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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jack Horkheimer RIP

After finishing our PhDs Em and I were fortunate enough to find positions at the same institute - no mean feat as anyone who has to contemplate the 'two-body problem' will know. Furthermore we got postdoctoral fellowships at the High Altitude Observatory (NCAR) in Boulder, USA, one of the best towns to work in if you study solar-terrestrial physics or space plasma physics.

We spent a very happy two years in Boulder and as you do we settled into a series of routines, one of which was Saturday nights. This usually entailed doing something out and about in the early evening before getting home in time for re-runs of Dr Who on PBS at 11ish. The last act in that routine was catching a curious little show called "Star Gazer", presented by the director of Miami's Space Transit Planetarium, jack Horkheimer. You should check out the shows on YouTube.

I cannot say I admired it from the start, I watched the first one with horrifed fascination, finding his style somewhat jarring; purely a matter of personal taste. I kept watching though and his enthusiasm was clear to see. By the time I left the States to return to the UK I missed the show.

Sadly I have just learned that Jack Horkheimer died on Friday at the age of 72. I am sure he will sorely missed by the many who enjoyed his easily accessable show that gave anyone the tips they needed to see something new in the night sky. Hopefully everyone will "keep looking up"

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Liberal dilemma

I suspect that this post will be overtaken by events.

In case you missed it the election has happened; as a consequence I have lots to rant about for now that can wait a short while. In the meantime I have a few thought that need ordering and I thought I would do it here where everyone can point and laugh.

Also I'm probably not saying anything new given the chatter all over the interwebs but, hey, its my blog...

At the moment the Lib Dems have been in negotiations with the Conservatives to form either a coalition government or to offer support to prevent a no confidence vote in a minority Tory government. They have also been talking to Labour, which may have prompted Gordon Brown to announce his resignation in an attempt to remove one obstacle to a coalition.

Of course, as everyone knows by now even if the Lib Dems form an alliance with Labour they will not form a majority of seats. To do that they need to include virtually everyone else who isn't a conservative. This may not be appealing to many as it sounds quite unstable, with lots of different priorities pulling in different directions and far too many chances for individual parties (I'm looking at you SNP) to spit the dummy if they don't get what they want.

So what to do? It is a tricky one.

Scenario 1:
Tories form a minority government with Lib Dems preventing a vote of no confidence. Any legislation will then stand or fail on each vote.

Somewhat attractive.

I predict such a government will last less than 12 months. Again, somewhat attractive because then Dr Evan Harris will get a pop at taking his seat back a lot sooner than the run of a full parliament.

Scenario 2:
Tories form a coalition government with the Lib Dems. Not so outlandish as some are whining about because their are regions of overlap with the Conservative policies (go read the manifestos or at least the BBC website).

A big sticking point is PR since the Conservatives really do not want it. Not at all. If PR is introduced they are not likely to fair well out of it (at least in the short term) whereas they do quite well under FPTP. Of course if they actually reformed aspects of their stance they could do better.

The Tories have offered a referendum on AV - but this is unlikely to pacify many who want PR. Plus its an underhanded offer - the government will offer a referendum and when the time comes the whole right wing press will fight it tooth and nail. Have I mentioned that the Tories don't want PR?

You may think that with only a third of the electorate supporting them such tactics won't work but there is no guarantee that the Labour supporters will support PR, especially with some well chosen headlines suggesting Labour would do poorly from it. Tribalism is powerful (and coming from the north-west of England I know that it does exist even if its not nice to say it) and can (and does) overrule good sense.

I'm not sure I see such a marriage as stable since so many grass roots Lib Dems are opposed. I give it 18 months unless Nick Clegg is very persuasive. My personal view is that I want complete electoral reform, but at the moment I want decent economic policies to push us through the next couple of years. That has to be a priority.

But what happens then?

If the coalition crumbles quickly and Nick Clegg can't convince his supporters that the Lib Dems have benefitted I see a withering of support in the next election, especially if Labour continue on their Damascus-like conversion to electoral reform. People are fickle. If Nick can keep it together they could do very well out of it, especially if they get good cabinet positions and have a visible profile.

Plus they have the best combined logo (bird sat in tree - thanks BBC).

