLITE is another story..

      • Mark McCaughrean says:

        Just for clarification, Paul, you mean that STFC met 100% _the UK’s fraction of the mandatory science budget_, of course (lest any Germans, French, or Italians are reading this 🙂

        The BNSC number for STFC’s space activities for 08/09 is £118M, but also notes that roughly 76% of the total UK space budget goes to ESA. If that holds for the STC fraction, then the STFC would be contributing £89.7M to ESA this year.

        I’ll also take the opportunity to correct my earlier statement about this week’s approved ESA mission extensions, where I had missed the Cluster mission which also has significant UK involvement (thanks to the eagle-eyed magnetospheric / plasma physicists who caught me on this one).

      • Paul Crowther says:

        Indeed. However, 08/09 was sooooo last year..

        For the current calendar year STFC’s outlay on ESA went up 10% (in euros) or 27% (in pounds) nearly reaching one hundred million pounds.

        That last bit needs to be said out loud in the manner of Dr Evil. Any similarity between this clip and STFC executive meetings is purely coincidental 😉

      • AstroMouse says:

        “SPC, AFC, IPC, and Council, all committees comprising delegations from the member states” – not forgetting the various advisory bodies, SSWG, AWG, etc.

        All of these fly Business Class to their thrice-yearly meetings. I believe this is also common – perhaps normal – amongst ESA employees?

        A 5% reduction on the 44M annual travel budget seems the very least we should expect. At a stroke, removing the right to Business Class air travel may result in the kind of savings that would, if it were possible, allow ESA to hire a dozen eager, young scientists.

        ESO and CERN should also be cleaning up their act in this regard – and others. A perk like this cannot even be labelled an anachronism. It has no place in any period in time, let alone this one.

      • David Parker says:

        Congratulations on the new job. May I offer some info on the ESA subscriptions to clarify things a bit. The table at the back of the BNSC ‘UK in Space’ annual report may make it easier to understand who spends what on which programme. First, to confirm that from 2009/10 STFC now funds 64% of the General Budget (up from 44%), NERC the remaining 36%, both using funds progressively transferred from the old DTI. This process started with a review in 2002 – see BNSC web site:

        Click to access bnsc%20review.pdf

        and the government’s response here:

        Click to access government%20response.pdf

        The UK’s contributions to the optional programmes were announced at the time of the Ministerial:
        The money for the ARTES telecoms programme has been transferred from DIUS (as was) to TSB to manage. This is for mostly 50/50 joint ESA/industry funded projects and has achieved a return rate of 7:1, making the UK strong in satellite telecoms services and technology. Interestingly, some of that capability subsidises the astronomy programme. For example, GAIA will use data processing technology developed by Astrium in Stevenage using techno from the comsat world.

        Regarding the subscriptions to the mandatory programme (the Science Programme and the General Budget), the absolute size is fixed at the Ministerial. The purchasing power of the Science Programme fell from the mid-nineties by about 25%. This trend has been stopped and slightly reversed at the 2005 and 2008 Ministerials. However, the dominating effect is the change in the UK share which is determined by our NNI (Net National Income) in proportion to other member states. This is a ‘backwards-looking’ process. The strong growth of the UK economy in the past decade has resulted in the UK share moving from 13.8% to a peak of 17.8% (17.4% now). So the amount of Euros required has grown, because the UK got richer; but with the recent £/€ impact, the number of pounds needed to buy those Euros has suddenly increased too. I believe that the UK share will next be re-calculated at the 2011 Ministerial. Two things might then happen. If the pound/euro rate remains where it is, our % share should fall. If the £/€ has risen, then the number of pounds needed to buy our share should fall. The reality will probably be some complicated mixture of the two modulated by relative economic growth rates.

