Ground-based review : going, going ….

I guess you have all been poring over the draft report of the Ground Based Facilities Review, trying to decode its somewhat incomprehensible ranking scores, and either getting excited because your horse is in the lead, or fuming because they have obviously misunderstood why your favourite 4m telescope is crucial. You have until the 14th to get your feedback in … Its not perfect, but by and large they have done a pretty good job I think. In case you are too busy to read it, here is the short version :

  • Top priority : Carry on with VLT, ALMA and VISTA please. Thou shalt not touch.
  • ELT and SKA : fantabulous. Lets do …. both !!!!
  • eMERLIN and LOFAR. Well, if SKA is so good, we just have to.
  • Gemini : sorry, squire, down the toilet it is .
  • WHT : look, it doesn’t cost much. Oh, ok then. Gone.
  • UKIRT : maybe somebody else can pay ? Oh, ok then. Gone.
  • LSST : come to think of it, this would be rather nice. I know ! ESO can pay !
  • Liverpool Telescope : sorry, not your turn this time
  • WASP and MROI : well, they are kinda fun.

Sounds like a plan. Trouble is of course SKA is fantasy land for years yet, ESO is bust, and we can’t afford to increase the subscription. System in chaos. Mega-projects implausible. Hmm. All change ! Bring back WHT and UKIRT !

They certainly bought the product from the SKA propaganda machine. Respect. Apparently Jodrell Bank invented wifi shortly after CERN invented the Web. Or something like that. Fantastic. I am much more interested in SKA than I was a year ago, cos I have been working on very faint radio sources, which are v.fascinating. (See this paper if you can be bothered.) Trouble is, its also made me worried that SKA will be completely buggered by source confusion. Help.

20 Responses to Ground-based review : going, going ….

  1. Rob Ivison says:

    The latest radio source counts and source size estimates from Owen et al., Muxlow et al. and Biggs et al. also suggest “natural confusion” (i.e. overlapping sources, regardless of resolution) will set in at S(1.4GHz) ~1uJy (though not everyone buys this yet). i think the SKA propaganda machine would argue that they’re more interested in imaging the 21cm line, thus defeating the confusion monster?

  2. Dave says:

    I notice that JCMT and any successor doesn’t get a mention in your summary. Might I suggest ‘SCUBA2 cool, but if it breaks chuck it’?

  3. andyxl says:

    Dave – spot on.

  4. Mr Physicist says:

    Does anyone know how these reviews are going to be used to actually re-prioritise the overall STFC programme? I mean we went through all this in 2008 and presumably this latest version is seen as much improved, but how are the 7 advisory panel reports going to be used to arrive at the final list of supported projects?

    With grants only being issued for 1 year (at least for the particle physics one only just announced), I assume this is to give room to manoeuvre if projects disappear and posts are no longer viable after the prioritation exercise. But this needs to be done pretty quickly if we are not to suffer planning blight. In particular, I cant see post-docs hanging around through months of doom and gloom.

  5. Paul Crowther says:

    Advisory panels have reported science priorities – including relevant facilities where appropriate – to PPAN (5 reports) and PALS (2 reports). These have all been made public – see
    here.

    It is the task of PPAN/PALS to revise last year’s Programmatic Review in the light of these science priorities, plus a whole set of new submissions, through PPRP, to come up with a new set of priorities which get merged by Science Board. It is left to the STFC’s Executive to make recommendations to Council regarding which programmes actually make the cut.

    You are right to point out the very damaging consequences of slow decision making, but STFC still don’t know how much its final budget will be for 2010/11. There is a CSR07 allocation for next financial year, but there have been various loans and assistance from government some of which is due to be repaid before the end of the spending round. Matters aren’t helped by things largely beyond the control of STFC, such as volatile international subscriptions (see here</A) for STFC's historical spending on major subscriptions), or by the looming general election in Spring 2010. Politicians are likely to be more concerned about their chances of re-election than long-term stability of Research Council funding.

  6. Paul Crowther says:

    whooops…let me try again..

    Advisory panels have reported science priorities – including relevant facilities where appropriate – to PPAN (5 reports) and PALS (2 reports). These have all been made public – see
    here.

    It is the task of PPAN/PALS to revise last year’s Programmatic Review in the light of these science priorities, plus a whole set of new submissions, through PPRP, to come up with a new set of priorities which get merged by Science Board. It is left to the STFC’s Executive to make recommendations to Council regarding which programmes actually make the cut.

