Archive for March 5, 2011

Written Evidence

Posted in Science Politics with tags , on March 5, 2011 by telescoper

Just a quick post this lovely Saturday morning, in order to give an update on the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee’s inquiry into the state of Astronomy and Particle Physics in the United Kingdom. In case you weren’t aware, this inquiry was launched in January 2011. The inquiry invited written submissions in response to the following:

  1. the impact of reduced capital funding on UK capability;
  2. the impact of withdrawal from international ground-based facilities (for example the Gemini Observatory and Isaac Newton Group of telescopes) on the UK’s research base and international reputation;
  3. whether the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has sufficiently engaged with its research community in these two areas on its strategic direction and impacts of budget reductions; and
  4. opportunities for, and threats to, outreach and inspiring the next generation of astronomers and particle physicists.

Well the written evidence is now all in, and it can be viewed online here (in quite a hefty PDF document).It’s all prefaced by an anodyne ramble by “the government”, which was presumably actually written by members of the STFC executive, but it makes interesting reading; some of the individual submissions don’t pull any punches, that’s for sure. I was quite surprised to see this blog get a mention too!  The disappointing thing is that many of them take a rather narrow view, but I suppose that’s a result of the rather specific nature of the questions.

The Chief Executive of STFC was himself called to give “oral evidence” to the Committee in January. You can find a  transcript of the whole session here, but I couldn’t resist the following snippet as an example of the inspirational power of Prof. Mason’s rhetoric:

Again, I am pretty comfortable that we are in a reasonable position going forward. You can never say never because unexpected things happen. Things might break which are major, but, by and large, as best we can plan it, we are in a reasonably good shape.

Now wonder rumours are circulating that he’s about to be moved sideways until he steps down next year. But who will take over? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

You can see a recording of the whole session here, but I wouldn’t recommend viewing it if you’re looking for reassurance about the future of astronomy in the UK.

Anyways, the next stage of the inquiry will be on Wednesday 9th March. Professor Roger Davies and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell will be going into bat for astronomy. I’ll post a report if I get time to watch their contributions.