Archive for UKIRT

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.


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.

Astronomy Lost and Found

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2012 by telescoper

Just finished my last postgraduate lecture, so that’s the teaching out of the way for this academic year. Time, methinks, for a short post to pass on two little bits of astronomy news for reaction and perhaps comment?

The first item concerns the balloon-borne polarimeter experiment known to its friends as EBEX. A truly bizarre story emerged this week concerning the disappearance of this telescope and associated equipment while it was in transit via lorry from the University of Minnesota to the launch site in Palestine, Texas. The truck failed to arrive at its destination, and seemed to vanish for about three days.

Obviously scientists working on EBEX were getting very nervous about its whereabouts , but finally it showed up. Apparently undamaged. The truck had apparently been stolen when the driver at stayed at a motel for the night; it was eventually found, three days later, abandoned not far from the motel.

Curiously, though, the driver hadn’t reported the theft of the truck to the local police. I wonder why? Something tells me there might be more to this story than meets the eye…

The other item of news I thought I’d pass on is an official announcement from the Science and Technology Facilities Council  of the forthcoming closure of both the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the UK Infra-red Telescope (UKIRT), both based at Hawaii;  UKIRT will close in September 2013, and JCMT the following year.

There’s been much reaction to this announcement on Twitter. Andy Lawrence has posted about it, for example.  Most colleagues of mine who have commented on the STFC decision have expressed dismay at the decision to lose UKIRT and JCMT and surprise at the decision to extend the operations of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma in the Canary Islands, primarily the William Herschel Telescope (WHT) until at least 2015. I’m not sure of the extent to which these decisions were made on scientific grounds.

The decision to close UKIRT/JCMT isn’t exactly a surprise as they have been living on borrowed time since the STFC prioritisation exercise in 2009. It remains to be seen how the astronomical community reacts to the decision. I gather a statement is expected from the Royal Astronomical Society later today.

Comments and reaction are invited via the comments box, but please don’t shoot the messenger!

UPDATE: The statement from the RAS can be found here.

What Counts as Productivity?

Posted in Bad Statistics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 18, 2011 by telescoper

Apparently last year the United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope (UKIRT) beat its own personal best for scientific productivity. In fact here’s a  graphic showing the number of publications resulting from UKIRT to make the point:

The plot also demonstrates that a large part of recent burst of productivity has been associated with UKIDSS (the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey) which a number of my colleagues are involved in. Excellent chaps. Great project. Lots of hard work done very well.  Take a bow, the UKIDSS team!

Now I hope I’ve made it clear that  I don’t in any way want to pour cold water on the achievements of UKIRT, and particularly not UKIDSS, but this does provide an example of how difficult it is to use bibliometric information in a meaningful way.

Take the UKIDSS papers used in the plot above. There are 226 of these listed by Steve Warren at Imperial College. But what is a “UKIDSS paper”? Steve states the criteria he adopted:

A paper is listed as a UKIDSS paper if it is already published in a journal (with one exception) and satisfies one of the following criteria:

1. It is one of the core papers describing the survey (e.g. calibration, archive, data releases). The DR2 paper is included, and is the only paper listed not published in a journal.
2. It includes science results that are derived in whole or in part from UKIDSS data directly accessed from the archive (analysis of data published in another paper does not count).
3. It contains science results from primary follow-up observations in a programme that is identifiable as a UKIDSS programme (e.g. The physical properties of four ~600K T dwarfs, presenting Spitzer spectra of cool brown dwarfs discovered with UKIDSS).
4. It includes a feasibility study of science that could be achieved using UKIDSS data (e.g. The possiblity of detection of ultracool dwarfs with the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey by Deacon and Hambly).

Papers are identified by a full-text search for the string ‘UKIDSS’, and then compared against the above criteria.

That all seems to me to by quite reasonable, and it’s certainly one way of defining what a UKIDSS paper is. According to that measure, UKIDSS scores 226.

The Warren measure does, however, include a number of papers that don’t directly use UKIDSS data, and many written by people who aren’t members of the UKIDSS consortium. Being picky you might say that such papers aren’t really original UKIDSS papers, but are more like second-generation spin-offs. So how could you count UKIDSS papers differently?

I just tried one alternative way, which is to use ADS to identify all refereed papers with “UKIDSS” in the title, assuming – possibly incorrectly – that all papers written by the UKIDSS consortium would have UKIDSS in the title. The number returned by this search was 38.

Now I’m not saying that this is more reasonable than the Warren measure. It’s just different, that’s all.  According to my criterion however UKIDSS measures 38 rather than 226. It sounds less impressive (if only because 38 is a smaller number than 226),  but what does it mean about UKIDSS productivity in absolute terms?

Not very much, I think is the answer.

Yet another way you might try to judge UKIDSS using bibliometric means is to look at its citation impact. After all, any fool can churn out dozens of papers that no-one ever reads. I know that for a fact. I am that fool.

But citation data also provide another way of doing what Steve Warren was trying to measure. Presumably the authors of any paper that uses UKIDSS data in any significant way would cite the main UKIDSS survey paper led by Andy Lawrence (Lawrence et al. 2007). According to ADS, the number of times this has been cited since publication is 359. That’s higher than the Warren measure (226), and much higher than the UKIDSS-in-the-title measure (38).

So there we are, three different measures, all in my opinion perfectly reasonable measures of, er,  something or other, but each giving a very different numerical value. I am not saying any  is misleading or that any is necessarily better than the others. My point is simply that it’s not easy to assign a numerical value to something that’s intrinsically difficult to define.

Unfortunately, it’s a point few people in government seem to be prepared to acknowledge.

Andy Lawrence is 57.