No Science Please, We’re British

The time is getting closer when the Condem government’s hatchet men announce the detailed plans for spending cuts over the next few years. Those of us scientists working in British universities face an anxious few weeks waiting to see how hard the axe is going to fall. Funds for both teaching and research seem likely to be slashed and there’s fear of widespread laboratory closures across the sector, particularly in “pure” science that doesn’t satisfy the current desire for a rapid return on investment.

The mood is pretty accurately summarised by an article in the Guardian, in which John Womersley (who is the Director of Science Programmes at the Science and Technology Facilities Council) pointed out the very real possibility that the UK might be forced to mothball expensive national facilities such the recently built Diamond Light Source and/or withdraw from international collaborations such as CERN (which would also entail pulling out of the Large Hadron Collider). Astronomers also fear that cuts to STFC might force us to withdraw from the European Southern Observatory, which would basically destroy our international competitiveness in a field which for so long we have been world-leading. Withdrawal from CERN would similarly ensure the end of particle physics in Britain.

As well as the loss of facilities and involvement in ongoing international research programmes, big cuts in science funding – especially at STFC – will also lead to a “lost generation” of young scientists having little or no opportunity to carry out their research here in Britain. In fact the process of throwing away the UK’s future as a scientific nation has already begun and is likely to accelerate even without further cuts this year.

The STFC budgets for training young scientists at both postgraduate and postdoctoral levels were slashed even before the General Election because STFC was formed in 2007 with insufficient funds to meet its commitments. The total funding for research grants in astronomy – which is how many postdoctoral researchers are trained has been squeezed by an unsustainable level of 40% already. Many young scientists, whose contracts have been terminated with virtually no notice, have not unreasonably decided that the UK can offer them nothing but a kick in the teeth and gone abroad, taking their expertise (which was developed thanks to funding provided by the UK taxpayer) to one of our competitors in the global economy.

Some say the previous funding crisis was due to downright incompetence on behalf of the STFC Executive, some say it was part of a deliberate policy at the RCUK level to steer funding away from pure science towards technology-related areas. Either way the result is clear. Opportunities for young British scientists to do scientific research have been severely curtailed. Another round of cuts to STFC of the 25% being talked about by the new government will certainly lead to wholesale closures of labs and observatories, the withdrawal from international commitments such as CERN and ESO, and the loss of irreplaceable expertise to other countries.

On top of this, it seems not only STFC but also other research councils (such as EPSRC) are talking about clawing back funds they have already granted, by reneging on contracts they have already signed with Universities to fund research by scientists carried out there. If this does happen, there will be a catastrophic breakdown of trust between University-based scientists and the government government that will probably never be healed.

This government risks destroying the foundations of scientific excellence that have taken over 300 years to build, and all for what level of saving? The annual subscription the UK pays to CERN is about £70 million, a couple of pounds per British taxpayer per year, and a figure that most bankers would regard as small change. It would be madness to throw away so much long-term benefit to save so little in terms of short-term cost.

In the Guardian article, John Womersley is quoted as saying

Our competitor nations such as Germany and the US are investing in science and engineering right now because they recognise that they stimulate economic growth and can help to rebalance the economy. It is pretty obvious that if the UK does the exact opposite, those companies will look elsewhere. That would deepen the deficit – in a recession you need to invest in science and engineering to reap the benefits, not cut back.

Of course we don’t know how the Comprehensive Spending Review will turn out and there may be still time to influence the deliberations going on in Whitehall. I hope the government can be persuaded to see sense.

I’m trying very hard to be optimistic but, given what happened to STFC in 2007, I have to say I’m very worried indeed for the future of British science especially those areas covered by STFC’s remit. The reason for this is that STFC’s expenditure is dominated by the large facilities needed to do Big Science, many of which are international collaborations.

In order to be active in particle physics, for example, we have to be in CERN and that is both expensive and out of STFC’s control. The cost of paying the scientists to do the science is a relatively small add-on to that fixed cost, and that’s the only bit that can be cut easily. If we cut the science spend there’s no point in being in CERN, but we can’t do the science without being in CERN. The decision to be made therefore rapidly resolves itself into whether we do particle physics or not, a choice which once made would be irreversible (and catastrophic). It’s the same logic for ESO and ground-based astronomy. There’s a real possibility in a few years time that the UK will have killed off at least one of these immensely important areas of science (and possibly others too).

