STFC Documents

2 Responses to “STFC Documents”

  1. Neal Skipper Says:

    Some thoughts on the STFC’s “New Vision for New Times“..

    I like the STFC’s centre-piece statement “Our vision is to maximise the impact of our knowledge, skills, facilities and resources for the benefit of the United Kingdom and its people” and was also moved by the general sentiment that “Now more than ever, the world needs the solutions that science and technology can offer”. However, I do not feel that this logic has really been followed through, and I think that the subsequent focus on the rather more indirect impact through inspiration and training of the workforce is unlikely to play that well with either government or the public just at the moment.

    I think that unfortunately the Governmental answer to the STFC’s rhetorical question “Why does a world in financial crisis need particle physicists or astronomers, or big expensive science projects or facilities?” may prove to be rather negative in the current economic climate. For this reason there should have been a stronger focus in the first instance on the more immediately palpable benefits offered by some of the more applied research, that is done for example at ISIS/ILL/Diamond/ESRF/CLF. Failure to do this possibly just reflects a weighting towards the ex-PPARC science, but is going to be in no one’s best interest IMO. In my view this is all rather symptomatic of the current make up of the STFC hierarchy, and the biggest challenge that STFC management faces (and has so far failed to meet) is to reset its priorities so that they are properly aligned with government and based on scientific and technological merit.

    To take an example, the following statement is made under the heading “Understanding our Universe” which focusses on PP and Astronomy: “These discoveries form much of the basis of our technological civilization – electricity, semiconductors, television, the chemical industry are all based on our understanding of atoms, electrons, quantum theory and electromagnetism.” In fact all of these discoveries and their exploitation owe much to the condensed matter science that STFC now supports, and the STFC’s Vision could and should have given specific examples from this contingent to complement and strengthen this section.

    There also seems to be a mistaken belief that only the “big questions” which (according to STFC) are addressed at CERN and the Observatories can inspire the public and students. I think this is mistaken: there is huge interest in energy, the environment, health and IT and so on – areas which map directly onto the UK government’s research priorities – and the STFC should highlight equally all the roles that it can play in tackling these issues (ie on the ground, as well as by watching the effects from space).

  2. Mark Lancaster Says:

    Just reading the post below/above – I agree STFC should make more of the interest there is outside so-called “big questions” – how can providing sustainable energy NOT be a big question. I do not think the debate should be brought down to particle physics, astronomy, space-science versus Diamond/ISIS/ILL etc. I believe the most important thing is that the UK spend on R&D (of which government spending on “science” is only 10% of this) is below 3% of GDP and lags behind many other countries in the G20. The RCUK spend (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/interactive/2009/sep/16/public-spending-larry-elliott) is 0.5% of total government spending. The campaign I believe should be in increasing this number then everyone – society and scientists will benefit. Physics underlies 6.4% of UK GDP
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmdius/215/215we13.htm
    http://www.iop.org/activity/business/Publications/Physics_and_the_Economy/file_26914.pdf
    yet the UK science budget is 0.5% of GDP….

    Ultimately we need more people in government who actually understand how science is done, how the modern world came about, how all areas of science contribute. This is highlighted at some level by the excellent IoP report
    (http://www.iop.org/activity/policy/Consultations/Research/file_36837.pdf)

    To bring you up to date as to what is happening in particle-physics land. STFC released the financial details of the experimental particle physics rolling grants about 7 hours before the grants were due to start on Oct-1. These grants provide support for 18 universities + RAL and previously have been issued for 3+2 years. This year they have been issued for only one year. Largely this is a victim of bad timing, although the timing was fine-tuned by STFC. With only 1 year of money guaranteed until the conclusion of the prioritisation process (end of the year) and its implementation (April 2010 ??) this means it is almost impossible to issue anyone working in particle physics a meaningful job contract. While particle physics is the first victim of STFC’s latest financial woes, it’s pretty clear that it won’t just be “new” grants that are affected and, as happened in 2008, that existing grants will be rescinded or re-issued.
    See Richard Wade’s comments:
    http://andyxl.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/dont-panic-yet/

    Keith Mason sent a letter to all VCs last week justifying STFC’s decision to issue new grants with only a one year duration but failed to mention that existing grants are also potentially under threat. Interestingly there were other “new” grants starting on Oct-1 that were not subject to the one year restriction.

    Anyway my main message is that everyone is going to be affected by the latest STFC problems (particle physics just happens to the be the first) and I believe our arguments should be more general about science and knowledge and pointing out that spending £1.5 trillion on the banks (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8249411.stm) but only £0.003 trillion on RCUK is ludicrous.

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