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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.

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