back to article Boffins slashed in big-science budget blunder bloodbath

Unforeseen increases in the running costs of flagship science projects may result in hundreds of top UK physics brains losing their jobs, boffins have warned. The government has reportedly agreed to consider extra funding, but offers no guarantees. The BBC reports today that the funding problems lie within the budget of the …

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  1. Paul

    Have I got this right...

    MP's plan to loose Boffins at a new facility so they dont loose admin at an old one? Would this be Labour MP's? Sounds like there socialist claptrap.

  2. Jason Togneri
    Go

    Boffins slashed in big-science budget blunder bloodbath

    It's rather a shame you had to include "slashed" in that sentence, it's quite ruined the fun. After all, a little literary alliteration allows a large allegation...

  3. Rosco
    Flame

    Small change

    Let's get this straight - £21m to continue world-leading, boundary-breaking science is just too expensive but £10b (500 times as much) is fine for ID cards which have absolutely no proven merit and are actively opposed on principle by large sections of the populace.

    Makes one frikkin sick, does it not?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Why to UK Physicists always get screwed?

    The number of people studying Physics at A-level and at University has been dropping off for the last 10-15years and things are just getting worst.

    Early to middle of the last century, all of the Worlds top physists were hanging out in the UK: Rutherford, Bohr, Chadwick, and now we've just given up on everything either to the US or Europe.

    It's all bloody embarrassing. With the extreme lack of investment, I really do wonder where this once great nation will be in another 50-years from now.

  5. Dr Who
    Flame

    Sack the politicians not the boffins!!

    If the bent bureaucrats butcher the boffins it'll make my blood boil!

    Nu Lab politicians are up to their necks in corruption and are spending hundreds of millions creating jobs for the boys in order to buy votes. Scrap the lot of them and don't skimp on UK science!

    If we cut back on research spending now we will be putting the country on an inexorable path to being a backwater economy overshadowed by nations with more vision.

    Gordo! Gordo! Gordo! Out! Out! Out!

  6. Graham Bartlett

    @Jason

    Ah, but there's still alliteration in the repeated B and S. For full effect, it could have been

    "Boffins slashed in big-science budget squeeze bureaucracy snafu"

    Which has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

    (PS. El Reg don't want another contributor, do they? I'm no IT expert, but I can write a mean alliterative headline. And hey, that's gotta count for something on El Reg.)

  7. Daniel Hutty
    Boffin

    Confused

    Riiight... so the jobs of boffins across the country are at risk because the Gum'mint don't want the older facilities shut down incase it upsets the poor Mancunian support workers? Sounds sensible... </sarcasm>

    Although the Government's point of view I guess it makes sense - dis-satisfied boffins spread across the country has a minor affect on voting figures, hence a group of dis-satisfied support workers *all in one constituency* is more of a threat to their position... which is, of course, all most politicians really care about.

    @Jason Togneri - I agree - perhaps "bashed" would have been better? Or "bludgeoned"?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Is it me or....?

    Could I be forgiven for thinking that a certain mobile phone airtime provider sponsors that particular piece of science boffinry?

    Regards

    Neil

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Jason Togneri

    Boffins buggered by big-science budget blunder bloodbath?

  10. ben

    Gamma ray experiment went horribly wrong

    When the Boffins see that their jobs are threatened and their only hope is to make a massive discovery they are going to take risks.

    Isn't this what happened to Dr. Robert Bruce Banner.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Support staff are also boffins

    The 'support staff' oop nooorth are not call-centre workers, you know. They're the ones doing the same thing on the SRS (the northern facility) as on DIAMOND (the southern facility). And the ones up north (me included) are the ones that thought up DIAMOND in the first place, so it's a bit rich sacking the ones with the good ideas, isn't it! Calling us 'support staff' is like calling the ones down south 'builders', 'cos what they did is build DIAMOND....

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mancunian job losses

    Daresbury (the facility near Manchester which Diamond will supercede) is going to close *anyway*, those jobs on those constituencies are going to be lost *anyway*. This isn't even about saving those jobs, it's about saving them until *after the next election*!

