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Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring MIST 2008

It's that time of year where we all jolly up and head to the spring MIST meeting.

This year, just like last, we will be holding it jointly with the RAS NAM and UKSP meetings. Queen's University Belfast is the host.

So I will be quite quiet this week I think. I have already been a bit quiet recently as I have been busy preparing talks and a poster.

Of course since I was busily getting ready my computer chose last Friday to blow up. This was not amusing! I also feel somewhat crappy at the moment (something I ate) and the idea of getting on a plane is not appealing.

On the plus side, both of my talks are on day one and so I can relax and enjoy the conference for the rest of the week!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Openness and transparency

You may remember my recent post on the minutes of science board, released following a request under the freedom of information act. Well there has been a further development; this from Paul Crowther's website:

`News' reporting by Prof Mike Green of STFC Science Board minutes has been removed from his commentary and, in turn, these pages, since `STFC have stated categorically that they cannot be reproduced, stored or transmitted without written permission'. According to paragraph 73 of the DIUS Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees `[they] should establish a policy on what documents are to be published based on principles of openness and transparency.'

I shall not comment further except to say that I am surprised that Prof. Green's commentary was thought to breach the copyright; he did not release the documents, he offered a critique and reported news as ought to be fair game. I can only suppose it was because he used direct quotes within his critique. However you slice it, though, this makes STFC look bad.

Anyway, I think it is in all our best interests to see what science board had to say and so the only course left to those of us who want to know is to follow Prof Green's advice:

The SB minutes however, having been released under FoIA, are now available to anyone. Simply send an email to asking for a copy of the documents released to me under 2007/12/17/FoI/MG

Since STFC are strictly limiting access to those who request I do not think it could be construed as malicious requests if large numbers of the astronomy and particle physics communities were to request said documents.

Of course I doubt that they would available in time for the STFC forum at NAM, in case anyone wanted to question material contained within.

Just bad timing I guess.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Anyone looking for a job?

Obviously with the current crisis (and that is what it is, my most honourable friends) in astronomy and particle physics funding many of us could well be considering where we might find new jobs.

Well the search is over, behold:

Posted: 26 Mar 2008
Reference: 62/08
Location: Swindon, South West
Industry: Finance - General, Science - Research, Senior executive - General
Contract: Permanent
Hours: Full Time
Salary: c. £90k commensurate with experience

Sound good? The money is attractive but it would mean living in Swindon; is it nice there?
If your appetite is whetted listen to some more of the blurb:

This is your opportunity to take a seat on our Executive Board and help shape important funding decisions for some of the highest quality research carried out by the UK’s scientific community throughout the world.

Crikey! That sounds good, fancy helping to shape important funding decisions? Only for some of the highest quality research, though. the rest has been canned.

This prominent role, which involves travel as far afield as Chile, Switzerland and Hawaii, focuses on the technical aspects of a financial directorship that asks you to contribute significantly to the leadership, strategic development and management of the STFC.
Cool, chances to travel the world. Of course that may be cut down a bit depending on what actually gets through the (fatally flawed) programmatic review. No just sitting in an office playing with numbers here, no siree.

But what are the main challenges?

Your main challenge lies in working with existing funding levels to maximise research while managing expectations in an intelligent, sensitive and realistic manner.

Hmm, intelligent, sensitive and realistic, that would be a pleasant change. It's not clear to me that such a candidate would fit in with the current ethos, I imagine one or two feel out of place there already.

Maximising research within existing funding levels, well that goes well without saying, of course existing funding levels could well be less next time around, the CEO told the town meeting that he expected flat cash at the next CSR. Self fulfilling prophecy anyone?

What else?

Key skills will involve transmutation of aqua into a racemus based fermentation and perambulation over an aqueous body.

Okay I made those last bits up. Let's look at the rest:

A qualified accountant with extensive senior level experience, you excel in diplomatic and shrewd negotiation, and in evaluating complex financial issues.
Again that would make a pleasant change.

Perhaps whoever gets the job could then advise DIUS on how to evaluate complex financial issues so that we stop hearing about the '13.6%' generosity. I know quite a few particle physicists who have demonstrated exceptional ability in this area.

Not sure about the diplomacy though, hard to be diplomatic when you hold the person you are negotiating with in such low esteem. Then again, that would seem to fit, mutual contempt seems to be the order of the day.

So any takers?