A decade ago such decisions would have been unthinkable, but now apparently they’re most definitely on the cards. I don’t know where it all went wrong, but given the (relatively) meagre sums involved and the fact that it started before the Credit Crunch anyway, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that it’s a deliberate stitch-up by senior mandarins. All I can say is that the future looks so grim I’m glad I’m no longer young.


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38 Responses to “No Science Please, We’re British”

  1. This is very sad, I had hoped that the Condems would have recognised the benefites to long-term investment in science. I agree that universities could perhaps be more frugal with their spending in places, but when huge departments like MoD beenfit from all areas of science, and their budget is colossal, it seems trerribly unfair to penalise universities for the UK being in a situation that is not of their doing. It drives people like us abroad to search for a small number of places, and even worse turns some people away from science to go and work for the very banks that wrought the initial damage! Such a shame…where do we go from here? Can’t we use bankers bonuses to fund investment in CERN? Should only take one or two….

  2. Dave Carter Says:

    Peter,

    When looking at choices such as these, we need to analyse exactly what their consequences are. Blanket statements such as “withdrawal from ESO would destroy our competitiveness…” are unlikely to cut much ice in government. How would this happen? What cheaper alternatives could we look for? Could we seek to buy back at a lower cost into facilities which have served us well, such as the AAO?

    What is much more damaging is the lack of career path for young astronomers, caused by the dramatic reduction in postdoc places, and even more seriously by the cancellation of two consecutive fellowship rounds. This is what will force people overseas, not whether we are in ESO or not.

    Of course another path is that we could persuade ESO to cut its coat according to its cloth.

    • telescoper Says:

      Dave,

      The UK has already withdrawn or is planning to withdraw from other facilities (including, as you mentioned, the AAO). It might be possible to negotiate ways back into some of these, although it’s not obvious they would want us back given the way we’ve carried on! I grant you, though, that it will probably be easier to do such a U-turn now than it would be, say, three years down the line.

      In any case it is true that losing access to the larger ESO telescopes will destroy our competitiveness in areas that require 8m+ class telescopes, i.e. much of extragalactic astronomy. AAO can’t provide this access. Perhaps we could reverse the decision to withdraw from Gemini in 2012?

      Peter

    • telescoper Says:

      There’s also a comment piece in the Guardian that makes essentially the same point about the importance of big science projects in drawing clever people into the UK and making it an attractive place for hi-tech investment.

  3. Where has this rumour come from? The government does not seem to have stated anything about this level of cuts, only STFC via the guardian?

    In particle physics I wonder how other countries would react to a unilateral withdrawal from CERN – UK physicists have significant responsibilites in e.g. ATLAS and if we withdraw then replacements for all these people will have to be found. Thus in the short term this could have a big impact on how well ATLAS performs in the next few years (though the rumour I heard is that if there are big cuts we won’t see them do anything until 2 years time, so maybe this gives enough space to somehow replace the UK people – if the government starts the cuts in say November then no time to prepare.

    • telescoper Says:

      My understanding is that STFC has been asked to plan for various levels of expenditure involving cuts of varying extent. This has involved planning for nightmare scenarios such as withdrawal from CERN. The government has stated that Whitehall departments (outside those specifically protected, e.g. Health) should expect a cut of 25% over this Parliament. There’s no reason a priori to suppose STFC will do any better than average, and many fear that it will do significantly worse.

      Something I should have mentioned is that CERN is in any case having its own budget cut (by approx 250 MEu) which may make the subscription a bit cheaper. As Dave Carter alluded to above, it would do no harm for UK science if ESO could do something similar.

    • Hi,

      But is not STFC that gets the cut, but the whole department (BIS?). Within that they must have room to allocate differential cuts to the research councils and whatever else they pay for?

      Any idea what fraction of STFC’s budget the reduction in the CERN subscription corresponds to. It this was large (say 10%) that would help matters, as you say if we can include that in any budget cut (and its not imposed in addition to budget cuts – i.e. they subtract the CERN discount and then cut the remaining budget by 25%).

    • telescoper Says:

      Mark

      Yes, allocations for departments (including BIS) will be known fairly soon (in October, I think) then they will hand down the cuts to the organizations they control, i.e. first RCUK and then within that to STFC, EPSRC and the rest. Prior expectation is of a 25% cut to BIS, so they have to decide how much of STFC gets which I don’t think will be known until December.
      It’s true that BIS will be able to be flexible, but that means that STFC could get a bigger cut than 25% unless we can persuade them that that would be a catastrophe.

