Scientists on tap

I have been worrying about the Professor Nutt story, for personal reasons. For those who don’t know, this business is about the science adviser fired by the Home Office for criticising the government in public. Of course the gut instinct of most of our scientist colleagues will be to side with the Prof – Science versus the Barbarians ! Man the Barricades ! I am not so sure . Its the Government’s job to govern, and the Adviser’s job to advise. I wouldn’t quite go with the classic Winston Churchill quote – scientists should be on tap, not on top – but a little humility is due. On the other hand, the current government can be a tad brutish, as we know. It all depends what Nutt actually said, which I haven’t found out.

This is on my mind because I am about to take the Kings Shilling. As of next year yours truly is becoming chair of the Astronomy Grants Panel. Early Warning. Do not expect the inside dope. Do not ask. I will still be free to talk of matters Ess-Tee-Eff-ical, but anything connected with my newly privileged position will be off limits. STFC have asked me to help them, and that is what I will do.

Meanwhile, there is a renewed sensitivity to public comment in RCUK-land.  Upstairs of STFC they were very concerned about the Sunday Times story a few weeks back, that reported that STFC were seriously considering leaving CERN. The Sunday Times was able to write a somewhat alarmist story because they got a quote. This actually just stated the obvious – well, we will have to consider every option, Brian – but coming from a senior STFC staff member, whose blushes I shall spare, it sounded like a secret policy had been uncovered.  Sooo…. I understand that as a result new guidelines are being issued. Staff can freely comment on uncontentious things – like their own exciting science – but should refrain from things that might sound like a policy statement. Unless, presumably, it really is a policy statement. Quite right too. If I was in charge of RCUK I would I do much the same thing.

I just hope the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater…

14 Responses to Scientists on tap

  1. Mr Physicist says:

    This blog is getting amazingly boring. Now we have the author off to STFC land…..

  2. Michael Merrifield says:

    On the bright side, the AGP is rarely called upon to pass judgement on the relative dangers of illegal substances. It might liven up the panel meetings if it did, though…

  3. andyxl says:

    Dear Mister P : have I gone over to the enemy ? Will I stop getting invites to the best parties ? (Cue : old joke about doctor, piano, etc)

  4. Paul Crowther says:

    Perhaps boring is good for once, at least until we discover which large chunks of STFC science are to be ditched to balance their budget.

    I too sympathise with the STFC director quoted in the Sunday Times CERN article. More significantly, to mis-quote the old Heineken ad, that episode revealed how twitter was able to "reach those parts other social networking services cannot reach". Even STFC are busy tweeting.

  5. Kav says:

    It all depends what Nutt actually said, which I haven’t found out.

    Andy, Google is your friend.

    On that subject I see that 3 more members of the advisory panel have quit today following a ‘constructive’ meeting. I’d hate to see the result of a non-constructive meeting.

  6. Kav says:

    The Times kerfuffle was daft. Nothing controversial was quoted, though I agree that the tone of the article was a bit sensationalist.

    The response from STFC was a non-response (probably because in reality there was nothing controversial at the core of the story) and the response from Lord Drayson was interesting for the reasons Paul has pointed to.

    Tangentially, Lord Drayson told the S&TC that operations at Diamond and ISIS were cut because of overspend in other areas. Any one know what and where he meant?

  7. ian smail says:

    …someone might want to look at the cost to STFC of the shared services centre (

    but my guess is that this is just another hole in the dike.

  8. telescoper says:

    my guess is that this is just another hole in the dike.

    This no time for dirty jokes.

  9. Peter Proudlove says:

    The Shared Services Centre has become a running joke. Its implementation has been nothing short of a disaster with delays and malfunctions announced daily, to the growing hilarity of STFC staff. Meanwhile, the “backroom staff” it is set to replace are soldiering on, shoring up the dike, presumably at some cost.

    Has the golden age of the astroblog come to an end? Or have we grown accustomed to the idea that our subject will be decimated by the twin evils of Space Science and Wholly Incompetent Management and can we no longer be bothered to comment? Discuss.

  10. Mr Physicist says:

    Golden age? We are all far too busy writing our cases for short-term economic impact….

  11. MikeW says:

    Some of Andy’s readership might have a problem with all of Space Science being evil. I certainly do. I plan to regard this sweeping generalisation as something that can safely be ignored.

  12. Michael Merrifield says:

    Wasn’t it revised in the latest Hitchikers’ Guide to the Research Council to “mostly evil?”

  13. Sergio says:

    Hello everybody,
    I’m new at this blog, and i’m not a astronomer, but i like to know some things about “me” and what’s “my” place.(In a rustic way of saying things).
    My question is about speed of light : – In a vast universe measuring things is a problem and i think only now we(me) are exiting ours playground. The constant of speed of light as to be judge by the standards of the vast universe. In the black holes the light is captured by the overwelming force of gravity. This prove that the proprieties of light could change. But how much gravity is necessary to change this proprieties? The sun can curve the light, i think this was proved by eclipses of the sun, when we could see stars that are supose to be behind the sun. Light of the sun arrives at earth in 8 minutes (more or less). But if we “create” a flash of light, what would be the time to reach the sun? The difference will be significant? This is important when we measure the distances to other stars and galaxies, or not? The dimension of the star and where is located will have to be in consideration to make a measure. In conclusion, our sight is playing with us?(Sorry my english)

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