The cooling globe

For some time now I have had occasion to argue, on line, with those who do not think that man has anything (or much) to do with global warming. Sometimes I have had to argue that a warming is occurring because some have heard that it is not. I even went to the extreme of doing a lot of reading of scientific journals on the subject so that I was at least a little informed.

As it turns out this was a complete waste of time.

I have now been convinced that global warming is a load of rubbish. There has been an awful lot of commentary recently about the cooling trend since 1998. Some have tried to counter this by pointing out that proponents of this recent cooling trend clearly don't understand the concept of weather versus climate, or that this is a La Nina year, or that a climatic trend takes more than 10 years to determine.

At first these arguments seemed reasonable to me but then I read this post at Ideonexus.

Ryan has opened my eyes with a simple but inarguable demonstration that the world is cooling. Global warming is clearly a myth:

Where’s your warming now Al Gore? Huh? As we can see from this graph, most of this century has been on a cooling trend...
...How can anyone look at this concrete visual data and not see Global Warming’s a crock?

Go over to Ideonexus and see for yourselves, forget all that peer-reviewed science and the IPCC report, it is clearly bunkum.

Well done Ryan, the world owes you a debt of gratitude.

Monday, March 24, 2008

PPAN and Science Board minutes

Well, the quest for information continues.

Along with many others, MIST council had requested information about the process behind the programmatic review. In the case of MIST, one of my colleagues asked for all information regarding the decision to close 'all ground-based solar-terrestrial physics'.

So far he has received copies of the minutes from PPAN/PALS meetings from July to December 2007 (these came late and a request for more time was offered just after the end of the deadline). These were marked as copyright STFC.

Recently he received minutes from science board meetings. These too were marked as copyright STFC and came with an email with a stark warning:
Please note that the information disclosed to you under FOIA is subject to copyright. You are not permitted to reproduce, publish or transmit in whole or in part in any form or by any means without the prior permission of STFC.
Now as far as I can ascertain STFC is fully within its rights to do this but one feels that it is heavily against the spirit of the FoI act and certainly against a spirit of transparency.

This material does not cover all of the request (which would also involve documents from the 2005 PPARC programmatic review), but seems to be all that my colleague will get. Due to the copyright warnings my colleague has not disseminated the information within said minutes to the wider community, but parallel FoI requests have received the same documents. The minutes from the PPAN/PALS meetings can be viewed here and, given the dire copyright warning, a commentary on the science board minutes can be viewed here.

A disturbing thing in the PPAN minutes was that they gave presentations on their science to each other. Now in the sense of everyone getting to know one another and get a feel for their backgrounds that is all well and good. In normal circumstance that might be fine, but with a biennial programmatic review is it fine?

They have to assess all projects in the PPAN area against one another so this could be construed as an unfair advantage to the members of the panel over every other area that is not represented. A chance to demonstrate the worthiness of what they do, and provide greater understanding that other science areas do not have. Of course this assumes that they give good presentations...

Anyway, from the commentary provided by Prof. Mike Green we find out that Science Board does the same. I echo his sentiments that
While I would not want to claim that this had influence on decisions it is certainly not in the spirit of eliminating vested interest.
Prof. Green ends his commentary with a choice quote
[Science Board] agreed that it would be unacceptable to raid the physics and astronomy programmes to cover deficits on facility operations. This had been a community fear when the new council was announced and reassurances had been given that this would not happen.

and a suggestion that others also request the document so that they can read it for themselves.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008: A final Odyssey

A sad day for fans of Science Fiction:

Legendary British science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90.

Monday, March 17, 2008


STFC has started to release feedback on the rankings of the projects. This is dependent on the PIs' approval. No indication of the numeric rankings, just the few sentences of feedback that was provided.

However there are some odd things popping out at me. Here is the feedback for one high priority project:

The ranking reflected the recognition that this project has the potential for truly revolutionary, breakthrough science or already has an established track record for doing so.

Here is the feedback for another:
The ranking reflected the recognition that this project has the potential for truly revolutionary, breakthrough science or already has an established track record for doing so.

Another one:
The ranking reflected the recognition that this project has the potential for truly revolutionary, breakthrough science or already has an established track record for doing so.

And another:
The ranking reflected the recognition that this project has the potential for truly revolutionary, breakthrough science or already has an established track record for doing so.

Deja vu anyone?