      The annual budget of CERN is about 800M EU (it’s actually paid in Swiss Francs, to add another complication) and the 250M figure quoted for CERN is over five years, I think, so the cut per year is probably around the 5 percent level. This will help STFC, of course, but it doesn’t make its problems go away.

      Peter

  4. Dave Carter Says:

    Peter,

    Leaving ESO would close off some niches, I would dispute that this would mean most of extragalactic astronomy. There are many areas of extragalactic astronomy where WHT, AAT and UKIRT are still competitive, in fact we can even find areas of extragalactic astronomy where LT is competitive. And above all, nobody is suggesting that we withdraw from ESA, so we still have access to HST and, in future, JWST.

    I realise that some readers of this blog would find this hard, those niches are close to your hearts. Ok, fine, but you need to make the case to people a lot more sceptical than I am, and I havn’t seen it made even to me.

    • telescoper Says:

      I said “much”, not “most”. However, I invite observers to take up your challenge and make the case. I’m just a simple (and extremely cheap) theorist.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      If we wanted to define an absolute minimum set of ground-based observational facilities for the United Kingdom over the next decade, it would include access to one 8-metre class optical/near-infrared telescope in each hemisphere. There are excellent world-class projects that can be carried out with smaller telescopes (I would cite the Australian Astronomical Telescope, formerly the Anglo-Australian Telescope, in particular). However, a fully-competive programme will require 8-metre access.

      Leaving ESO now that our dowry for joining is at last operational would represent poor value: we would have built VISTA, given it to ESO, and then would abandon both. That would be an embarrassing misuse of public funds.

      A full, balanced programme would require large aperture in both hemispheres, wide-field survey capabilities and longer allocations ofobserving time for monitoring purposes. The trouble is that we may not be able to afford a full programme. The relevant question may what a minimum set of observational facilities looks like.

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    The Guardian article is not a surpising development given the negotiations we would expect to be underway between the Treasury, government departments and the research councils. It would make sense for research councils to express publicly the severe pressures they are under, and the consequences of substantial cuts in funding.

    What interested me about the article was that the applied facilities – Diamond and Isis – were listed as being vulnerable. It appears that the casualties may go beyond the usual basic science facilities.

    The Guardian article was correct to refer to the likely effect on people. Gifted researchers will have to leave Britain if further cuts are made to fellowships, postdoctoral positions and PhD studentships. However, this argument would be a lot stronger had the system not been run for the past 30 years in a way that that neglected the human aspect. There has been a careers crisis in astronomy for a generation. Gifted researchers have had to leave Britain to continue their careers for years, as a consequence of the policies of government, the STFC, and before that the PPARC, and before that the SERC. Further cuts will change a severe careers crisis into a catastrophe.

    A central problem is that science policy for many years, most acutely in astronomy, has been to perform internationally-significant research as financially efficiently as possible. Costs have been squeezed for 20 years. Operating costs of observatories have been reduced, excellent facilities have been closed, and the UK has withdrawn from highly successful international collaborations. This has been done to free funds to open up new commitments, to extend the scale of research with funds spread as thinly as possible. There is no fat to lose. Any cuts will cut basic facilities, and people’s livelihood in particular. And that was before the effects of the STFC financial crisis of the past three years.

    It is already a mess. 25% cuts could mean a disaster.

    The Treasury has asked most government departments to model cuts of 25% (probable), and also 40% (possible but unlikely). 25% cuts to the STFC would see some brutal options implemented that would mean the United Kingdom withdrawing from some very broad areas of internationally-competitive research. 40% cuts might mean abandoning particle physics, astronomy and/or space research entirely.

  6. Rob Ivison Says:

    Dave –

    You’re taking your crusade against ESO too far. to suggest that the UK could withdraw from VLT, Vista, Apex and ALMA and rely instead on LT and UKIRT without the destruction of our competitiveness is, to be blunt, absurd.

    Rob

    • Rob Ivison Says:

      Sorry – that was unfair – I should also have listed WHT and JCMT.

      My assessment remains unchanged though.

      Rob

  7. steve eales Says:

    The possible outcomes are so awful that I’m clinging to a few slivers of hope:

    i) The ministers in charge at the BIS, Cable and Willetts, are probably the best we could have hoped for. Willett’s first speech on the economic beneifts of science funding was the most insightful I have ever read, and he explicity rejected the ‘sausage machine’ economic argument for science in which you only fund applied research, which then gets spun off to science parks.

