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Monday, January 14, 2008

Showing resolve



A group of select astronomy professors met with Keith Mason and Richard Wade last week. According to one member of the group who was there it was held under Chatham House rules, which means that although we can find out some information from the meeting, we cannot find out what was said by whom. I am sure that whoever decided this had their reasons but it is a real shame as once again we have something of a screening layer between us and STFC decision making. Some transparency would really be nice.

On the plus side the group arrived at a number of resolutions that are available on the RAS website. I would tentatively suggest that these resolutions are positive but I am not sure they go far enough in some regards. To summarize:

Recommendation 1: All astronomy groups are urged to make sure that their Vice-Chancellor submits a strong case for astronomy and space science to the Wakeham review.

Recommendation 2: DIUS should remove international subscriptions from the STFC budget line and should handle fluctuations (which may be up or down) separately.

Recommendation 3: STFC needs to publicize the intrinsic value and indirect economic benefits of fundamental science and strengthen this element of its mission.

Recommendation 4: PPAN should without delay set up an advisory structure below it, so that a wider cross-section of community experts can be involved in discussions of the programme.

Two sentences from the meeting report are somewhat controversial:

The ad hoc group had a vigorous discussion with Keith Mason and Richard Wade on the issue of consultation and had previously taken advice from the chairs of the Science Board and PPAN. We accept that these bodies have been fully involved in the preparation of the Delivery Plan and in the ongoing Programmatic Review.

It is all well and good for that ad hoc group to say they accept that PPAN and Science Board were fully involved but statements from members of PPAN would suggest otherwise. When Prof. Rowan Robinson reported this to the community at the recent RAS meeting, one member of PPAN stood up and rejected the statement.

1 comment:

Andy Lawrence said...

The reason for Chatham House rules is to encourage people to say blunt and honest things that in a public meeting they would be cagey about. I have mixed feelings about this, but probably without it the meeting would have been completely bland and pointless.

W.r.t. PPAN, we gave them the benefit of the doubt here, partly because Recc 4 is a pretty strong public criticism; below PPAN there has been NO consultation; this simply won't do.