Scenario 3:
As I mentioned above, Labour has developed a love for electoral reform and are offering the Lib Dems AV with a referendum on PR to follow. Must be tempting for the rank and file. Especially those who feel dirty even thinking about the Conervatives. Of course there will have to be big concessions to the supporting parties and that is likely to be requests for reduced cuts to Scotland, NI and Wales. Given that major spending cuts are very likely and there will be lots of pain to go around this will be a huge wedge issue if the pain is seen to be spread unevenly.

Such a union has already been christened a coalition of the defeated and that term will haunt it as long as it lasts. Now plenty of Lib Dems like the idea - a progressive coalition. Sadly I think it will damage the Lib Dems most in the long term. Holding the coalition together will be hard. Very hard. And when it collapses it could push the Lib Dem vote south for a very long time as people will turn to Labour to try and ensure the defeat of a Tory government. I'm not sure how much good could come from this union for the Lib Dems except if they can rush through PR before it all collapses. I just don't think it will last more than a year and I don't think that is enough time as there are more pressing priorities.

Quite frankly given the unpopular decisions that the next Government will have to make I'm not sure why anyone wants to be in it. I doubt that even under normal circumstances such a government would last more than one term. Anyway, my random thoughts on the issue.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I should write something

I should write something.

Maybe something about Formula 1.

Maybe something about science.

Maybe something about the election.

Or, maybe, just maybe, I should get on with some work

Monday, March 15, 2010

whither STFC? - science board

The changes to the structure of STFC announced by Lord Drayson have implications for the operations and management of the funding agency that the STFC council might like to consider.

To recap, one of the proposals announced in the Drayson-Stirling fix is the manner in which the UK national facilities will be funded. RCUK and STFC will work to determine the budget required to operate the national facilities (e.g. Diamond) across a whole comprehensive spending review (CSR) period*. This money will then be allocated to STFC to manage those facilities and will be a separate pot from the cash needed to fund research in astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics. Thus there will be no 'tensioning' between these two areas on a day to day (or at least annual budget) basis - any 'tensioning' will occur within BIS once every CSR. This will provide stability (though of course, not necessarily any more money) for the PPAN side of STFC.

Now we get to the meat of the issue.

My understanding of the way in which STFC works (hah!) is that PPAN and PALS are responsible for their particular areas, representing the communities, and feed up to science board (see here). It is the role of science board to merge the inputs from PPAN and PALS to develop advice to STFC council on the overall programme. With the new change to STFC structure, particularly with the removal of the need to balance PALS versus PPAN within STFC, science board would appear to be obsolete.

Science board is now really just dead wood; a layer of bureaucracy within the STFC structure who that is no longer required. The STFC programme, as far as the PALS side of things, will be set once every CSR, STFC will simply administer the process, there is no need for a body to balance PALS with PPAN anymore.

Those on science board can be thanked for their hard work and then it can be dissolved. Instead PPAN could report directly to council alongside whoever is in charge of the national facilities administration. This has the advantage of bringing council much closer to one of the areas within its remit and will remove some of the filters that lead to the watering down of the 'bottom-up' strategy approach. This will also be much more efficient and will make some savings since expenses will be reduced and less meetings with associated costs in man-hours of staff.

I just do not see the point in retaining science board now. I should point out that this is not a critique of science board members; whether they did their jobs properly or not is completely irrelevant.

Quite simply there is no role for science board in its current incarnation in the new STFC. Indeed I cannot see why two layers of bureaucracy are required now when one would do the trick; to be seen to cut any costs in the current climate must surely be a good thing, especially when doing so would not adversely affect the funding of science within STFC.

I hope that Michael Stirling and the other members of STFC council are already thinking about this.

*note this does not mean that enough money will be provided to operate those facilities at 100% capacity - only that some agreement will be reached on the appropriate level at each new CSR.

Also the reason I tend to use ' ' around the word 'tension' is because I think it is an example of god-awful management speak that has crept into use in this whole debacle and I'd rather not use it except for the fact I am too lazy to pick my words carefully. Tension is a perfectly fine word and pitting PALS against PPAN science certainly led to tension but that's not quite the same thing.

Oh and if you see me using the phrase 'going forward' feel free to castigate me!

STFC fix - the flaws

[update - to be fair on re-reading I have decided that 'flaws' is perhaps the wrong word. Rather these are issues to be dealt with]

As I said in my last post the proposed fix to STFC's continuing woes contain a number of potential flaws that we must guard against.