    2) University VCs have, apparently, been asked to prepare for 35% cuts,
    which isn’t good news for us in the universities, but does suggest that other
    parts of the BIS (e.g. science funding) may get away with less.

    This may be hopelessly wrong, of course. I agree with Rob that one of the tragedies of getting out of ESO would be the loss of ALMA. Since the UK has invested a massive amount of money in Herschel, and we are relying on ALMA for scientific follow-up, we are probably talking of tens of millions of pounds down the drain.

    Steve

  8. Dave Carter Says:

    Rob,

    I am not carrying out a crusade, merely saying that a case needs to be made, and bald statements such as “it will destroy our competitiveness” without presenting evidence are unlikely to impress BIS. And what would help even more would be if ESO were to undertake a serious cost-cutting exercise, as CERN seem to be.

    Steve, I agree that ALMA is the strongest reason for staying in ESO.

    Bryn, VISTA is the biggest tragedy of all. I put some (limited compared with some others) effort into the case for VISTA, and Universities fronted the bid, which won in competition to things which would have been a direct benefit to University infrastructure. In the end the V disapperared (and with it 90% of the science I would have been interested in) and then finally we end up with a telescope where we have no guaranteed access, and only 25% of the time is even available to apply for.

  9. Dave Carter Says:

    Dear all,

    Here is the question you need to be asking yourselves, and phrasing the answers in the most positive way possible (i.e. avoiding emotive terms like catastrophe), “what level of cuts would affect our research effort so severely that it would impact upon our effectiveness as teachers?” And then “how we can mitigate that impact?”

  10. Dave Carter Says:

    Doesn’t matter what I think Peter, its what Vince Cable and Willetts think that matters.

  11. Dave Carter Says:

    Peter,

    Some fairly painful things are going to happen, and we will have different views on what is most painful. If you consider the following, you could call them “catastrophes”:

    1) Withdrawal from ESO
    2) Destruction of all of the rest of the ground-based programme
    3) Cessation of all fellowship and PDRA opportunities funded by STFC
    4) 35% cuts to university physics departments

    Then I would take them in that order, i.e. 4) is the worst, and 1) the least bad, although still pretty terrible. Others will disagree no doubt, but that is my view. All will be on the table, lets hope we can get away with no more than one happening.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’d rather argue that for as small a cut as possible. If we start saying that we can handle a 35% cut we’ll certainly get one. Instead of fighting over the order in the hitlist, or between particle physics and astronomy, we’d be better off standing together and arguing that these areas should be protected as they’ve already had their fair share of the cuts already.

      Your 4th option is not within the remit of STFC or EPSRC, or even RCUK, but down to HEFCE, HEFCW or SFC and individual universities. Item (3) would save much less than (1) or (2) and would render both continued investment in any observatories pointless anyway. The real choice, therefore, is really between (1) and (2) if it comes down to having to make a very large saving within STFC. Both are unpalatable.

  12. Dave Carter Says:

    Peter,

    I don’t really know what Cable and Willetts think, but I suspect they think about economic performance and growth most of all, so I suspect arguments like those discussed in your recent post on this blog (Political Correlation) will make the most impact. Research will be seen as a means to keep good teachers involved, and thus provide good science education, not an end in itself.

  13. Dave Carter Says:

    What I have heard (second hand after STFC presentations) is that the RCUK budget will not be ringfenced by Treasury, but they will make an allocation to BIS, who then have to apportion funds between RCUK, HEFCE/HEFCW/SFC and other calls on their budget. We have to support both RCUK and the funding councils. Arguing that the funding cuts should fall on Universities not RCUK is not a good idea, if anyone is arguing that.

    • telescoper Says:

      BIS controls the budget for HEFCE, but not for HEFCW or SFC, which are devolved.

      Government thinking is no doubt that cuts to the HEFCE funding element to universities can be offset by increases in tuition fees and/or a reduction in the length of first degrees to two years.

      I certainly wasn’t arguing that cuts should fall on HEFCE rather than RCUK, but the budget of BIS is around £22 billion, of which the science budget is only about £3 billion.

  14. Dave Carter Says:

    Ah right, I didn’t appreciate that. But you will appreciate us in England, then, perhaps arguing the case of HEFCE over STFC, or at least equally strongly.

    Two year first degrees would be a really bad idea for any number of reasons, starting with being, as far as I can see, incompatible with the Bologna process.