Obviously the feedback for the highest priory ranked projects could be considered as less important than for the lowers (they already made the cut), but for those aiming to achieve higher priority, either through the consultation process or in the next programmatic review (assuming that STFC doesn't realise what a great big, bureaucratic waste of resources it is as currently designed) these are hardly helpful.

You would think that the feedback for each project could be a little more specific and at least state whether it has potential or was established. Oh well.

On to a Medium-Lower priority mission, STEREO:
The ranking reflected PPAN's view that this was a potentially high impact mission. The UK has invested substantially in instrumentation for Stereo. Since the mission is in an early phase of operation and results are just emerging, the case for further support will be reviewed in due course.

Obviously there is a caveat but it is far from clear why this would merit the level of priority that has been assigned. This could illustrate that things were so tight that it is a fine line, but that just highlights the import of releasing the exact details of the ranking and the process (including normalization).

CDF also got a medium-lower priority ranking:
The ranking reflected PPAN’s view that, while this facility is nearing the end of its lifetime, there remained an opportunity for revolutionary, ground-breaking results.

So revolutionary and ground-breaking results are so offset by nearing the end of its lifetime that it is considered as medium lower priority? Unless there is a distinctive difference between 'ground-breaking' and 'breakthrough' that I am unaware of, this is just the same as the feedback for the high priority cases above.

A colleague of mine has stated that the review process should be so transparent that going into the programmatic review one should be able to calculate the score before hand. That makes sense to me. At the moment I can make no sense of this feedback.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Communication Blackout

Sometimes I just want to scream!

A few weeks ago the unix mail server at university crumbled under a severe load. E-mail could be and was delayed for many hours, both coming and going.

Part of the problem was a new bulk mail feature was introduced for communicating with the students. However the system could not deal with the sudden massive increase in traffic. Folk at computing support were as helpful as they could be - at first it seemed I was an isolated case but I suspect now I was just the first to notice the problem because of the ongoing nature of email conversations.

This was apparently fixed (or 'stabilised') and now they request for no bulk mailing in the peak period of 11-5. Unfortunately this seems to have completely failed to address the problem because I am getting email several hours after them being sent. It is highly frustrating - in most cases I am checking my mail late at night when the system has caught up with the day's traffic. It seems the fix for this is going to be new hardware which will be ready to be installed in April (around the 10th I believe).

Hardly the best situation to be in when dealing with an ever evolving crisis in funding!

Can't be good for the students either.


RCUK cannot formulate the impact

An interesting article in the Times Higher Education from a week ago.

The research councils have abandoned plans to develop a formula to calculate the economic impact of the research projects that they fund.

The seven councils have conceded that it is not possible to accurately quantify the value to the economy of a diverse range of research projects.

The move has delighted critics who argued that the Government's "economic impact" agenda is damaging blue-skies research and discouraging the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

I have not seen any discussion of this recently but it surely has ramifications for how STFC will rank its programmes in the future.

Martin Taylor, the vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "By pursuing an algorithm-based approach, RCUK was in danger of oversimplifying the relationship between knowledge creation and economic impact ... We hope this is a sign that it will take a more sophisticated approach in future."

Peter Main, the director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, said the plan "would have led to unfair treatment and, possibly, an undesirable incentive for concentrating activity into a small number of areas".

He said attention needed to be focused on the role of blue-skies research in driving the economy rather than looking for an "easily identified, relatively short-term return".

Well, quite.

Though I doubt that this means that the government will now simply turn its back on expectations of publicly funded science having direct and measurable benefit to the UK economy. They will simply find another way of pushing it.

Of course if there is an area of science that has obvious knowledge transfer possibilities as well as a clear blue-skies component, how do you play it? Something I have heard a lot recently is that if you demonstrate too much usefulness to industry you get told that industry should fund it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

EISCAT in the News

EISCAT hit the headlines twice on Friday.

First were the reports of EISCAT beaming a Doritoes advert into space.

Then there was a piece about the radars and the current state of funding for solar terrestrial physic sin the UK that played on Sky. Here is a YouTube clip that some one thoughtfully put up:

This has the added advantage of an interview with Prof. John Womersley who is now the Head of the Science Programme Office. Pleasantly he does not mention a 'clear message' but he does insinuate that there are problems in the science that we do. Doesn't say what they are, just says that they are there and that they have been flagged by independent reviewers and STFC will work with us to address them for future grant proposals.