First of all, on a personal note I am not totally convinced that keeping the atsronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics grants with STFC was the right move. I know I am in a minority here so I won't push the point. I just wonder if it would have been better for physics overall to move much of the fundamental stuff into a single funding agency. EPSRC may not have rolling grants but they do have platform grants, plus the way things are going one has to wonder how long STFC will have rolling grants.

More substantively:
The aim to remove the uncertainty associated with paying international subscriptions in non-sterling is laudable. However it is important to note that the public commitment to doing this so far extends to:
BIS is working closely with the Bank of England on how to reduce the exposure of the STFC.

This tells us that as of yet there is no fix in place. They ARE trying to find one and working with the bank of England to achieve that and so we can applaud their effort. At the same time we should watch developments closely. I have to assume that the simple step of transferring responsibility to the Treasury was not so simple and/or undesirable at some level.

If responsibility for the ESA subscription is moved to the new space agency that would be a good step to protect the research grants. However, the devil with that will be in the detail; where is the budget for HMSA* going to come from? Will this lie within the existing science budget ringfence and as such can we expect a squeeze on the existing science? Will HMSA take over funding of certain areas of space science? This could be a good thing and eminently sensible but it is essential to balance any transfer of funds and make sure it is spent on what it was supposed to be spent on.

We just do not know what will happen with the space agency but an announcement will come soon and I hope that will clarify things.

The biggest advantage could also be the biggest disadvantage.

'Tensioning' large national facilities (such as Diamond and ISIS) against the astro, pp and np research grants was a difficult balancing act. On the one hand we should use these facilities to maximise their potential; on the other hand the resultant tension curtailed new science and limited exploitation of fantastic astro and pp facilities (not to mention the complete devastation of nuclear). The results of that 'tensioning' have left the PPAN community lurching onwards and with the best will in the world, the 'fix' has done nothing to alleviate that problem, only money can do that (roll on next CSR).

So the Drayson-Stirling fix will cut out that day-to-day 'tension' by allocating the money to pay for the national facilities at the outset. Great, there will be no squeezing of the research grants in order to pay for the facilities, primarily used by different disciplines. Yet what this really does is take the power to determine the balance between PALS and PPAN away from STFC and hand it to BIS; plus the balance will be determined once every CSR rather than on an annual rolling basis. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does change the ball game somewhat. To put it simply:

National facilities cannot pinch money from astro/pp/np grants, but by the same score, the grants cannot pinch money from the national facilities.

In the past STFC would make the case to government for funding based on their portfolio and remit and would then decide how to split that money up. Now I assume (and with RCUK's help) they will have to make seperate cases for funding for the national facilities and for astro/pp/np. Thus it is even more essential (as if it wasn't anyway) that STFC makes a strong and compelling case for support for their science areas. However, this is a job that the STFC CEO has claimed (at the town-hall at the Belfast NAM for one) is not his - its the job of the community, hence it was not his fault there was a poor settlement it was all of ours. As long-time readers of this blog will know this is a line he likes to use. Unlike some astronomy colleagues I disagree with this sentiment - it is still STFC's role to go to bat for our research area since we are in their remit.

That said, the STFC CEO is partly right, the community does have a role to play. We need to make our case to government that astronomy, space science, particle physics and nuclear physics are all worth funding and are worth funding well. This must be done before the next CSR to make sure that the pot of money that goes straight to the grants is decent. This is a one shot job since we cannot rely on clever book balancing to make the difference in the future (and for the sake of the science relying on Diamond and ISIS, etc, we should not be expecting it). Of course the financial situation is unlikely to have vastly improved in that time but it is worth remembering that in the great scheme of things science is cheap, an extra £100m worth of additional funding buys a whole lot of world-leading research.

So the take-home message from the Drayson-Stirling fix is that there will be some stability (which is good) and the grants will be protected as much as they can be, but it is absolutely essential that the community pulls out all the stops to make the case for an increased budget. Sadly whilst the current STFC management is in place we cannot rely on them to make the case for us, they have essentially already said that its not their job.

The Drayson-Stirling fix of STFC was an important and very welcome first step and we scientists can now work within the proposals that have been put forward to try to ensure that things do not get much worse.

*HMSA = Her Majesty's Space Agency
** I say perceived as no one has public domain evidence that the plan at the CSR was to deliberately cut back astronomy et al.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

STFC fix

This post is a little delayed due to having other things to do, but I thought I might add my thoughts to the recent(ish) announcement of the STFC fix.