    • telescoper Says:

      The current UK degree format is already incompatible with Bologna, which is a 3+2+3, Bachelors+Masters+Doctorate, system. Our 4-year MPhys or MSci, and one-year taught MSc courses do not fit into this.

      I’ve long argued that we need more science graduates at the BSc level, but are currently overproducing PhDs. I think a sensible reorganization of HE funding would involve a drastic rethink of the UG-PG balance.

    • A benefit to the 4-year MPhys as opposed to having a separate 2 year Masters is that it is more difficult to find full funding for the separate Masters at the moment (and presumably that difficulty would remain if we moved to a 2-year Masters system) whereas the integrated 4-Year degree is fully funded by government (well I mean you get SLC loans etc. which is an awful lot better than having to fend for oneself trying to get loans from the High Street banks).

      Of course we could switch to such a 3+2+3 system and get the government to fully fund each stage (as is the case in most European nations) but such a move seems unlikely when the cuts are so severe as it is.

      If Science graduates required a 2-year Masters degree in order to do a PhD and there were no subsidised loans/grants/stipends available for such a course then we could return to the days where the Sciences were simply the preserve of the wealthy – something which I think we all agree would be a step backward.

    • telescoper Says:

      The current system has no PG qualifications (either taught or research-based) funded by the various Higher Education Funding Councils. Some used to be funded by the research councils, but STFC don’t fund any now. SERC/PPARC/STFC used to fund some taught MSc programmes but pulled the funding many years ago to concentrate on PhDs, a big mistake in my view. If we did go to a Bologna system then there is indeed an issue about who funds the Masters’ part. In my view it should be a combination of research and teaching funds. It would probably require much greater coordination between RCUK and the universities, but that would be a good thing in my view for many other reasons.

      An obvious way to do this and save money at the same time is to use the HEFCE research money for it, but restrict the taught MSc programmes to fewer institutions than the BSc. If this were to be done, then it might even happen that some large departments stop doing BSc degrees and only take Masters and PhD students while others just do the BSc teaching. Some would no doubt do a bit of both.

      In this scheme, one could scrap the REF (itself a monstrous waste of money) and go back to the old system wherein HEFCE research funds followed student numbers, except in this case it would follow those on MSc courses only.

      Incidentally, a two-year BSc need not be contrary to Bologna, but it must be 360 credits, which would mean two full calendar years. Such a course with year-round teaching could not be taught by people who are research active.

  15. Dave Carter Says:

    Peter,

    I agree with the point about the UG/PG balance. But the solution is complex as UG recruitment is not currently limited by caps at most universities, but by applicants and standards. One of the key HEFCE impact drivers for the REF is attracting students into science, and astronomy has opportunities here.

    I appreciate we are not Bologna compliant yet, unfortunately this seems in some quarters to be seen as a reason for ignoring Bologna, rather than working towards compliance. Two year degrees would be a step backwards in my view.

  16. Rob Ivison Says:

    Switching briefly back to the ESO question, I spent a little while thinking about what life would be like were we to leave, in particular what we might be able to do with existing facilities. it’s not particularly cheap, and far from from cheerful.

    with UKIRT, implementing a near-IR precision radial velocity spectrometer is possible on a timescale of ~3yr. this would yield unique science, and the cost would be modest, but only if one ignores operations. such a facility would already exist but for the troubles at Gemini, and the recent financial situation at STFC. similar instrumentation is also being discussed for ESO’s E-ELT, and experience with Gemini/UKIRT PRVS would stand the UK in good stead to lead that.

    for JCMT the situation is clear(er) in the short term: SCUBA2 has the potential to do competitive science for a number of years. the long term is less clear – developing competitive instrumentation would, going on previous evidence, take the best part of a decade, and we would likely be taking over more of the operational costs than we are right now, so it’s not necessarily a cheap option.

    for WHT, we have only a small fraction of the time these days, but there are plans to build a fibre-fed wide-field spectrograph that would do a fair amount of interesting science. again, this doesn’t come cheaply, even with partners.