        In passing, it seems to me that the industrial content of the ESA programme is firmly linked to the science goals: SPIRE isn’t much use much use without the spacecraft to carry it, a rocket to launch it on, and the (often British) controllers at ESOC/ESAc to operate it. Indeed, it is partially what ESA is for. Under Article VII, the ESA Convention states that its industrial policy shall “…improve the world-wide competitiveness of European industry by maintaining and developing space technology …” All the ESA programmes funded by STFC implement this objective. The technology delivers the science but also feeds the innovation engine.

        For example, one thing that has made XMM such a stunning success is the UK-built attitude control system which delivers brilliant pointing stability and the logic to avoid a myriad of potential failures cases that would kill the instruments. In my personal experience, the people who do this sort of work are highly dedicated and work long hours in the belief that they make a difference to the science, even if the scientists sometimes take it for granted.

        Oops, gone on a bit.

  16. Monica says:

    Part of the problem with the international subs is the way they are paid by other countries. Directly from their equivalent of the Treasury (or possibly FCO, as they are international agreements). Our subs are paid from the science allocation. When other countries vote to raise subs, they are indirectly getting more money from their governments, while we don’t.

    I’d rather raise the rate of income tax for wealthy bankers (rhyming slang). I’m not panicking. Just weeping quietly


  17. Mr Physicist says:

    Let’s face it not a lot has changed since the STFC crisis first blew up int 2007, except for the fact that STFC has learnt the art of consultation. With the global crisis+exchange rate movements the belts are now going to have to be tightened by even more notches.

    With the prospect of an election in 8 months time we are now entering a very uncertain period. Whichever party wins, its going to take time for the dust to settle and understand where pure science stands in the list of priorities/cuts. It pains me to say it, but the only option at the moment appears to be to build up the KE/applied face of STFC to ensure we appeal to the wealth creation bods in Government… and hope that helps astronomy and particle physics to win through alongside.

  18. Michael Merrifield says:

    There is a flip side though, Monica. In the current economic climate, there might well be pressure from member states of some of these treaty organizations to reduce subscription rates. In countries where the subs are paid straight from their equivalent of the Treasury, that’s where all the savings will go, but in the UK there is at least the prospect that some of the money will stay within STFC’s budget.

  19. Monica G says:

    Words of wisdom from the v-c of Poppleton University:

    “It is easy to forget that although we thought things were bad in the past, we had no idea then of how much worse they might become in the present and of how we might be able to draw on such historical precedents as a way of preparing people for the fact that they would be getting even worse in the future”

    As an aside, the OU’s new V-C, who took office today, is called Mr Bean…


  20. […] to the e-astronomer the  STFC  has written to all Vice-chancellors and Principals of UK universities to tell them […]

  21. Paul Crowther says:

    I was recently asked why STFC’s subscriptions to ESA have gone up so dramatically. The fall of the pound against the euro should have been countered by the fall in Net National Income (NNI, an economics measure of wealth), right?

    Historically STFC has paid out all of the UK’s science contribution, plus 40 per cent of the UK’s general budget. Over the last 5 years, there have been two significant addition items in the spreadsheet. Aurora funding initially came from a separate pot, but this now falls solely upon STFC, to the tune of £14M in 2009. In addition, since April this year, the general budget contribution has increased to 64%. Why, I do not know.

    These are the main factors why PPARC/STFC’s total contribution to ESA has effectively doubled between 2004 (£51M) and 2009 (&pound98M forecast). In sharp contrast, the other main subscription – to CERN – has remained largely static over this period.

    It is no wonder why those recent STFC pie charts outlining its total expenditure are dominated by PPAN, and why PPAN’s expenditure is so dominated by “Astronomy and Solar System”.

    • JonB says:

      Paul is right on the money here. Also, my understanding is that while the timing of the Oct 2010 guillotine announcement is particularly damaging to experimental particle physics, all grants, including those already announced, are in jeopardy post Oct 2010 under the current prioritisation. Though it is somehow difficult to get STFC to be clear about this, perhaps Richard can help me out there?

