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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wading into the MIST

As I mentioned yesterday, Richard Wade came and addressed the MIST (Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar Terrestrial) community at our business meeting at the RAS on Monday.

I'll discuss more of the salient points at a later time but there were one or two comments worth mentioning now. The first was to do with the only time that he showed any real emotion in the meeting.

After taking questions for some time (and it must be noted he willingly stayed much longer than we had originally asked) one of my colleagues raised the point that it was madness to segregate ground based solar-terrestrial physics from space-based STP since to do the science properly you need both - they are not independent. Prof. Wade did not seem to get the point so another colleague offered an analogy - substitute astronomy for STP. One would not cut all ground based astronomy. When Prof. Wade agreed with this, without seeming to get the point, my colleague laughed to himself. It was then that Prof. Wade raised his voice and told the assembled scientists to:
"Wake up and smell the coffee"

He then informed us that hints had been dropped for quite some time. When pressed on where and when these hints were made he said they were on the STFC/PPARC website.

It is interesting to see that STFC seems to think that policy changes should be announced in the form of hints rather than through community consultation.

The underlying point was that STP was not welcome in STFC. He even said that (and I am quoting from memory so forgive me if I get something a little wrong):
"In an ideal world STFC would not fund ground-based STP"
This was in response to questions about whether STP would have appeared in the strategy if there had been better funding from DIUS. This also has implications for EISCAT that I will come to later. he also went to great pains to point out that STFC will support space-based STP since we have a commitment to ESA and as long as ESA has STP missions STFC must fund be involved. Essentially STP is only in there because ESA has a programme and we are signed up to ESA.

Even though we tried to tease direct statements out of him, Prof. Wade would not be drawn. He said at one point that he could not be clearer than that; however my immediate thought was that he could be clearer he could actually just tell us what he was dancing around. If he wants to say that STP is dead to STFC then he should bloody well come out and say it. Perhaps he could also give reasons backed up with evidence. Something it seems that Keith Mason was unable to do in front of the select committee later that same day.

With regards to EISCAT, statements that came out of the ad-hoc meeting at RAS and the SCAP meeting were clarified (and I use that word in the political sense). Although the news from colleagues at those meetings was that the EISCAT subscription would be honoured Prof. Wade made it very clear that this was only true so long as STFC could not find a cost-effective way of withdrawing from the agreement. So if they find a way tomorrow, we are out. To his credit he did say that if STFC was paying for an instrument it would be "stupid" not to fund science that utilised it. We shall see however.

All in all the meeting was somewhat depressing for the STP community and if the STFC executive get their way, a whole field of research in the UK will be wiped out. Let's just make sure that STFC does not get their way!

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