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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gemini in the news - highlights the problems

The BBC 1 news just had a segment on the UK withdrawal from the Gemini telescopes. It was a nice piece and Prof. Paul Crowther made a special appearance. Paul has written a comment on the current appalling Gemini situation.

I just want to excerpt a couple of segments for my readers:

Having been thrown a lifeline by the STFC Executive apparent u-turn on retaining access to Gemini North, the news is doubly disappointing, although the apparently half-hearted nature of the UK proposal to Gemini Board - without consultation with any of the UK astronomers involved, not even the Gemini Board's UK astronomer from whom the proposal was kept secret - appears to reflect a decision made in great haste.

I would add that this reflects standard operating procedure for STFC: no transparency, no consultation and no respect for the scientists. I wonder whether this reflects an inability in STFC management to actually engage with its constituents, us scientists.

Top level Decision-making on Gemini seems beyond comprehension with an appalling lack of transparency, so readily wasting GBP 80m investment just at the point when this facility has reached its true potential.

This is not dissimilar to the situation that STP found itself in after the PPARC programmatic review when the brand new SPEAR facility was axed (came on-line September 2004, axed by 2006). This was a brand new type of instrument that combined the ability to 'heat' the ionosphere with a vertical radar that included the capability to probe beyond the ionosphere into the magnetosphere - unique in the world.

At this time there are few available documents (at least that I can find) on the PPARC website that discuss the result of the 1st programmatic review (regardless of what Richard Wade thinks should be there). I just use this to stress that the actions by STFC with regard to Gemini do not seem to be unusual.

At this stage I hope that any of my astronomy colleagues who thought otherwise are coming to the realization that relying on STFC to come to their aid in saving their science is a waste of time.

The STP community has broadly reached this conclusion; when a number of our instruments were set for closure in 2005, we thought we could rely on quiet negotiations to save as much as possible and for a time it looked as if it might work. It was suggested to Lancaster University, for example, that they should pitch the funding for SAMNET into their rolling grant application in 2007. Another piece of advice was to gather our proposals around EISCAT since it was not axed in the review. You can all see how that turned out.

You cannot deal with STFC as it stands. It is not interested in our views, "strategy is a top down process".

I suggest you consider the recent MIST resolutions (also see press release) and decide whether it is time to join us above the parapet (to quote one commenter).

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