  22. Richard Wade says:

    Impressed as always with your knowledge and grasp of the numbers. I don’t have all the details in front of me but our contribution to the ESA General Budget increased by £5m per year in the final two years of the current spending review period. This reflects to some extent a shift in the balance between the major UK contributors to the overall ESA Budget (which as you know is more than just the mandatory science budget). I thought this was explicitly covered in the CSR 07 announcement but I would need to check that.

    Regarding Grants, it is clear that the Council decision was based on concerns about not wanting to make long term commitments now when we face uncertainty about future public spending and when we are in the middle of a major reprioritisation. Particle Physics has not been singled out here but is the victim of very unfortunate timing. Until the reprioritisation is complete and a programme has been agreed by Council in December, it is hard to know exactly what will happen to the grants lines but it would be true to say that all grants would need to be examined. Not sure if that’s clear enough Jon but it is as clear as I can be given where we are in the process.

  23. Paul Crowther says:


    Indeed, the extra £5m that STFC provides towards the general ESA budget from 2009/10 onwards is the increase of STFC’s share from 40% to 64% towards this element (albeit a much smaller component with respect to the ESA science budget).

    Recent UK contributions to ESO and CERN have either been level or decreasing – at least when measured in euro’s or swiss francs (as a result of additional membership or NNI changes) – but ESA contributions have increased sharply in both euros and pounds.


  24. JonB says:

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks – it is; given there would be no point examining them unless there was the possibility of modifying them, I take this as confirmation that all grants post-Oct 2010 are indeed in jeopardy in this process. Indeed this is the only credible line to take unless particle physics really is being singled out, and you say it is not. And as we all know, STFC already took action to withdraw issued grants in the last round of cuts.

    This is then confirmation that despite the pain of the last programmatic review, the whole science programme is living on 6-12 months notice. This is hugely damaging, and also shocking given that PPARC always managed stable planning on a roughly 3 year timescale even in some challenging economic times. Stability was always our secret weapon in recruitment battles with better funded countries. No longer so.


    • JonB says:

      Stripping out the misdirection, this simply confirms what Richard said in the Times article, doesn’t it? it says “everything is being reviewed including the subscriptions”. And this to prepare for shrinking budgets despite Drayson saying science doesn’t have to anticipate tough times.

      If they aren’t going to shut down CERN and/or ESO, or at least shrink the massively growing ESA slice of the “science” budget, where is the money coming from?

      • Dave says:

        And there’s a very telling sentence at the end:

        STFC and our fellow Research Councils are extremely well placed to contribute to the nation’s recovery from this economic downturn.

        which would imply that STFC (and presumably BIS) sees the role of the research councils at this time as being to boost short term economic growth. Fundamental research doesn’t do that on such a short time scale, unless, like space and (to some extent) particle physics, its through putting money into industrial contracts. Good for ESA, not so good for ESO and postdoc grants, or the long term health of the subject.

        This may be over interpreting the tea leaves, but it’s entirely consistent with previous raids on research budgets to help Rover and balance departmental budgets. At some level what’s happening now may just be this process continuing, but now reaching research that is weakly supported in government rather than just underspends and commercialization revenue.

  25. […] Don’t panic yet … « The e-Astronomer – view page – cached The advisory panels have done their thing and reported to PPAN. The report of the Far Universe Advisory Panel can be found at this link, and that of the Near Universe etc can be found here. Both… (Read more)The advisory panels have done their thing and reported to PPAN. The report of the Far Universe Advisory Panel can be found at this link, and that of the Near Universe etc can be found here. Both panels are offering one last chance to comment – FUAP has a deadline of Oct 8th, and NUAP will be telling us soon. (Read less) — From the page […]

  26. Michael Merrifield says:

    Surely, that is the right position to start from: a statement that there are no “sacred cows” in the STFC budget, and all options should be fully considered.

    If, for example, your ambition were to negotiate a reduction in subscription levels for one or more of these organizations, a review from such an open starting position would be an essential prerequisite.

