Archive for STFC

Open Access and Closed Telescopes

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 22, 2013 by telescoper

Interesting to note that 2012 was a bumper year for productivity at the UK Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT), as demonstrated by the following nice graphic.

UKIRT-pubs-2012

Some of my colleagues have expressed a measure of consternation at the fact that unless some individual or organization steps in and offers to take over the running costs, this facility will be closed down at the end of this year (2013). Why shut down a telescope that is generating so many publications?

The answer is of course that, under the UK Government’s new plans for  Gold Open Access, astronomers will be forced to pay Article Processing Charges, possibly exceeding £1000 per paper, in order to disseminate the fruits of their research. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which administers the budget for the UK’s astronomy research,  simply can’t afford the level of expenditure required to cover the costs associated with the number of articles being generated by the wanton exploitation of this facility. Indeed, in future, STFC will only be able to operate facilities that produce very few results worthy of publication.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Presentation by the CEO of STFC at the IOP

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2013 by telescoper

Yesterday the Supreme Leader Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Professor John Womersley, gave a presentation to the assembled masses of the Institute of Physics in London, followed by a discussion at the RAS Astronomy Forum. Topics he covered, including the Triennial Review of the Research Councils, which is seeking evidence via an open consultation exercise. Contributions are invited by the end of February.

I was planning to attend both sessions, but had pressing matters to attend to here in Sussex so wasn’t able to make it in the end. However, owing to a miracle of technology I’ve been furnished with the slides used in the presentation and, with his permission, am sharing them here as a service to the community because,as you will see,  there is a lot at stake for all of us…

Urgent Announcement from the AGP

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on December 1, 2012 by telescoper

As the festive season approaches, the UK government has decided  to make immediate changes to the  procedures to be followed for the allocation and distribution of yuletide gifts. In previous years, such awards have been made  directly by the agency involved, e.g. proposals within the STFC  remit have been directly Sent To Father Christmas, often in hand-written format. However, to cut costs improve the quality of service, it has been decided to extend the operations of the Shared Services Centre to cover such applications, which will henceforth be administered by a Shared Santa Claus (SSC), after being uploaded to the JES system (in Word 95 format only). They will then be sent to relevant experts for peer review, i.e. the Advent Gift Panel (AGP).

In preparing submissions, Applicants should note the following  important revisions to AGP guidelines.

Proposals must include:

  1. The aims and scope of the presents requested and any interrelation between them, where appropriate.
  2. The areas in which the Applicants have a proven track-record in the general area of not being naughty, including (where appropriate) highlights of particularly good behaviour within the last three years.
  3. The support  already provided to the Applicants with particular emphasis on recent investments that are relevant to the gifts requested.
  4. How the Applicants will be advanced as a result of the proposed present.
  5. How the  requested present  fits within the international context, i.e. is it of comparable quality to the best gifts available overseas?
  6. The likely impact of the present (e.g. when thrown around the living room).
  7. How you expect the present to evolve over the next three years, e.g. is it likely to break or need repair?
  8. The level of resources needed to supply the present.
  9. How the gift will contribute to the UK economy over the next thirty years.

The following supplementary rules also apply:

  1. Consumables will be allocated using a formula based on the number of FTE awarded, to include (per FTE): one Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzler, three sprouts, 2 potatoes (including one roast if the case justifies such extravagance), and one small carrot/parsnip. Gravy is expected to be provided from local resources.
  2. Christmas puddings and/or mince pies are covered by a different  programme (overseen by the Hefty Pudding Committee, HPC)  and will require a separate application; a Cheese Board may also be convened if there is sufficient demand.
  3. Requests for crackers are welcomed, as long as the proposal is not entirely crackers.
  4. Travel expenses will be limited to the cost of one sleigh ride (weather permitting).
  5. Batteries will not be included.
  6. Under no circumstances will funding be allocated for the purchase of paperweights.
  7. Each proposal  must be accompanied by a Knowledge Exchange case, explaining the impact of the proposal outside the STFC remit.
  8. Each proposal must be accompanied by an Outreach case outlining any public activities,  such as carol singing.

The deadline for applications is Friday 14th December 2012. In line with normal shambolically inefficient SSC practice, awards are expected to be made sometime in April (2014).

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Diamond Lights

Posted in Football, Music, Science Politics with tags , , , on November 27, 2012 by telescoper

Apparently there’s been a posh do this evening at the Royal Society to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Diamond Light Source. In fact the Diamond Light Source has its own anniversary blog that’s been posting celebratory things for a while; the actual anniversary being celebrated was the signing of the agreement to set up the Diamond Light Source, which happened on March 27th 2002. Actual operations didn’t commence until 2007, at a total cost of £260m, which is when STFC was created and told to pick up the tab for running the facility which, together with a few other things, precipitated a financial crisis from which UK particle physics and astronomy are only just starting to recover.