    You are right to point out the very damaging consequences of slow decision making, but STFC still don’t know how much its final budget will be for 2010/11. There is a CSR07 allocation for next financial year, but there have been various loans and assistance from government some of which is due to be repaid before the end of the spending round. Matters aren’t helped by things largely beyond the control of STFC, such as volatile international subscriptions (see here) for STFC’s historical spending on major subscriptions), or by the looming general election in Spring 2010. Politicians are likely to be more concerned about their chances of re-election than long-term stability of Research Council funding.

    • andyxl says:

      Paul – that subscription plot is pretty amazing. Now we know that STFC have more money to go with this increased responsibility, but did they get enough more ? In other words, has that eaten into the rest of the programme or not ? Not clear to me.

      • Paul Crowther says:

        Not yet, according to Lord Drayson yesterday, but he made it clear that gov’t wouldn’t commit to cough up for the extra costs indefinitely. A majority these additional payments are linked to ESA, for which the gov’t has committed to an increase in its subscriptions, something that STFC is obliged to honour.

        Drayson tried to attribute cutbacks at Diamond/ISIS to excessive costs from other parts of STFC’s programme, but without a long-term commitment from gov’t to reimburse STFC for external exchange rate/net income factors, there isn’t going to be any wiggle room without slashing grants further or withdrawing from a major subscription. Dr Evan Harris made some very well-informed comments. Phil Willis and I would get my vote, but it’s unlikely that the Lib Dems will be forming the next gov’t 😉

  7. Paul Crowther says:

    On this issue, there is an interesting exchange between Dr Evan Harris and Lord Drayson in today’s inaugural Science and Technology session, from 46 minutes into
    the session.

    • Monica Grady says:

      A very interesting exchange indeed – but left me wanting to despatch a large box of cough sweets to the assembled great and good.

      Drayson was in action again on the pm programme on R4 this afternoon (15th Oct), this time as MoD procurement specialist. Wonder if he ever thinks about the differences in budget between his two sets of responsibilities. If they reform the defence budget, and gave the cash saved to the Research Councils (vain hope), we’d be able to fund everything, and probably have enough spare to built FET (Fairly (?) Enormous Telescope)

  8. Paul Crowther says:

    It is notable that a question over Aurora comes up in Q2 of the NUAP questionaire. This is the only optional component of the ESA subscription that STFC pay for. Between 2007-09, 12 per cent of the €306m ESA subscription shown in the chart above has gone towards Aurora. If Gemini/ING/JAC have to be dropped by the UK ground-based community to stay in ESO, what are the UK planetary community intending to withdraw from in order to remain in Aurora?

    • beentheredonethat says:

      I follow the reasoning, but don’t forget that Gemini/ING/JAC are used for observing solar system objects; losing them would hit the UK planetary community too.

  9. Dave Carter says:

    I thought Drayson was quite poor, and was let off rather lightly by the interviewer. The real question was why it took an expensive report, and a years investigation to discover what was common knowledge in the press and blogs, that the MOD was committing itself to purchases it could not afford, when he, Drayson, was the minister for Defence procurement at the time. We couldn’t have research councils doing this could we? And if we did they would have to pay for it out of existing programme.

    If this was all dealt with equally, then the consequence for this MoD profligacy should be that half the army would be made redundant to pay for it. At least new recruits should only have 12 month contracts.

  10. Mr Physicist says:

    I also thought Drayson was poor in the Science Select Committee the other day. He seemed to be unaware of the loan arrangement to bail out STFC from international subscription increases – was basically told to go away and check his facts by Phil Willis.

    He also didnt seem to get the problem of fluctuating currencies…merely repeating that it was Treasury policy for departments to deal with the lows (and ups). The inconsisentcy of how defence procurements are handled adds further salt to the wound.

  11. Paul Crowther says:

    Evan Harris made some excellent points last week about STFC’s predicament, in particular the following, lifted straight out of the transcript

    The problem is that MRC gets much more money and government says, "Isn’t it great – we’ve allocated much more money, so all these things are being done." With a research council that does not get much more money, or arguably any more money, then we get ministers saying, "Well, this is their decision; it is nothing to do with us." It is centralising the praise and delegating or decentralising the blame.

    Although many of us have lingering issues with STFC management’s handing of the CSR07 settlement, we should bear in mind hat there would have been no furore (until now perhaps) had STFC been given adequate resources from the outset.

  12. Paul says:

    So it looks like the flush chain has finally been pulled, even if the swirling might go on for a while…

    http://www.gemini.edu/node/11348

  13. andyxl says:

    Paul you are showing your age. Toilets haven’t had chains for years.

  14. Paul says:

    Indeed. I think the only place I’ve ever seen them with chains is in Physics and Astronomy Department buildings in UK universities…

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