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back to article UK physics chief next for the chop in funding bloodbath?

Professor Keith Mason, the man in charge of scything £80m from the UK's physics research budget, has been sharply criticised by MPs investigating cutbacks which have forced job losses in labs and threaten to shut down many projects. The Commons select committee on innovation, universities, science and skills said in its report …

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Anonymous Coward

physics departments

I wonder if they will reopen Reading Uni's physics dept. Or perhaps reconsider the similar closing of exeter chemistry? It's disgraceful that core sciences could ever be under-funded at universities when there are so many bullshit courses about these days.

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Tim
Boffin

I'm shocked

The politicians are mad at the damage to British research caused by budget cuts made by a professor... I thought it was the other way round.

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This makes me genuinely angry

There's never a shortage of money for 'security' projects like ID cards, ANPR networksand useless, useless 'anti-terror' operations but they can't find £100M quid for basic physics? Aren't we about to piss £15BN up the Olympic wall with over a billion of that being squandered on a policeman's giand CCTV wet dream?

This is genuinely a fucking disgrace.

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What a mess!

If they get the "Currently very popular in Physics" Keith Mason to resign I will be laughing my ass off.

(Works in Physics)

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We reap what we sow...

As an employer (and shocked observer of the downfall of 'Great' Britain), I can confirm that there is a distinct shortage of intellectually sound human resources in this country. Is it no surprise? a) TV full of celeb programming, at expense of material such as Tomorrow's World and other unpretensious inspirational content. (Dragon's Den and The Apprentice are entertainment and bare no resemblence to real business.) b) Aforementioned cuts in science departments.

By creating a subservient 'fame before effort' generation incapable of genuine industrious hard work, the UK will, like a poorly constructed ship, begin to sink, before racing to the bottom of the ocean very very quickly as the debt based economy implodes. And unlike the US, which has an industrious and more prudish society, we'll suffer far worse. (The US property crisis will stabilise in a year or two and is not linked to their intellectual resources.)

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Top-down management

> made the UK look "unreliable and incompetent", the MPs said.

It comes from the top down. Any hope that those MP's will remember their comment the next time they come to elect their party leaders?

I know, stupid question...

And +++1 to Frank Bough. How can we even consider holding a sports wankfest if we can't afford to do basic science? That's like booking a 5* package holiday while telling the kids that you can't afford to buy them a new book.

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£80m

£80m is chickenfeed in government terms. What it really shows is a move away from long term research - created by the treasury and their short term focus. Its only one step in many that have been happening over the last decade.

What this Chairman has done is the usual response; to make sure the cuts fall on the most obvious and painful areas to bring attention to the cut and hopefully reverse it. He should be applauded, not hassled.

When the treasury can blow £50bn on protecting their banking friends from the consequence of their incompetence the government committees should be pointing their attention in that direction - and cancelling this cut immediately whilst dramatically increasing the funding for alternative energy based R&D (10x is the starting point).

Someone needs to get a grip on the throat of the treasury and their mismanagement - and prise their grip from the rest of the departments. They have to be servants, not masters, since they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

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Anonymous Coward

Sooooo.... how exactly did the the prof get to where he can do the most damage?

We need some background here. How did it come to this? Did the Prof get suckered into a position where he did his masters' bidding and from where he now can only escape by falling on his own sword?

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Found out, then

Scientists are supposed to (a) tell as it is, (b) openly, (b) accept peer-review. So the myth goes.

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Bloody politicians

In the nineties the Science and Engineering Research Council was split into:

the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC);

the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);

the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);

the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC).

One of the primary drivers behind this was the vulnerability of the SERC to funding miss-haps from being exposed to exchange rate issues and uncontrollable cost over spends - a particular problem with astronomy and particle physics projects.

PPARC and CCLRC have been remerged to make the STFC (unaffectionately known as Swindon Town Football Club). The EPSRC and BBSRC depend heavily on the big labs now run by STFC. So now on top of the funding shortfall at the setup of STFC UK science is hostage once more to the problems of working on big international projects. Well done New Labour!

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Unhappy

It's a strange World...

At the risk of stirring up the commentators here; why is it that when someone who is asked to manage the resources he has to hand and to remain within budget, is so roundly condemned? The decisions made have largely been done so by the peer-review process, which is designed to remove duplication and encourage and fund the more promising projects and finally bring to an end much of the sloppier science that has long since past it's sell-by date.

He has done a very difficult job well.

We should be berating central government and industry for their woeful lack of investment priority, as one poster here has already said the difference between how intellectual capital is nurtured in the UK in comparison to the US is truly appalling.

The Governor of the Bank of England recently attacked the city's culture of 'bonuses' . One cannot help but wonder what academia would produce if they too had a bonus opportunity, good grief, they might even produce something worthwhile!

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Unhappy

Too little too late

I suspect that it may be too late to reverse some of the cutbacks to major projects, although I hope I am wrong. But I agree with everyone else: £80m is a drop in the ocean compared with the sums of money the government throws around, often on pointless multi-billion pound London projects designed to satifsy somebody's fantasy.

I feel I should point out, for completeness and clarity, that a billion pounds is a thousand times a million. I discovered recently that the entire STFC shortfall with all of its dire consequences is about the same cost as one Eurofighter jet. Why not just build one less jet? Maybe I'm being naive here, since let's be honest, we are a military nation first, scientific nation second. Sixth biggest economy, second biggest "defense" spender (unless China spends more, which is possible).

Then again, without funding for fundamental science, the technology sector (which depends on it in the long run) will not survive. This includes big defense companies such as BAE. The credit crunch notwithstanding, Britain has a promising economy, if the right decisions were made. For starters, by not wasting billions on ID cards and other farces, we could not only sort out the public finances, but we could do a Japan, and divert hundreds of millions towards a new and vibrant scientific community. Britain can be Great again. But this is a dream, I don't believe it actually will happen.