    • Dave says:

      If there are no sacred cows in the budget where is the review of funding for Diamond, ISIS, RAL itself and that curiously invulnerable project MoonLite?

      • Monica Grady says:

        A reply to Dave about sacred cows. ISIS, Diamond, etc, are being reviewed at the moment, same prioritisation exercise as for telescopes, rockets, etc, with PALS reporting on the same timescale as PPAN to Science Board.

        Are you suggesting that Moooo nLITE is a sacred cow?

      • Dave says:

        Monica: Glad to see that the rest of the STFC portfolio is being reviewed. It will be interesting to see how the ‘sacred cows’ rank vs. the ‘blue skies’ projects.

        As to MoooonLite – I think its association with cows is considerably more profane than scared.

      • andyxl says:

        I like the idea of scared cows.

      • Dave says:

        In typo veritas

  27. We’ve previously mocked Twitter, but as @AlexConnor at the IOP has noted, “Interesting to see squads of particle physicists joining twitter today.” Don’t get me wrong – I think this is quite the right thing for that community to do given the Sunday Times article and that @lorddrayson (the Science Minister) is himself an active tweeter. For example, @lorddrayson tweeted today that “BTW- twitter really is amazing. I cant imagine any other way of communicating so directly with my “constituency”. Its v cool.” [Forgive the abbreviations – tweets are limited to 140 characters which forces you to type like a 14-year-old on Myspace.] But we might consider encouraging more UK professional astronomers to join Twitter too, so that we also make best use of this channel of communication.

  28. Phil Allport says:

    It used to be said within totalitarian states that you should never believe anything until it has been officially denied.
    Well the retraction by Keith Mason (Chief Executive officer) of the statements published today in the Times as representing the views of the STFC Chief Operation Officer, Richard Wade, certainly has that feel to it.
    But then anyone wanting to check up on the source of the denials should refer to investigations by the Innovations, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee (see for example their report of 23/4/08

  29. Mr Physicist says:

    The sad thing is that I don’t think anyone is against applied research being a part of STFC’s remit *provided* that blue skies funding is also supported and astronomy&particle physics are valued in their own right. The problem with so many newspaper articles like the one in the Sunday Times is that they always present the argument as a straight choice between pure science and applied science. Almost all science becomes applied at some point (ok it might take 50+ years!) so it all boils down to timescales. By all means inject some short-term research funding to help the economy, but lets limit the erosion of longer-term research.

    Talking of timescales, it is imperative that STFC continues to be up front about the grants situation up until October 2010 and beyond. Underneath the grants are real people, and post-docs are much more likely to be understanding of the UK situation if they are kept well informed in advance of developments… so they can make their own difficult decisions on future options. What we don’t want is an alienated generation who feel that they have not been supported. If there are any good times in the future, we will need them….

  30. andyxl says:

    I just came back from a year in Silicon Valley, which gave me a new perspective on science, industry, and the economy. The persistent suspicion of government over many years that we could be better at getting economic value out of our science is probably correct. Science, commerce and industry is much more intermingled Stateside. So are they better at this because the government have gradually applied more and more pressure on academia to do applied research ? Absolutely not. Its because they are much better at taking risks. Every venture capitalist expects four punts to fail and the fifth to win big. Likewise the government knows that you keep pumping money into fundamental science because one day some of it – some of it – wins big. So I guess I am with Mr Physicist here. The worry is not the insistence on economic effect. The worry is naive short term-ism.

    A few years back PPARC were worried their message wasn’t selling in the Treasury. The fix was the slogan “PPARC – the UK’s Strategic Investment Agency” which went on the letterhead. Yucky, but spot on. How do we get that back ? Right now UK PLC is losing the battle unless it employs the right tactics. But it will lose the war unless it sticks to the right strategy.