Who are these independent reviewers? And what were the concerns that were raised that we must address? If we are not told how can we address them? This is truly ridiculous!! I don't think STFC really knows what they are doing.

These reviewers cannot be the secret reviewers that Keith told the select committee about because if I understand the transcript properly, this was a review of the in-house research, not the programme at large. Thus they cannot cover the whole programme that covers EISCAT - some is done in-house but most EISCAT research was carried out by the university groups. Anyway those reviews have not affected anything, from Keith Mason's own mouth:

It is a process which has not got any further than that because it is not related to the delivery plan, it is not related to the other strategic decisions we are taking. In effect, it has been put on hold because we are dealing with a different set of problems.

So it cannot be them.

Does he mean PPAN and Science Board? In that case, what peculiar meaning of 'independent' is he invoking, since we are all diving into the same shrinking money pot they can hardly be considered independent.

Does he mean the international review of physics? If so that was a somewhat glowing report that seems to have been ignored by STFC as it did not reach the conclusions they wanted.

Tell us, who are these independent reviewers that have now been cited on national television???

Prof. Womersley also added that there is a commitment to EISCAT until 2011 and there is no likelihood of STFC cutting this short. This is at odds with what Richard Wade told us at the MIST business meeting. He said that if they could find a way of leaving the EISCAT consortium then STFC would do so :
"in an ideal world we would not do ground based solar terrestrial physics".
These were his words and they are somewhat at odds with Prof. Womersley saying that they are committed.

I would also note all this talk about 2011. This assumes that we withdrew from the commitment to EISCAT in 2006, the problem is that as far as any of us are aware no official withdrawal letter was ever sent and the commitment that the UK signed up to in 2006 was a rolling 5-year commitment. That means that if STFC get around to sending a letter now we actually have until 2013.

I am not sure they have realised this yet.

Prof. Womersley also said:

I should make it clear that we are not actually planning to reduce or to cut-off research in this area
That is going to be news to the university groups whose grants were cut off by AGP in this past round because they contained ground-based STP. Of course STFC are a little more canny than that, they also made sure to state that the science was bad in their feedback; whether this is true or not none of us has faith in the process so we cannot be sure the system is fair.

Of course the get-out in the quoted statement above is the word 'planning'. STFC is not planning it, it just happened. It was sheer coincidence that it was a strict interpretation of the tosh that was in the much criticised Strategy Delivery document.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

STP and the Programmatic Review

Following on from the previous post I thought it worth taking stock of where the programmatic review has left STP before the consultation.

Here are all the facilities that STP folk would have an interest in and their current ranking (with my best guesses for levels of relevance to the larger community as it stands):

Venus Express - High (probable minimal, mostly planetary)
Solar Orbiter - Medium-High (some interest, mostly solar)
ExoMars - Medium-High (some interest (though low), mostly planetary)
Cluster - Medium-Low (high interest, core)
Cassini - Medium-Low (medium interest, magnetospheres)
SOHO - Medium-Low (low interest (supplanted by Hinode?), mostly solar)
STEREO -Medium-Low (medium-high interest, mostly solar, some core)
UKSSDC - Medium-Low (medium interest, core)
Hinode - Low (medium interest, mostly solar, some core)
Ground-Based STP - Low (high interest, core)

As you can see the real core STP projects fared very badly. Assuming for a moment that none of the low and medium low get funded then we can kiss core STP good-bye. No more monitoring or understanding of how the Sun affects the Earth. The artificial distinction between ground and space based STP disappears because STP as a whole is gone. No more 'we are only talking about ground-based here' statements.

Of course both Hinode and STEREO had caveats attached and so they might be okay. The funny thing is that these will provide a perfect opportunity to watch large transient events leaving the sun and travelling to the Earth and then we have no capability to monitor what happens afterwards. This is an unreal situation to be in and reflects badly on STFC and the members of PPAN and Science Board (in my opinion). No joined up thinking anywhere in the system.

I find it amusing that UKSSDC (a data repository) was ranked higher than the facilities whose data they store. No offence meant to my colleagues over at RAL who run it but this is a ridiculous decision.

PPAN have said that they were dismayed and outraged at what they were called to do. I am glad that they then took a firm stand and resigned en-masse.

Oh, they didn't? I see. I at least hope they thought about it.