    ESO already offers numerous world-class spectroscopic capabilities with VLT and its smaller telescopes (which are now far leaner/meaner), with the UK-led KMOS due on VLT next year; VISTA’s performance is already spectacular, with UK leadership of many imaging surveys, and it will probably be given a wide-field spectroscopic near-IR capability on a timescale of ~5 yr. ALMA is unquestionably the future for submm astronomy, and APEX complements it well. finally, E-ELT (and possibly SKA) are only feasible via ESO. (one could imagine buying into a US-led 30m, at least until one remembers how they/we feel about Gemini). finally, UK groups are well placed to take major roles in much that ESO is planning, including the first light instruments for E-ELT, the wide-field spectrometer, and the next batch of ALMA instrumentation.

    savings on the scale that would make a significant difference to this debate would have a significant impact on operations. certainly they should be explored, but with one eye on what happened with Gemini, and another eye on the possible repurcussions of airing disquiet publicly at a point when ESO’s Board is months from meeting and having a chance to reflect on what CERN is doing.

    at the end of the day i would say that the UK could not compete alone, or with a handful of partners, with the world-class facilities offered by ESO. the impact of membership, both economic and scientific, has been excellent. pulling out would mean destroying the UK’s reputation in more than just astronomy, and would lead quickly to the loss of our competitiveness in virtually all areas of astronomy, including that done from space.

    Rob

  17. Dave Carter Says:

    Rob,

    If the impact of membership, both economic and scientific, has been excellent, then you will be able to provide evidence for that. One thing I can think of is the Zeeko/Glyndwr work on ELT mirror segments, if you can show that this would not have happened without UK membership of ESO that would be a good case. There may be a similar case with e2V, though it isn’t clear who else ESO would have bought CCDs from.

    Needless to say I disagree with your rather dramatic final sentence though…

  18. Rob Ivison Says:

    Dave –

    I stand by that final sentence, though i’ll admit that my “virtually all areas of astronomy” should perhaps have been “virtually all competitive and vigorous areas of astronomy”, meaning that i’m sure the handful of people studying near-naked-eye novae or massive eclipsing planets could remain competitive without ESO’s facilities (though i’m not sure who’d they be competing with…)

    i used to study the former, before i found the true redshifted light 🙂

    rather than regurgitate an argument that took place quite recently, i’ll close with a pointer to the GBRP report. the response to the questionnaire was emphatically pro-ESO: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/resources/pdf/GBFRdraftreport.pdf

    Rob

    • Rob Ivison Says:

      i should also have mentioned that ESO also came out very well for the various measures of “impact” that were examined for GBRP, with outstanding citations and many millions spent in UK industry already, despite the UK’s belated involvement in ESO-related instrumentation.

  19. Dave Carter Says:

    Rob, I am not going to get into a discussion with you here about whose field of research is “competitive” or “vigorous”, we should support all fields which are cost effective and internationally recognised. Clearly when you measure citation or publication output you need to normalise it by cost, and assess it against other facilities, fields and methods. The methodology of assessing research is something that HEFCE take every seriously, STFC in my experience less so, and the idea that a popularity contest in which the majority of responders rate most highly the research areas that the are involved in is in any way an indicator of value is laughable.

    I will restate my position, ESO produces good science, but at a high cost. Substantial savings should be achievable without impacting operations. If they cannot then losing ESO would be a disaster, but not the worst disaster which could befall us. If supporters of ESO such as yourself simply deny that there is a problem, are afraid of “airing disquiet” for fear of ruffling feathers, then you will have no case when people much more sceptical and hard-nosed than I start asking questions.

  20. Rob Ivison Says:

    The GBRP questionnaire wasn’t perfect, but it did a good job of assessing what UK astronomers need from ground-based facilities, and the answer was emphatically “ESO”. The panel took the results and factored in cost. The answer remained emphatically “ESO”.

    I said earlier than I do think that some ESO costs can be reduced, and that the UK should push for savings. This can and will happen, from what little I know of our ESO Board reps, but is unlikely to happen before the most powerful ESO committee meets in December, i.e. after the CSR results are announced, hence my suggestion that this is not the best time to saying inflammatory things about ESO.

    Rob

  21. Dave Carter Says:

    Rob,

    My understanding is that the CSR will not micromanage at this level. It will not even announce an allocation to STFC, only to BIS. After the STFC allocation is announced, then decisions have to be made, and if things are bad then we will all defend our corners no doubt.

  22. […] Of course there are the obligatory  platitudes about the quality of the UK’s scientific research, a lot of flannel about the importance of “blue skies” thinking, before he settles on the utilitarian line favoured by the Treasury mandarins who no doubt wrote his speech for him. Greater concentration of research funding into areas that are “theoretically outstanding” (judged how?) or “commercially useful” (when?). In fact one wonders what the point of this speech was, as it said very little that was specific except that the government is going to cut science. We knew that already. […]

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