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Coat

Why....

Why couldn't they have chosen the name Science and Technology Facilities Union, it would have made for a great acronym :)

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Anonymous Coward

so sad

The UK has an impressive history of scientific achievement. By comparison, we have very little (although we do what we can - with any luck we might end up with the square kilometre array).

It is a shame to see your government wasting money on security cards.

Our previous government was going to do something very similar, but quietly dropped it when it became too difficult and expensive.

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More mousemats and coffee mugs

Never mind one Eurofighter - £80M is about what it has cost for all the mousemats, coffee cups and new logos which are about the only thing sign that SERC has been renamed again.

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Summary of committee report

Summary below - not too long a read, and seems to make it clear its as much a goverment snafu as that of STFC.

In the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) 2007 the Science Budget has increased to £11.24 billion; the increase from 2007/08 to 2010/11 is 17.5%. We welcome the Government's decision to maintain its commitment to increase the science budget by 2.5% per annum in real terms; but the first Science Budget Allocations of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has been marred by a few poor decisions, which have turned the Government's PR fanfare into a PR disaster.

The Science Budget increases do not fully cover Government-determined spending commitments, such as the requirement for Research Councils to cover 80% of the full economic costs of research (FEC), and expenditure on new bodies like the Technology Strategy Board. Additionally, large parts of the budget are tied to cross-council programmes that largely follow a Government agenda. Consequently, we are concerned that the Government has failed to protect the existing and planned research base, and we have reservations about the influence Government appears to have on the use of the budget and the extent to which the Haldane Principle has been upheld.

Regarding the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), we conclude that its formation was untimely and poorly conceived. First, the Government's expectation that STFC, having been formed in April 2007, would be ready for the 2007 CSR was overly ambitious. Second, in merging two Research Councils, one research community has been saddled with the debt of another, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues.

In STFC itself, we found weaknesses in its peer review system, its communications and its management. We are concerned about some of the decisions made in its Delivery Plan and how those decisions were made. We recommend that STFC wait for the results of the Wakeham review of physics before implementing the cuts proposed in the Delivery Plan and that it use this time to consult with its stakeholders. Further, we conclude that substantial and urgent changes need to be made to the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give the Council the leadership it desperately needs.

DIUS has a difficult job to do: it has to ensure the Research Councils are effective without interfering in how they spend their money. The evidence suggests that the Department's performance has been below par in both these areas and we look to the Department to demonstrate greater effectiveness in the future.

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we are a service oriented economy

oriented to minimum wage call centres at one extreme, and at the other, paying people huge bonuses for shuffling worthless (all too literally, it is now clear) bits of paper, without those City barrowboys actually "creating wealth" to match their bonuses. And the risk/reward equation looks rather unbalanced; they get the reward, the taxpayer gets the (currently £50bn, but likely to increase) risk - if the banks won't take those risks, why should the taxpayer, except to preserve people's CONfidence in the City? (emphasis on con, for reasons which should now be very obvious).

we have got here because the City, the Government, and Downing St in particular, have been run by the big consultancies (and their friends) for twenty years or more, and there's no sign of it changing (how could there be?).

where can I vote against Andersen Consulting and in favour of science+engineering?

UKtv could use a bit more Adam Hart Davis and a lot less Alan Sugar (as any former Amstrad customer could confirm, Sugar is a *failed* businessman).

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Happy

Just desserts

That Keith Mason's approach has been found underhand and divisive will be no surprise to many. What is more remarkable is that a bunch of MPs seem to have rumbled him.

But when it comes to deception, MPs are the experts, I suppose.

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Short-sighted as usual

We have a great reputation for not being able to see the wood for the trees. There are plenty of examples where investment has been refused and development stifled because ´no short-term gain' was to be had. Take the jet engine, hovercraft and early space experiments as examples where politicians (by definition non-technical individuals) made decisions about subjects they did not (could not) understand.

We now have become an overtly materialistic society and really need to think a bit about the future - I mean longer than the fruit-fly life of the current 'powers that be'.

Wake up and look around. I agree there are many needy projects to be addressed; equally there are many schemes that should never have been considered – let alone funded.

Maybe it’s time for a new currency based on long-term and moral values as well as short-term financial. I know many major projects have live-times expressed in decades but of course driving needs were perceived for the programmes at the time. What are the driving needs to deny support for our long-term and esoteric programmes, if they are not purely financial?

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Well Quelle Surprise - Another Biased "Expert"

I was involved with this thru the Inst of Physics.

Asking a University Prof is the same as asking any other so called upper class unaccountable establishment employed expert with a vested interest, as in baby murders by innocent mothers and minders, DNA evidence, etc, etc..

They just get a chap who can be relied on to do the right thing.... (what the establishment/Whitehall want).

If anything these people do is not subject to expert peer review it will almost certainly horribly skewedand subjective, as here.

Most in academe are ego centric self seekers promoting their own view of the world and their own pet subjects or projects - highly partial, utterly arrogant and blind to any reality but their own. Those who seek these senior offices certainly care as little about the effects of what they assert on anyone else as top management does in its grasp for wealth in commerce.

The academic chapter of utterly untrustworthy great and good. Lord Hutton or Roy Meadows - only for science, etc. Wrong people.

These ego maniacs are the last people we should trust to decide our future for us, after the secret society that is the Public School output/establishment and the politicians who front our democratic totalitariansim for too short a time to change it much.

In my view. You can almost see the episode of Yes Minister, Humphrey deciding who should chair this secret policy review of some other academic toff's cock up thaty has been discovered ....

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