Back to the programmatic review. If these STP projects disappear then you really can kiss goodbye to the field of STP. There will be a gap of several years until anything related to what we do will appear again. We have some interest in LOFAR, we have Kua-Fu that may fly (joint with China), then maybe Cross-Scale. But in the meantime nothing to plug the gap.

Essentially looking at 'core' items. If Cluster goes, we have no ability left to monitor the Earth's plasma environment. As it is we have no way in the UK of placing Cluster measurements in context. All STP work in the UK will become subsidiary to the US, Canada, Europe, Japan and China.

This whole thing is a joke. The government is failing the country, and STFC is failing the scientists.

STP and the Programmatic review meeting

Lots about Jodrell Bank in the media today. Unsurprising really, it is an icon.

Slides from the Science Board town meeting are now available along with a rough meeting report:

STFC are sticking to the same line with regards to STP: decision made by PPARC (same = all).
EISCAT subscription was renewed 6 months prior to the PPARC programmatic review and STFC now claim that the PR recommended that this subscription would be left to run out.

As far as I am aware none of us have seen any official letter to this effect (still waiting on the outcome of our FoI request - now late).

Indeed an important point is that it was rolling commitment - when you pull out you give 5 years notice. As far as I am aware STFC (or PPARC) have not yet officially said that they will withdraw.

Apparently there was a 'clear message' to us 2 years ago that we needed to seek a broader base.

It's funny how mine and others memories do not agree with this. As I have mentioned before (embattled STFC CEO) Prof. Keith Mason did us the honour of coming to address our annual Spring MIST meeting, that year held in Aberystwyth. I remember it clearly as he brought his young daughter with him; she sat in the front row and must have been exceptionally bored. There were many jokes about him using her as a human shield.

He made two main points that I think I can safely say the community took away with us:

  1. It was all our fault that some our instruments were being closed down (and anything else he could pin on us - such as the low settlements in preceding years. I cannot over-emphasize how much he kept saying this).
  2. To be successful we needed to engage with the astronomers more, convince them of our worth since they were the larger community and essentially held the purse strings.

I don't recall anything about seeking a 'broader funding base'. That is not to say that it was not discussed but it can hardly have been a 'clear message'. Fellow STPers who were at that meeting are welcome to offer their insights and recollections in the comment section.

Interestingly in 2003 (while I was in the States) the community started putting together a proposal for cross council consideration (PPARC and NERC) to address the science that fell through the cracks (the fundopause as we call it). That Polar Atmosphere Working Group (PAWG) put together a nice package that then failed because the councils were not set up to deal with it properly (in my and others opinions).

This was well before Keith allegedly delivered his 'clear message'. So you can see that we had already been thinking along these lines.

This 'clear message' business was mentioned in front of the select committee. I wonder whether he has documented evidence to back it up as I am sure a lot of angry STPers have taken issue with his words.

Whilst on the topic of the town meeting, a couple of other points to consider (with the full caveat that I was not in attendance and can only comment with respect to the meeting report):

I see that the STFC line is that it is up to us to sell our science.

I can accept that we scientists have a roll to play in promoting what we do and if this crisis (yes Minister, it is a crisis) has shown anything, it is that we can get our message out.

Of course accepting that fact should not remove the onus from STFC to make the case to government when funding time comes around again - they are the people with direct access to the officials who make the decisions carry out the decisions their political masters make. They are the ones who make up nice presentations for government (seeming pulled from their own imaginations).

I recall Keith commenting some time ago that he had been out-manoeuvred by the other councils in his bid in the CSR. Has anyone found out exactly what he meant by this since it is a curious statement?

From the meeting report I also see that when someone asked for a comment from the (embattled) CEO he was rebuffed by Peter Knight and told that the (embattled) CEO would speak at the end or later. A few questions later we see the (embattled) CEO chipping in happily.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

News round up

Well there have been a few articles appeared since the programmatic review results were announced.

The BBC have revisited the subject and have a nice quote from Peter Knight:
"Every single programme we looked at was worthwhile - there was not a dud amongst them," Sir Peter Knight, head of the panel which compiled the lists for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), told BBC News.
Those are nice words, and useful as well when countering accusations of low quality science that I am sure will appear as the bunfight intensifies over the next couple of weeks.