    • All political parties are now talking about 10% cuts to expenditure, possibly more, along with tax increases to address the expected £1.4 trillion national debt. The Conservatives say they’ll have a budget within a month of winning office. The Lib-Dems talk about slashing the public sector (of which we are part). The upcoming Pre-Budget Report from the Chancellor will almost certainly have to include immediate savings measures. Can the ring-fence be maintained under these circumstances? The RCs haven’t given up the case, and collectively and individually we’re all seeking to show Treasury and the wider government that science matters — and that investment in science delivers benefits for the UK as a whole. Fine, but as Andy says the risk is statements about impact or benefit are perceived by some to mean science has to pay “now”, and this can lead to an overly defensive reaction, that somehow government is going to force the RCs to only fund industrial science, or that Dave or Boris or Keith are supinely going to only fund industrial science in a mistaken understanding of government wishes. But this has never been an either-or between curiousity-led and application driven research. Clearly science in its broadest sense includes both, and for STFC always has. Some of the science done on ISIS or ILL or Diamond has short-term outcomes for the private sector, for example. Much (most)of what we do or fund or support or encourage doesn’t — and that’s fine. I tried to make this point to The Register, who just wanted instead an excuse to bash the Minister. The disciplines STFC supports deliver short, medium and long term benefits — immediate skills, immediate inspiration, immediate problem-solving for industry, but medium and longer term contributions to knowledge, skills, capabilities, and the “what if” factor. Never under-estimate the “wow”. Keith’s referred to the Vision document (it’s on the web) as a “sales document for Treasury”, and I’d add for the wider science community as well. We included quotes from Einstein and JFK about the role of curiousity-led science, and why we absolutely need to continue supporting it. But, again, it’s not either-or. My concern, from experience in a purely political environment, is that these either-or arguments can be viewed through the prism of politics as proof science doesn’t “get it” about the recession. Politicians want solutions to problems, and they’ll turn to whomever they think can provide them. Science should be in that position — we should be the Third Rail of UK politics. There may not be any votes in promising more money for science, but it should be perceived political suicide to suggest you’ll cut it. How do we get there?

  31. JonB says:

    Terry, this is all good sense. But it is crazy to apply more cuts now based on newspaper headlines (and in he face of the minister still defending the ringfence). STFC should be defending the science base and making it very hard to cut whatever the government. Give up a pound of flesh now and they will just ask for 2 pounds next time.

  32. telescoper says:

    “The ‘Very Big Stupid’ is a thing which breeds by eating The Future. Have you seen it? It sometimes disguises itself as a good-looking quarterly bottom line, derived by closing the R&D Department.” – Frank Zappa.

  33. andyxl says:

    Nicely put, Mr C.

  34. […] From Twitter: Very worrying signs for STFC funding, situation still muddled […]

  35. […] host Professor Brian Cox, who tweets here. But the cause of the campaign – STFC seem to be lining up programs for cuts in response to another funding problem whose origins seem murkier than the £80 million accounting […]

  36. Richard Wade says:

    I dont know where you get the impression that we will be applying cuts that we don’t need to. We have to balance the books next year and then we need to plan for possible futures. Sure we shouldn’t cut on the basis of speculation about the future but we also can’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to argue our case for more funds but as we are finding now, having to cut at short notice is far more damaging than having a longer term plan.

  37. JonB says:

    Hi Richard,
    I know there’s a big problem next year, despite the post-CSR cuts already implemented (those which you were actually allowed to make). But for the longer term, I got my impression from the minister (I quoted him above, in his response to the Register). And ok, he may not be there forever, but why make life easy for the next lot? As we have all found, cutting once is no defense against having to cut again…

  38. Mr Physicist says:

    “The Labour story on science, which has been about spending money, is now over” – Conservative Shadow Science Minister.

    Doesnt look rosy with the current lot or the next lot 😦

  39. gird solar power…

    The advisory panels have done their thing and reported to PPAN. The report of the Far Universe Advis […]…

  40. Спасибо. было познавательно.

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