I don’t be churlish about the good science the Diamond Light Sources is undoubtedly doing so I thought I’d mark the anniversary here. The blog I mentioned above has a video page but it sadly doesn’t contain the video I most expected to see. This, Diamond Lights, was released – or did it escape? – in 1987 and it “stars” Glen Hoddle and Chris Waddle who, as singers, were both excellent footballers. I’m surprised STFC Chief Executive John Womersley didn’t record a cover version of this as part of the anniversary celebrations…

AGP Matters

Posted in Biographical, Science Politics with tags , , on September 20, 2012 by telescoper

Well, just made it back to Cardiff following the (hopefully) final meeting of the  Astronomy Grants Panel (AGP) for this year’s round at the Science and Technology Facilities Council HQ in Swindon. It’s been a difficult process – though perhaps not quite as difficult as last year’s round which was completely overloaded with applications. I struggled a bit extra this year because I seem to have caught some sort of nasty bug during my recent travels. No doubt I’ve now infected the rest of the panel via coughing and spluttering too…

Anyway, we got through the business at hand, which basically involved merging two ranked lists produced by the sub-panels to produce an overall priority order for the proposals received.  What happens with this list now is that the good folk at STFC carefully calculate the costs of each proposal as they work down through the list and keep going until the money runs out. We don’t know for sure at this stage where the line will fall, but it’s pretty clear that some very good proposals won’t make it. That’s the way it is. There just isn’t enough money to fund all the best research.

I suppose that’s why I always have mixed feelings at the end of an AGP round. It’s good to see the process in operation, because it convinces one that everyone concerned is doing their best to achieve a fair outcome, but it’s very sad that some proposals will fall just short with potentially terrible consequences for those whose livelihoods depend on STFC funding. This accounts for the not inconsiderable quantity of gallows humour displayed by AGP members.

Of course the AGP doesn’t actually award grants. It makes recommendations which are then endorsed (or not) by the STFC Science Board. So although we’ve now done our job, it will take a while until the formal grant announcements start appearing, in November probably.

Anyway, I’ve been on the panel for 3 years now, which is the normal sentence term for an AGP member, so I have the feeling I might be “rotated” off after this round, whereupon it will be up to some other mug  esteemed researcher to take my place performing this thankless task valuable bit of community service.

And on the third day…

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 6, 2012 by telescoper

So here I am, brain the size of a planet, stuck in a corridor in Polaris House in  Swindon for while the rest of the Astronomy Grants Panel of the Science and Technology Facilities Council considers applications on which I have a conflict of interest. We’ve had two very busy days so far, hence no time to post yesterday, but we’re on track to get through the order of business by the end of today as scheduled. Now I’m at a bit of a loose end I’ve been catching up on emails and other stuff I have had to ignore for the past couple of days.

And now there’s even time for a brief blogette.

It’s a stressful business being on these panels, not just because it’s a lot of work but that everyone involved knows how important the outcome is, for science in general and in terms of the consequences of success or failure in obtaining funding for individual researchers.    Under the current system of “Consolidated Grants”, anyone unsuccessful in this round will effectively be locked out of STFC funding for 3 years. That seems very harsh to me. However, we have to work with the system we’ve got and make the best we can of it.

Anyway, bearing in mind that this is a personal blog and not an official mouthpiece for the AGP, if anyone out there has any comments about the system please feel free to vent your spleen via the comments box. As long as you keep it reasonably polite.

Astronomy Advice Please!

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 4, 2012 by telescoper

I’m up at the crack of dawn this morning in order to travel to Swindon for a meeting of the Astronomy Grants Panel of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Three days in Swindon beckon.

Anyways, while I’m thinking STFC stuff let me put my community service hat on and remind astronomers that the Astronomy Advisory Panel (yes, there is one) is consulting, and the deadline for folks to fill in the consultation questionnaire is tomorrow (Wednesday 5th September 2012). Please upload your input forthwith.

As a prompt, you might like to have a look at this figure that shows the breakdown of STFC expenditure generally, and specifically within the astronomy programme.

Do these pie charts provide you with food for thought?

Astronomy Grant Outcomes

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , on June 28, 2012 by telescoper

While this is by no means an official outlet for news from the Science and Technology Facilities Council nor the Astronomy Grants Panel (AGP) thereof, but I am on the AGP so I thought I’d take the opportunity to pass on a bit of news to the UK community, or at least those members that read this blog.

An email  by Colin Vincent of STFC  was circulated this evening via the ASTROCOMMUNITY email list, which includes the following:

As part of the process for improving the feedback to the community of outcomes we have just published a more detailed listing of the recommendations for all projects. This can be found at

http://www.stfc.ac.uk/Our%20Research/12214.aspx

We hope that the community will find this helpful. This information supplements what is already available in STFC’s ‘Grants on the Web’ pages.

The link included there takes you to a page that includes a general description of how the AGP works and what it tries to do, and also for the first time (as far as I’m aware) a link to a document that contains a ranked list of all the projects rated fundable, whether funded or unfunded.

Speaking personally, i.e. not in my capacity as an AGP member, I think making this amount of detail public is an extremely good move, as I think it makes the process much more transparent. There’s just a chance, however, that the actual list might ruffle a few feathers here and there, and probably in other places too.

As always, please feel free to comment through the box below, but if you do so please remember that this is a personal blog and I’m passing this on as a community service. I can’t respond on behalf of the AGP, so please don’t ask me to!

UPDATE:  29th June 2012. The document containing the AGP outcomes has been removed from the STFC website. Don’t ask me why…

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!

STFC Programmatic Review

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on June 7, 2012 by telescoper

Following hard on the heels of  its decision to close the UK Infra-red Telescope and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Hawaii, the Science and Technology Fatalities Council today announced the next stage of its Programmatic Review.

STFC graciously invites your contribution to this exercise, which is to be conducted by a Mr Reaper from Swindon…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,271 other followers