Archive for the Politics Category

March for Europe

Posted in Politics with tags , on March 24, 2017 by telescoper

Just a quick post to say that I’ll be travelling from Cardiff to London first thing tomorrow morning in order to take part in this March to Parliament.

March for Europe

After Wednesday’s terrorist attack near the Palace of Westminster, there has been some talk – some of apparently emanating from BrExit-supporters wanting to sabotage the event – about cancelling this demonstration against the folly of BrExit, and to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, but I’m glad to say it is going ahead. I think Wednesday’s events make it even more important that we exercise our democratic rights including the right to engage in peaceful protest. The march goes ahead with the full support of the Police.

For more details please see the facebook page here. I hope this will be a big one!

A Picture of Theresa May 

Posted in Politics with tags , on March 19, 2017 by telescoper

Apparently our Prime Minister has requested that the following picture be removed from Google’s  image search facility.

If she’d like me to remove it from this blog, I will do so if she posts a comment below explaining why I should.

Spring Things

Posted in Biographical, Cricket, Football, Politics, Rugby on March 13, 2017 by telescoper

I’m aware that my posts have been a bit thin recently. This is partly because I’ve had so much to do recently. I know I’m supposed to be working part-time, but that isn’t the way it’s working out. I’m being paid part-time, but without any obvious reduction in workload. Not at the moment anyway, although that’s probably mainly because of a load of deadlines coming together.

The other reason is that I’ve not been very well. On top of other things I caught a bug of some sort in January that laid me pretty low and caused continuous coughing and spluttering but seemed not to be too nasty. The problem is that I just couldn’t shake it off. When I finally started to feel better I immediately got worse again. I think I might have had two different forms of the lurgy in quick succession. Now I seem to be clear of the obvious symptoms, but just generally knackered. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting on a bit, the usual winter flu things are harder to shake off. Or maybe I should have taken some time off, but that would have meant missing even more deadlines…

Anyway, while I’ve been moping around feeling sorry for myself, Spring seems to have arrived.

On the sporting front, the 2017 Six Nations is heading towards its conclusion. With England sure to win the Championship after thrashing Scotland 61-21 on Saturday, all that remains is the question of whether they can round it off with a second successive Grand Slam by beating Ireland in the last match. To show how little I know about rugby, I thought Scotland would beat England on Saturday. I even bet on Scotland to win,  but they never really got out of the blocks and were thoroughly trounced.

There are signs of life at the SWALEC stadium now too. I’ve seen the Glamorgan players practising outside a few times now that the weather has improved a bit. I have joined as a full member this year so hope to be able to get to quite a few of the County Championship games. The fixture list arrived last week, another sign that Spring is here.

On the football side, Newcastle United had three tough away games against rivals for the Championship (Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading). They managed to beat the first two and draw 0-0 in the third, which was a good performance. But then they lost an apparently more straightforward home game against Fulham on Saturday. They’re still top of the table (on goal difference), but could still blow it. There are still nine games left of a season which seems to have gone on for ages already!

And then of course there’s the likely triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by Prime Minister Theresa May, assuming Parliament agrees to give her permission to do so. Then we begin the process of separating ourselves from the European Union. There’s a strong chance this will lead to Scottish independence and, perhaps a few years further down the line, a united Ireland. Holland goes to the polls on Wednesday 15th – the Ides of March – and we’ll see whether the Dutch are as willing to fall for divisive far-right rhetoric as the British and Americans have proved to be. I doubt it, actually, but there have been too many shocks recently to be sure.

Budget: 1000 New PhD STEM Studentships

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , on March 9, 2017 by telescoper

I was out of the office all day yesterday at a very interesting meeting at the Institute of Physics, so I wasn’t able to listen to the 2017 Budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the way home by train, however, I caught up with some of the content and reaction via Twitter and various news outlets.

One thing of particular relevance to those of us who work in STEM subjects was the following announcement (from the BBC website):

  • £300m to support 1,000 new PhD places and fellowships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects

There’s a bit more detail about this here:

He also confirmed that the Industrial Strategy Fund will be managed by Innovate UK in its first year of existence, and will be administered by UK Research and Innovation from 2018-19.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is part of the National Productivity Investment Fund. As trailed earlier in the week, a further £90m from the NPIF will be spent on an additional 1,000 PhD places in areas aligned with the government’s industrial strategy. Around 85 per cent of these places will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, and 40 per cent will focus on strengthening industry-academia collaboration.

Also under the NPIF, a total of £160m will be spent on new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in areas aligned with the industrial strategy.

The NPIF will also include spending of £50m over the next four years on fellowship programmes to attract researchers from overseas.

So these studentships will be funded from the “extra money” for science and research announced in the Autumn Statement last year and it looks like they will be focussed on industrial applications rather than “pure” science.

The number 1000 seems a lot, but it has to be seen in perspective. Each year the Science and Technology Facilities Council funds about 100 PhD studentships in Astronomy, and a similar number in Particle Physics. Far more Physics PhDs are funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which looks after the rest of physics as well as engineering and the rest of the physical sciences. Then there are the life sciences, medical research and all the other disciplines which are larger still. In 2014 the total number of students starting a PhD in STEM disciplines in England alone was about 6600. Not all these were funded by the UK research councils, of course, but that gives you some idea of the scale. The extra places this year are a significant boost, but don’t represent a huge increase across the board. They may have a real impact in specific areas, of course, depending on where they are targetted. Note also that the recent large growth in PhD places in the UK has largely been driven by access to EU funding programmes, which we are determined to throw away.

