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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.

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