On Thursday 4th March Lord Drayson proposed a series of measures with the aim of 'fixing' STFC. This was achieved by working with Michael Stirling the relatively new chair of STFC.

Lord Drayson said:

“There is no doubt STFC faced a difficult situation. A lot of work has gone in to finding ways of preventing such pressures rearing their heads again in future. The better management of international subscriptions through measures to manage exchange rates, and longer-term planning and budgeting for large domestic facilities will allow STFC’s grant-giving functions to be managed with a higher degree of predictability. The community has come out strongly in support of grants remaining with STFC to deliver investment continuity from facility design through to exploitation, and I accept this argument. These measures will allow the Council to pursue the programme it set out in December within its budget.”

The principle plans are as follows:
  1. Grants for astronomy, particle physics and nuclear physics will remain with STFC
  2. BIS will provide STFC with protection against fluctuations in exchange rates that hit international subscription costs for the remainder of the spending review. For 2011/12 onwards options are being explored for managing the risk (nothing concrete yet)
  3. From 2011/12 RCUK and STFC will determine the requirements for the large national facilities that STFC operates mostly for researchers supported by other research councils, at the start of each CSR period. Funding to cover the operating costs will be assigned independently from BIS and will be managed independently from the remainder of the budget allocation. Thus grants will no longer be directly tensioned against these facilities - the so-called Chinese wall.
  4. One of the big international subscriptions will be removed from STFC; it is likely that the ESA subscription will move to the new UK Space Agency.

Now first of all credit where credit is due.

Lord Drayson heard all the moaning about the problems at STFC, saw the result of the re-prioritisation and recognised that there was a real problem (the moaning was justified). In the economic times we find ourselves the Minister could hardly throw money at the problem (even though it would cost only about £50m to fix the loss of science) and so he took steps to try and make sure that the giant squeeze on the grants line would not be repeated in the future. To do this he has tackled some of the big issues that he had any influence over: mainly how things within STFC's purview are tensioned together.

On the face of it the proposals are pretty good and are an excellent step on the way to fixing a research council that quite frankly has been broken since day one. Removing the tension between the large national facilities and the research grants is a good thing - neither the PPAN nor the PALS community could have been happy with the existing situation.

Moving the ESA subscription to the new space agency (with an announcement on that coming soon I believe) makes perfect sense given the breadth of UK involvement with ESA. I have heard it said that the STFC essentially subsidises UK business by paying the ESA subscription given the twin factors of science and commercial contracts. Whether that is true or not it is a non-issue if the subs are handled by a space agency that should work to benefit both science and industry.

Thanks to BIS, and DIUS before it, STFC has not been too badly hit by the currency fluctuations. However, it was a disaster waiting to happened and by establishing a more permanent means of protection for STFC this could stave off any major problems in the future.

A couple of things must be noted: These are proposals and as such are not yet set in stone; I presume that there is no guarantee that the next government (even if it is a Labour one) will see them through. Indeed there are some potential flaws with the current proposals that must be handled carefully, but that is just the nature of things. More on the flaws tomorrow.

For now, well done to Lord Drayson and Michael Stirling for their first attempt at fixing STFC.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Apocalypse Soon*

Following my last post I thought it worth drawing attention to what is perhaps the most important set of slides presented at the Astronomy Forum.

Prof. Mike Cruise is the chair of the Astronomy Grants Panel; his panel has the job of sifting through the many applications for standard and rolling grants and deciding who gets funding. Since the funding crisis began it has been a thankless task - they have had to wield the axe for the decisions made higher up.

The slides that Mike presented tell a hideous story of decline since STFC became the steward and custodian of astronomy and space science. The poor settlement in CSR07 had led to a 25% cut in grants awarded in the past two years (not to mention facilities targeted for slicing in the programmatic review), sadly this was not enough to cover the shortfall (£80m in 2007) leading to a need for deeper cuts now.

I don't need to cover old ground about the projects and facilities that are going to be axed but it is very much worth examining the fall-out at the coal-face.

According to AGP they were expecting to fund a total of 90 posts this round (there is only one round per year at STFC). In total they received requests for 151 posts from 84 standard grants and 20 rolling grants and expected to fund 14 posts for the standards and 76 for the rollers.
[CORRECTION: It has been pointed out in comments that Mike's slides probably mean that there were 151 posts requested for the rolling grants alone PLUS an assumed 84 posts on the standard grants]

Remember this already includes the 25% cut that had occurred in the previous two years. Also remember that the advisory panels all said that protecting grants and fellowships was the highest priority and this recommendation was disregarded.

