Archive for December 14, 2009

Interesting Times

Posted in Biographical, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on December 14, 2009 by telescoper

The next few days promise to be extremely interesting, although there is more than a hint of the Chinese Curse in that statement! Today is the day of our annual departmental Christmas Lunch. That’s not itself the subject of any kind of curse, but if last year’s is anything to go by it may take several days to recover from it. I’m preparing myself for it mentality as I write.

Tomorrow, however, 15th December, is the date of the next meeting of the Council of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. On their agenda is the programme of cuts that is proposed as a result of the recent prioritisation exercises initiated to try to find a way out of their ongoing funding crisis. This programme has been through various committees before reaching the Council and, if the Council accepts it, the plans will be unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday 16th (at 2pm) and those about to die will be informed immediately. I’ll try to post a summary on here as soon as I get the facts.

I don’t have any particular inside information who is going to get the chop, but rumour suggests that there will be cuts right across the board. I think it’s going to be very grim news indeed, especially because there is an additional £600 million of savings to be found over the next few years on top of the current shortfall. It’s bound to be a terrible Christmas for those about to find out their contracts are being axed, and no happy New Years for a while either.

I’m not privy to the Council discussions or to the recommendations that have been passed to them so it’s not my place to say what they should do. However, in the unlikely event that anyone from STFC Council is reading this, I hope he/she at least bears in mind that it is not – or at least it shouldn’t be – the job of the Council simply to rubber stamp everything that is passed before it. I wonder, though, if the current Council has the guts to pass a vote of no confidence in the STFC Executive? I doubt it, because there’s been no reason to have confidence in them for the past two years and no such motion has been carried.

Ironically, later in the week there’s going to be a big jamboree in Madrid, at which the initial results of the Science Demonstration Phase of Herschel will be announced. Quite a few of the Cardiff crowd are going along and will be presenting some of the wonderful things that they’ve been working on for the past few weeks. I’ve seen quite a lot of the data from the SPIRE instrument and it’s truly amazing. At least there’s some (infrared) light among the darkness. However, it’s all covered by an ESA press embargo until Wednesday…