I don’t know how these studentships will be allocated, though I suspect they will be administered through the existing Research Council channels. However, if they are to be filled from October 2017 this will have to be decided quickly, as this year’s recruitment cycle is well under way.

On the other hand, rumours of extra money for PhD students in STEM subjects have been circulating for some time so I think this has been known about behind the scenes long enough to make preparations. I suspect it has all been under wraps until yesterday for political reasons, i.e. to allow the Chancellor to include it in his speech. I imagine things will now move pretty quickly and we’ll know quite soon where the studentships will be allocated.

It’s also worth noting that the money for studentships will be spread over 4 years, which means that this increase is effectively just for one cohort of students (a PhD typically taking 3-4 years to complete). We don’t know whether this level will be maintained in future to compensate for loss of EU funds.

Extra investment in STEM subjects is to be welcomed, but I do wonder about the wisdom of increasing PhD student numbers still further. As I have stated before, I think we already produce far too many PhDs. I think this money might be better spent increasing the number of Masters graduates or improving funding for STEM undergraduate programmes.

 

People are not “Bargaining Chips”

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on February 20, 2017 by telescoper

Today there has been a day of action under the banner of “One Day Without Us” to celebrate the contribution that migrants make to the United Kingdom and to the counter growing tide of racism and xenophobia associated with some elements of the recent campaign for this country to leave the European Union. Here’s a video produced by the campaign.

I wish to make it clear, as someone who was born in the United Kingdom, that I am appalled by the present government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of the millions of EU citizens who have made this country their home and enriched us all with their presence here. Migrants have had a positive effect over all sectors of the UK economy for a very long time, but I wish to highlight from my own experience the enormous contribution “migrants” – or as I prefer to call them “colleagues” – make to our Universities. Non-UK scientists form the backbone of the School of Physics & Astronomy here at Cardiff, just as they did in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. Without them I don’t know how we’d carry on.

Now the Article 50 Bill has begun its progress through the House of Lords, I hope that it can be amended to force the government to stop treating such valuable people in such a despicable way. In the meantime all I can do – and I know it’s only a gesture – is say that the government does not speak for me, or for any of my colleagues, and that I hope and believe that it will be made to abandon its repellent notion that people can be treated like bargaining chips.

Ten Years of the European Research Council

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on February 9, 2017 by telescoper

This little video reminded me that we’re coming up to the tenth anniversary of the founding of the European Research Council (ERC).

 

In my opinion the ERC has been an outstanding success that has revitalized science across the continent and here in the United Kingdom. Sadly the UK government has decided that the United Kingdom will play no further part in ERC-funded schemes or any other programme funded by the EU.  The participation of UK scientists has already started to diminish and when it dries up completely there will be a significant loss of research income, especially for fundamental science. I’m grateful to Paul Crowther for pointing out that over the past decade there have been no fewer than 176 ERC awards to UK physics departments, meaning over  1/3 of a billion Euros in research funding.

I estimate that most physics & astronomy departments in the UK will lose 20-30% of their research income as a result of leaving the EU. Most also have a similar fraction of staff who are EU nationals, many of whom will leave because of the UK government’s shocking refusal to guarantee their right to remain. I find it sad beyond words that we as a nation are not only about to throw away our leading role in so many excellent research projects but also destroy our own credibility as a civilized nation by the mean-spirited way we are behaving.

But the ERC will at least offer British scientists two ways to continue their involvement with EU programmes. The first is that existing grants are portable, so principal investigators who decided to relocate to an EU country can take their funding with them. The second is that future ERC grants are open to applicants from any country in the world who wish to carry out their research within the EU.

As Niels Bohr famously remarked “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. I don’t know whether there will be a significant brain drain to the EU from the UK as a result of BrExit, but I do know many colleagues are talking about it right now. As for myself, if someone were to offer me a job in Europe I’d definitely take it.

(My CV is available on request).

 

 

The Trump Protest in Cardiff

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on January 31, 2017 by telescoper

Last night I joined in a protest in Cardiff against Donald Trump’s executive order curtailing the US refugee programme and suspending the right of entry to the USA to people with perfectly valid documentation who were born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In effect, it’s a Muslim Ban. Coincidentally, the Muslim countries exempted from the order include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are all places where Trump has business interests.

This unconscionable and unconstitutional order has led to detentions and forced deportations in clear violation of the Geneva convention. There’s a Nature piece giving some examples of scientists it has affected, to illustrate the damage done already. I find it a disgrace that our government has failed to voice its disapproval of this order, and I’m apparently not alone. Despite just a day’s notice, thousands turned out for protests across the United Kingdom, including Cardiff, where we assembled at about 6.30pm near the statue of Aneurin Bevan on Queen Street.

queen-street

Despite the pouring rain the numbers built up impressively until the street became very crowded. It wasn’t very easy to count the people there but I’m very confident that they numbered well over a thousand. That’s not as large as the demonstration in London that happened at the same time, but it’s a start.

There were some speeches and chanting and lots of witty signs and we marched up and down Queen Street making an enjoyable noise. It was all very good-humoured, but behind it all was a deep sense of alarm that the President of the United States of America has revealed himself to be nothing but a fascist. Yes, I mean a fascist -that’s precisely what he is. More and more people are going to come to that conclusion over the next few weeks and months and if and when he ever does come to the United Kingdom on a State Visit, there’ll be demonstrations against him. Our political masters may be prepared to sell this country to Trump, but I don’t think ordinary people will stand for it.