On January 12th AGP learnt that the actual target number of posts was possibly reduced to 75 and could be as low as 56 in future rounds. This has a major bearing on the amount they can fund:
75 posts = 12 standard and 14 rolling grants
56 posts = 10 standard and 7 rolling grants (from 84 and 20 applications respectively)

This is a disastrous state of affairs.

Mike very wisely pointed out that the facilities that we now have owe their existence to the kinds of groups whose support would disappear at the proposed levels. This includes, of course the technical capability to build and any potential technological improvements that might spin from them.

A comparison of the past and future is quite chilling (slide 6). We will lose coherency, international leadership, technical experience and knowledge exchange, stability (required to get support from Universities).

We will have a community of independent academics who may get one or two grants in their whole career. With no stability how can we see any long-term projects through to fruition?

What the STFC chair and CEO thought about this I don't know. Rumour has it that Prof. Mason thought it was acceptable since 56 PDRA's per year represents a programme. To find out we will have to wait until the minutes of the forum become available.

Of course this has an important impact on any move now to 'fix' STFC. Lord Drayson has stepped up to the plate and is reviewing the structural problems that afflict STFC. Whatever fix he comes up with will occur quickly (end of February) but its important to make sure that we do not just end up with a new mess in a new form.

From Mike's slides at the Astronomy Forum it becomes quite clear that a major danger is that astronomy and space science will be severely underfunded if the current cuts stand. If we move to EPSRC with the current funding then astronomy is stuffed; if we stay in STFC with the current funding with some sort of ring-fence we are stuffed (as that ring won't ever grow!).

The problem is I have no idea how to fix this; although Lord Drayson wants to fix the overall structural problem he cannot tell STFC to re-allocate the money they have as it will violate the Haldane principle. Well actually I suppose he can if he believes (and can show) that STFC has ignored community input, and the evidence is in the paper trail. He cannot provide additional money as I bet there isn't any, even though its a drop in the ocean compared to the overall government spend.

Frankly the decision lies in the hands of the STFC council (maybe the executive) and it is far from clear that they want to re balance the cuts or even register that this is a problem.

Particularly maddening is that last week RCUK released a report that showed that UK academic staff had risen by 14% between 2003/4 and 2007/8. Paul Crowther calculated that UK astronomy academics had increased by 12.6% (based on the PPARC/STFC studentship quota exercises) for the same period - not the 40% increase from 2005-2007 that Prof. Mason has quoted. Thus these cuts are massively disproportionate.

If a solution to this cannot be found, UK astronomy will indeed be facing an apocalypse. The sad thing is that I cannot see where a solution would come from.


It is important to note that this is just astronomy, it is not clear what the effects on grants will be for particle physics and nuclear physics but I strongly suspect it will be just as devastating.

* with thanks to Paul Crowther, who's Tweet inspired the title

Prioritisation - A doomed strategy

The astronomy forum was held on Friday with special guests from STFC. Being a minor player I was not there but word is spreading from folks who were about what went on. A rundown of the format can be viewed at Paul Crowther's website.

It was a game of two halfs: the first concentrated on the prioritisation exercise; the second emphasised the review of STFC structural issues that Lord Drayson has initiated. More on the latter soon, for now I want to concentrate on the former.

Several short presentations were given including a report of concerns from the NUAP community, the FUAP community and a big question about STFC's attitude to an area of their science.

The first and third of those I mention were linked. NUAP pointed out that a lot of effort went into the (science-driven) community consultation and the resultant strategy (which was quite excellent in my view) and prioritisation of what was needed to achieve this. Slide 3 is the kicker as it reveals the major discrepancies between the community-agreed recommendations and what PPAN actually recommended:

1) grants and fellowships muct be protected as teh highest priority
STFC has cut them

2) current in-situ space plasma facilities were of high priority for 3 of 7 highest priority questions
STFC is withdrawing support for them

3) High priority for access to a Northern hemisphere telescope to answer 2 high priority questions
STFC is closing them

4) AURORA/ExoMars judged to be of lower-middle priority for 1 high priority question
STFC is funding it

What STFC management replied to this I don't know exactly yet, but I hear that the words 'scientific excellence' were bandied around. That has become the phrase of choice for our dear CEO to hide behind; he seems to have finally cast off the 'it's your fault' mantra in favour of another pointless but pithy response.