We humble STPers get a mention later on:
Some scientists believe the list has been fudged and that certain areas of science have fallen through the net. For example, all ground based solar terrestrial physics facilities have been earmarked as "lower priority", described by one researcher as "absurd".
Not my quote this time. The reporter hits the crux of the problem a little further down:
The reason for these oversights, some researchers believe, was that the STFC advisory boards were too small (the PPAN board consists of eight people) and therefore did not represent every area of science they were making decisions about.
How very true. PPAN were already at a disadvantage having received zero input from the wider community they then have to decide on the ranking (bunch of rankers anyone?) without more than marginal (at best) experience in some areas of science.

This is like asking a group of 8 biologists to decide whether particular instruments (and not even the science) are important in the field of computer science without any guidance and according to a strategy document that no one agrees with. As the current ranking stands we have three gravitational wave experiments and no solar terrestrial physics.

Anyway, the Guardian has another piece as well. This one kicks off nicely with Merlin. Of course a lot of the lower priority projects have caveats associated with them and so will be funded anyway, that means that some folks who think they might be safe might have a rude awakening come April. By the way has anyone ascertained why the programmatic review must take place every two years? I have seen it asserted but no real explanation why such a timetable exists. It hardly seems like an efficient use of resources. One could be forgiven for thinking that programmatic reviews will continue until all projects that some folk want closed, are closed. Then a rethink might be in order.

Demands for transparency in the consultation process have been covered in Research Day UK.
Let's see how that goes for us. Considering that the embattled STFC CEO, Keith Mason, has been widely quoted as saying that he wanted to make the peer review process more transparent he has done far from a sterling job on that front.

The RAS has welcomed the consultation but is dismayed at the rankings and the short time-scale. Don't they realise that if we had longer then there might be a danger of real engagement with the community and other solutions?

That would not fit with the grand vision of STFC (the new model councilTM).

The RAS seems to think that STFC is listening to them, I am not sure why considering the pitiful response to their statement. Perhaps the RAS felt it was their intervention that helped with Gemini; that's nice for the the Gemini astronomers, and I am happy for them, but perhaps now the weight of the RAS could be bent to support some of their other members.

Worryingly it seems as if the RAS might have bought the STFC spin about ground-based STP. Perhaps they should check out the last evidence session.
I am sure more evidence is winging its way to the select committee to refute one or two points that were made that day.

I almost forgot. This humble blogger (along with some others) has been quoted in a post on The Great Beyond blog at

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

FoI: the next act

From the same article that reported on the leaked IIP report we have a bit on the documents released by STFC following a FoI request from Prof. Ken Peach to gain access to material input from STFC to the CSR:

The documents also revealed that the STFC asked for £87.4m for space science, its largest single bid out of a total of £151m requested for additional research over three years. Peach says he is "surprised at the disproportionate emphasis on space exploration and technology", which may have left other areas of the STFC's portfolio underfunded. He has submitted a further FoI request to find out whether the STFC's focus on space was guided by the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, given the government's renewed interested in space science.

Prof. Peach is not the only one surprised at the emphasis on space technology.

It will be interesting to see the result of the new FoI request. I think many of us want to know what is driving this strategy from STFC, was it government or are we following one man's 'vision'? Somewhere in-between? Or is there a hitherto quiet but massive cadre of space technology buffs who are brilliant at lobbying to STFC and DIUS.

Maybe soon we will know.

By the way, Prof. Peach is the one who wrote that wonderful response to the STFC CEO spin where we were all likened to 'rocks on the road to a brighter future'.

Seems we aren't the only ones...

...who have no confidence in STFC. A reporter from the Guardian has got her hands on a confidential report from Investors In People:

The assessment by Investors in People, a government-owned company that sets national standards for people management and development, says reforms at the STFC are needed to ensure "a more robust and transparent management process".
The report sounds somewhat damning, suggesting that STFC staff have no faith in the upper echelons of management.

Nice to hear that we are not alone in that then.

The report was from December so must have been compiled before the current sh*t-storm:

The assessment, carried out in December last year, found that the council does not meet the Investors in People standard. But the report recommends the STFC's recognition as an "investor in people" be retained while it works on upping its game.

The assessor reports: "When I was briefed on the merger, I positioned myself to look for what was new, different, better, etc because of the creation of this new organisation. In the main, I failed to find anything." The assessment warns that the STFC must develop "clarity, without delay" to stem a "talent leak" of the people it needs to help it move forward.

