First Clues

May 19, 2010

This week at IVOA my head is mostly full of VO-style astrogeekery, and astrogeek politics of course, but I am still trying to watch UK events. The new Science Minister has given a briefing for science reporters. It has a few clues for us. You can read reports of what he said at the Beeb, at the Nature blog, and at the New Scientist S Word blog. There is a particularly thorough analysis by Mark Henderson at Times Online. For your convenience, here are a few bullet points :

  • Times are tough, don’t expect good news
  • His argument in Cabinet will be that spending on science is investment not a drain
  • He made only motherhood statements about blue skies research…
  • … but was at least explicitly sceptical about “impact” in REF
  • He is clearly keen on the space push …
  • … but cynical about UKSA to date
  • Climate change is real
  • Henderson says he likes the Nurse-style elite funding agenda … but this really isn’t clear to me
  • No Research Council re-organisation plans

None of this tells us what his attitude to astronomy or particle physics might be. Its not clear that “Blue Skies Research” includes “Dark Skies Research”. Although it could mean “anything not immediately useful”, you could easily restrict it to “things that aren’t useful yet” and so exclude things that obviously will never be useful. Note that although he is clearly sceptical of naive mechanical impact stuff, his argument for science is still rooted in its economic value.

By the way, does anybody remember that before the election the Lib Dems said they would plug holes in STFC by (a) cancelling the Share Services Centre, and (b) cancelling STFC Science and Society Spend ? Well, a few more pennies wouldn’t hurt.