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Friday, December 14, 2007

The STFC town meeting - delivery strategy

Obviously due to my location I was not able to attend the meeting yesterday but some of my colleagues have passed on information on some of what was said.

Some points:

Grant money will be reduced significantly. Grants currently under consideration will take a 25% cut with the figure to be reviewed each year. Existing grants may also be withdrawn in areas where STFC is withdrawing from facilities. This is massive. This amounts to a very large number of jobs going across physics (probably my own included). This issue must not be underestimated, this includes physicists and support staff across the country who will become unemployed.

Apparently, Keith Mason assured everyone that DIUS officials were fully aware of the impact the cuts would make. He declined to answer when questioned what ministers knew.

Regarding solar terrestrial physics, Keith said that the cuts in the field were due to the UK not being world-leading in that area. This is absolute nonsense and if Mason does not know this he is too ignorant to be in charge of any funding decisions at STFC. In 2005 there was an international review of physics conducted throughout the UK. To quote:

The Review was organised by a Steering Group comprising: Professor Sir John Enderby (Chair; President, the Institute of Physics), Professor John O'Reilly (Chief Executive, EPSRC), Professor Keith Mason (Chief Executive, PPARC) and Professor Kathryn Whaler (President, the Royal Astronomical Society).
Emphasis mine. Now let us look at what the report said:
The UK has a world-leading role in helioseismology, dynamo theory, coronal activity, magnetic reconnection, and shock physics, thus covering many of the important aspects of the Sun-Earth connection.
This is just one of the many, many positive things said about STP in that report that Keith Mason seems blissfully unaware of. I recommend reading the report in full, in some places it is now quite funny to see the recommendations given by our esteemed international colleagues and how they have been ignored (through necessity of course) by STFC.

The cuts to STP only affect ground based science - according to Keith Mason. The problem is that the UK has excelled at ground-based for years and have a limited satellite programme through ESA. Cluster is the only truly magnetospheric mission currently being flown and that is now getting old. I will bet that Cluster will be revealed to be on the chopping block within the next month or so. I would be very surprised to learn that decisions regarding its fate have not already been taken.

It is worth emphasising this point, whereas astronomy and particle physics are going to be hit massively, and unfairly by these cuts, the affect on solar terrestrial physics is essentially (though it does not say so in the document) to wipe out a whole area of scientific expertise in which Britain has excelled since 1950s. It is particularly ironic that this should happen in the middle of IPY and IHY

More to come

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