Archive for Monica Grady

Honours and Admissions

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , on June 18, 2012 by telescoper

Time for a quick comment on the Queen Birthday Honours List for 2012 which, if you’re interested, you can download in full here.

The honours system must appear extremely curious to people from outside the United Kingdom. It certainly seems so to me. On the one hand, I am glad that the government has a mechanism for recognising the exceptional contributions made to society by certain individuals. Musicians, writers, sportsmen, entertainers and the like generally receive handsome financial rewards, of course, but that’s no reason to begrudge a medal or two in recognition of the special place they occupy in our cultural life.  It’s  good to see scientists recognized too, although they tend not to get noticed so much by the press.

First of all, therefore, let me congratulate space scientist, and occasional commenter on this blog, Professor Monica Grady on her award of a CBE. I also couldn’t resist commenting on the award of a knighthood to the Chair of the Science and Technology Facilities Council

..Professor Michael Sterling, who has turned round the Science and Technology Facilities Council

according to the official government announcement; the emphasis is mine. The phrase “turned around” is an interestingly frank way of putting it, and a refreshing admission from a very high level  that STFC was in disarray under its previous management.

Although I’m happy to see recognition given to such people, as I did last year on this occasion I can’t resist stating my objections to the honours system for the record. One is that the list of recipients  of certain categories of award is overwhelmingly dominated by career civil servants, for whom an “honour”  goes automatically with a given rank. If an honour is considered an entitlement in this way then it is no honour at all, and in fact devalues those awards that are  given on merit to people outside the Civil Service. Civil servants get paid for doing their job, so they should have no more expectation of an additional reward than anyone else.

Honours have relatively little monetary value on their own, of course so this is not question of financial corruption. An honour does, however, confer status and prestige on the recipient so what we have is a much more subtle form of sleaze. One wonders how many names listed in the current roll of honours are there because of political donations, for example.

I wouldn’t accept an honour myself, but that’s easy to say because I’m sure I’ll never be nominated for one. However, I imagine that even people like me who are against the whole system are probably still tempted to accept such awards when offered, as they generate good publicity for one’s field, institution and colleagues. Fortunately, having less than a cat in hell’s chance of being nominated, I’m never going to be tempted in that way!

Petition: VAT on e-publications

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 28, 2012 by telescoper

I’ve been asked by Prof. Monica Grady to pass on the following message and urge you to sign the petition to which it refers. I am happy to do so, for reasons which should be obvious. I’ve even signed it myself!


Universities and colleges are currently obliged to pay VAT at the full standard rate, currently 20%, on their subscriptions to electronic academic journals, books, newspapers and magazines. Printed versions of these resources are zero-rated in the UK; in the rest of the EU VAT is applied at the reduced rate, currently 5%.

E-publications are greener, save valuable storage space and offer increased availability for the majority of users. They should be treated in the same way for VAT as printed publications. This VAT burden means that libraries have less to spend on electronic publications and makes it very difficult for them to move towards e-provision.

We urge our government to do one of two things:

1. Introduce zero-rated VAT on electronic academic publications or

2. If it is not feasible to add electronic publications to the list of zero-rated goods then to follow other European countries and apply VAT at the reduced rate now and consider reducing this to 0% as soon as possible.

A minimum 100,000 signatures are needed for the topic to be considered for debate in the House of Commons. Any British Citizen or UK resident can sign: you will need to provide your name, address and email address.

Sign by clicking  here. The full link in case you wish to copy it and send it to friends or colleagues is:

You can follow the campaign on Twitter #fairVAT4epubs