I like the next bit:

According to the assessment, the STFC needs to reform its planning and evaluation mechanisms to ensure "a more robust and transparent management process".
Hmm, transparency; no sign of that yet.

Even the new consultation process seems to be off to a rocky start in terms of definite opaqueness hanging about.

Anyway some of the reported quotes are great:

One senior staff member said, "People see a vacuum at the top. There is a lack of direction. We are struggling."

Another said, "There is no organisational direction. We lack strategic leadership and corporate strategy."

"[This] shows incompetence. Accountability sits at executive level. Some should expect their P45s," said another.

There is a phrase and it rhymes with 'Rot bit more surplus*'. I feel that it might apply to STFC under the current management.

*hey, you try being witty in a Blackadder stylee at 1:25 am!

Monday, March 03, 2008

RAS response to STFC repsonse to RAS

Just noticed that the RAS president has made some comments about the STFC response to the RAS statement:

Noting the STFC reply,RAS President Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson welcomed the recognition that communication with the community needed to be significantly improved. He said, ‘We need to see a culture change and look forward to learning, in detail, how STFC intends to engage with the community. I am pleased that STFC explicitly recognizes that an important part of its mission is to carry out world-class research in astronomy , particle and nuclear physics’. He added ‘With a clear science strategy and transparent and expert peer review systems I hope the community will be able to recover its confidence in STFC
With respect Mr. President, sir, I think it will take a bit more than that. It is not just confidence in the system, it is trust in the people and I am not sure you can ever get that back.

I hope that the RAS will formulate a fuller response to the pathetically weak response from STFC.

Funny thing, when I read it this morning I do not recall a section that specifically said anything about 'world-class research in astronomy , particle and nuclear physics'.
At the time I was compiling notes on the document and how it answered the charges laid out in the RAS statement and I specifically noted that the STFC statement made no mention of the specifics that RAS had (i.e. astro, pp and np).

Did I really just miss it completely? Or has someone recognized an embarrassing oversight and worked to correct it? If the latter then it says volumes about STFC that it seemed to be an afterthought.

I may be going mad, but that statement really does seem to read differently to the one I read this morning. I am almost positive that bits have swapped around. It's as if someone redrafted it after it went live. Says the same thing, just in a different order.

Google have it logged as being up from 2 hours ago but I guess that depends on how often they index the STFC website.

I really wish I had made a copy of the statement this morning, then I wouldn't sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist.

Someone else must have read it this morning (around 10 UT), am I going mad?

STFC responds to RAS

I see that STFC has responded to the RAS statement*.

If I were the RAS I would be less than happy with this; careful reading reinforces the feeling that they are in 'no crisis here' mode.

They express their happiness with their peer review process (though difficult in these times). Really. Well, there you go, then. Says it all really.

They do say that they will try to communicate better. Again, careful reading highlights that this is so that the RAS (and others) can understand STFC's plans and decisions. This implies that the current problem is that the RAS has failed to understand.

This sounds like STFC saying that it is not their fault, it is our fault. Why does this not surprise me?

There is plenty more to take issue with. All in all though, no real addressing of the criticisms levelled by the RAS and no mea-culpa. No real responsibility taken in fact. Of course I read it with a jaded eye...

The big bun fight starts this afternoon. Am I alone in feeling that this consultation AFTER the programmatic review is somewhat like putting the cart before the horse? I guess some input is welcome but since STFC have never understood STP and how it works we are still royally screwed. Of course now it could well descend into astronomer vs. astronomer as we all fight over the scraps. I bet some people will be enjoying that spectacle, a grand united community was never a good thing for them.

In other news, STFC have published the minutes from their council meetings (see links at Paul Crowther's web page). Two things jump out at me:

1) Something very secret is happening at Chilbolton!
2) Diamond got talked about A LOT. Of course the minutes cannot describe how long they dwelt on a subject, but still...

Speaking of Diamond, an interesting comment at the e-astonomer.

*Note that STFC (and DIUS) never responded to the MIST statement. Of course we don't have a charter or anything yet and our resolutions were hardly 'constructive' as STFC would view them. Though quite frankly I would suggest that a clean out of the people at the top of STFC would be the most constructive thing we could do. Claims that this would be catastrophic have yet to be backed up with more than gut-feeling. 'Better the devil you know' is not a good rule to live by. I said it during the 2004 US election and I'll say it with regard to STFC management.