The NUAP presentation ended by asking why these discrepancies occurred. Quite reasonably they want to know how PPAN used the NUAP document that took so many man-hours of effort to produce. They also want to know what PPAN's equivalent strategy is - I take that to mean they want to know how PPAN tensioned everything together (all inputs from advisory panels).

The other presentation was entitled: Is it STFC strategy to cease in situ space plasma science? I must point out this is of much interest to me; space plasma physics and solar terrestrual physics are massively intertwined - understanding the space plasma phenomena is essential to understanding how the Sun effects the Earth. That is why it has always been stupid to seperate ground and space based STP. Plus as you can see the space based side of things is now being cut massively (though STEREO thankfully persists).

The only insitu space plasma mission to survive is Rosetta and that is starting a 4 year hibernation. The pioneering Venus Express, Cluster and Cassini missions are all subject to a managed withdrawal.

Please bear in mind that these were important for answering 3 of the 7 highest priority questions
oulined by NUAP (point 2 above). In fact they were inportant for answering another of the questions that NUAP conceived in its strategy.

The consequences of this loss are painful beyond the loss of associated jobs and by removing these facilities no we are left with no capability in the next few years - an area of science will effectively start to dry up.

Technical competence will be lost and there will be no national capability (which is currently spread across several universities and labs) in space based measurement techniques.
The UK community will be severely damaged as a partner (the named missions had just been extended by ESA, something the UK had presumably agreed to late last year) and credibility for future initiatives (such as Solar orbiter, Cross Scale and EJSM which might be selected for launch from Cosmic Visions). Yet again the UK's ability to monitor, and more importantly to understand, space hazards is restricted.

So in answer to the question: Is it STFC strategy to cease in situ space plasma science? Keith Mason replied: 'No'.

Well, actions tend to speak louder than words. Plus it seems that earlier in the day the CEO had allegedly commented that in a declining budget we should be focusing on fewer subject areas - which to me sounds lik 'Yes!' This is a sentiment that he has expressed before; he has stated that we do too much exploitation and we need to scale it back. But then again this is the man who cannot tell the difference between 4% and 40% so take from that what you will.

So that brings me to my final point and the point of this rambling rant: Strategy.

STFC does not have a strategy.

All of these cuts are being undertaken with no strategy in mind.

The advisory panels provided strategies for their areas but it is far from clear that it was in PPAN's remit to consider their final prioritisation within the context of a science strategy. Hopefully the PPAN document that is due later this month will clarify this, but it seems as if PPAN were told to just tension everything together.

STFC CEO bandies around the phrase 'scientifc excellence' as some sort of protective device; a magic prophylactic that keeps him safe from the disease of criticism. Plus he thinks we should focus on fewer areas in a time of declining finances. On the face of it these seem reasonable until you actually stop and engage your brain for a second.

Scientific excellence is the only criteria required to determine which facilities we should keep and which we should close - well first of all who's subjective view of excellence are we talking about? Most of the NUAP community thought insitu space physics was excellent, yet PPAN and above clearly thought it was less excellent than other things. Not to mention the status of Aurora.

Okay but in ten years time, what if space plasma physics might be excellent compared to the other stuff that we are funding? Well its too late then because we no longer have a capability in that field - we will have closed the door because of a myopic vision of how STFC should respond to squeezed finances. I could be talking about any field here, Nuclear for example. This is what a strategy should help to prevent.

Pinning your science funding on just a few selected areas might work if your goal is to direct exactly what it is that people should be working on but is a route to catastrophic failure in terms of the evolution of scientific inquiry. It is an effective dead-end which will leave us behind the rest of the world (lets not get into the increased spending in the US and other places).

Scientific excellence is essential - we should not fund bum science just to keep things trundling along. But on the same score, one should not close down an excellent, productive, internationally recognised area of science because you feel that the programme needs more focus. Other research councils have both remit and strategy - its a sensible thing to do and it is appalling that STFC has made such far reaching and damaging decisions without the benefit of a strategy to guide them, especially after the advisory panels went to so much effort to create stratgies that could be merged.

Lack of a clear science strategy is dooming STFC science and sadly it is clear that although Lord Drayson wishes to fix some of the associated issues thsi will have no effect on the cuts that have already been announced.

They stand no matter how flawed the process was that got us there.