I am sure most of you will remember the recent strange episode in South African astronomy, with SAAO Phil Charles being suspended for … err… well, it was never really clear exactly what he was suspended for. He endured a several day hearing behind closed doors and was publicly cleared. Except that the layer above SAAO, the NRF, said “well, anyway, we still reckon there’s issues, see”. But then the layer above them, the Ministry, said “I think you’ll find we all agree Professor Charles was cleared of all charges”. See my last update.
Now it seems madness is breaking out again. On January 26th SABC reported a partial eclipse, with nice warm quotes from Phil and the Science Minister about how important astronomy is for inspiring youth. However the day before, SABC reported NRF officials as stating darkly that financial irregularities in the running of SALT were being investigated at the request of the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee. Apparently the committee has “received a detailed report” from the NRF.
Now it gets really weird. Yesterday morning (June 29th) a member of that committee (the shadow minister for science) was reported as saying “eh wot pardon ? No such investigation, no such report”.
A little birdie tells me that today there will be a press release from NRF explaining all.
Surely, a shadow minister is better qualified to comment on eclipses…
More seriously, SALT has certainly had its challenges, but they are of the kind that we are all used to in advanced complex telescope projects, where unexpected technical issues slow progress. I hope that these matters are not going to be distorted in some broader political chicanery.
Phil is about the nicest most straightforward astronomer I know, and actually pretty much the reason why I became an astronomer myself as by far the most inspiring lecturer I had as an undergraduate. If anyone knows of any way to influence this latest turn of events, please pass it on.
The January 26th eclipse was in 2009, a year and a half ago and made it to Astronomy Picture of the Day: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap090129.html
‘The day before’ you are referring to was a year later.
I fail to see how the eclipse is connected to the current events.
Carolina – hem, yes, you might notice I wrote that post late at night – thanks for spotting the boob ! Deliberate mistake of course. Just seeing who’d notice. Hem.
There is no connection – just noting that some days Phil and the Government can say nice cuddly things. Well, actually, Phil always says nice cuddly things.
If you want a more recent illustration, just last month the NRF was making play of the prestige that Phil had brought to South Africa by leading the successful bid for the country to host the IAU Office for Astronomy Development:
This is a reply to Michael:
I don’t know what you mean by ‘making play’. That text is an exact copy of the SAAO press release (which says: “By: Kevin Govender & Patricia Whitelock”) and shows things going in the right direction.
Whatever is been reported in the news, let’s not turn an online conversation into an uninformed NRF-bashing. If anything, it makes us astronomers not look very good.
Andy: No worries 🙂 and yes, I agree, Phil always has nice things to say! Did you little bird deliver a press release?
No I haven’t seen a press release yet, but NRF wouldn’t send it to me ! Unless a birdy tweets, I recommend checking Nature News as last time round they followed the story fairly thoroughly.
Not bashing, informed or otherwise — “making play of” is slightly arcane English, but simply means that they were making use of something to prove a point. In this case, the point that they were proving was the positive contribution to South African science of winning the IAU Office for Astronomy Development, and the thing that they were making use of was the proposal that Phil had led.
Who wrote the press release originally really doesn’t matter very much: NRF put it out on their website, as a news item describing a proposal “submitted by the National Research Foundation,” so they are clearly taking ownership of it. The fact that Phil is recognized in their news item as the main driver of the proposal shows, as Andy had originally indicated, that the NRF is happy to recognize Phil’s positive contributions to South African science, which is the only point I was making. Not a bash in sight!
OK, thank you for the clarification. I couldn’t’ figure out what you meant with ‘making play’.
Andy hinted at this, but has there been a press release explaining all?
All very bizarre:
Bizarre and very confusing.
[…] seeming to be insubordination. I wrote several posts about this, starting here and most recently here. Phil was cleared of all the charges… whatever they were… This new announcement goes […]