  13. Dan

    STFC

    If only they could win a few away games.

  14. Tawakalna
    Go

    Bruce Banner..

    no no, Bruce Banner was caught in the blast of the experimental gamma bomb that he'd designed for the US Army, when he went back to rescue teenager Rick Jones who'd driven onto the test range in a jeep!

    You're thinking of Hank Pym/Giant Man.

  15. laird cummings
    Thumb Down

    Budget debacle brain drain...

    I have friends, proper boffins, whom have fled the UK for greener pastures on the continent. There's something fundamentally wrong with spending all that money and effort on the schools facilities that produce top scientists, only to have them leave and do science for other countries because there's no work at home.

  16. Morely Dotes

    War or Science?

    You can't afford both. Obviously, war is going to benefit far more people* than science, so science will simply have to deal with it.

    * - Keeping in mind that "people" consist entirely of stockholders in large MOD suppliers' firms, and wealthy investors in military equipment manufacturing and transport.

  17. Troy Peterson
    Joke

    In Soviet Britain....

    Doughnuts eat boffins...

  18. Charlie Stross
    Unhappy

    Missing the point

    The Diamond synchrotron is mostly going to be used by biological and materials science researchers, not physicists or astronomers -- but those are the specialities whose budget is being dipped into to pay for the project. Ditto the other "big science" cost overruns.

    What this means is: the physics/astro budget is being used to cross-subsidize other fields, in a manner that will result in 25% funding cuts to physics and astronomy over 3 years, at a time when physics in the UK is *already* in big trouble.

    If this isn't fixed, then an entire generation of high energy physics specialists are going to be out of a job -- and once lost, it's very hard to rebuild that kind of academy. (Look at what happened in the USA after the Superconducting Supercollider got axed in the early 1990s ... then consider that the USA still had a whole bunch of other high-energy physics projects and didn't have a major problem recruiting and educating new physicists.)

  19. Paul Saleh
    Unhappy

    The downward spiral continues

    It's precisely this kind of thing that lead me and many other fellow Ph.D graduates to quit academia and head to the city where our talents are actually appreciated and rewarded.

  20. breakfast
    Coat

    So what do they really need now?

    Are they looking for some kind of DIUS ex machina to bail them out then?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Seems fitting somehow

    Labour ministers won't properly fund science that can investigate the spin states of many materials....

  22. mark
    Happy

    Relocate already !!

    I worked for the boffins, (as an engineer), for three years in the late ninties and there was the same problem with the Manchester Lab then as there is now. I believe they have a very under powered version of the Diamond synchrotron light source there and it was kept open then due to fears of "local" job losses in the science fields, (I think they also had some ancient super computers). Seems to me that the northerners would be more than happy to move down to pretty Didcot/Chilton.

  23. Max Sang

    This is what's being cut...

    Hot off the press, here's what's being slashed/buggered...

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/32163

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    ah but remember...

    Nu Lab dont want a clever population... they want to stay in power - just look at the dumbing down of everything... so

    1) We will have the best telephone call centre staff in the world, cos its the only thing we will be able to do.

    2) Last one out please turn off the lights....

  25. Ben
    Unhappy

    One of the many casualties...

    One of the many casualties of the funding crisis in UK science is identified all too clearly in the Delivery Plan just released by STFC, available at http://www.scitech.ac.uk/resources/pdf/delplan_07.pdf.

    To quote: “We will cease investment in the International Linear Collider. We do not see a practicable path towards the realisation of this facility as currently conceived on a reasonable timescale.”

    The UK’s scientists and engineers have made significant contributions to the design of this machine, and have been welcome partners in the international drive to develop the new technologies required.

    STFC’s views are not shared across the wider international community. Institutions worldwide are conducting research, guided by the recent Reference Design Report released by the ILC Global Design Effort, with a view to building the accelerator. World-class institutes such as Fermilab in the US have been preparing bids to host the machine.

    Large collaborations such as this have a wealth of benefits beyond their primary goal of advancing basic science. They strengthen international cooperation, drive technological development and, through ties with industry, help economies. They serve to enthuse the next generation of potential scientists and engineers.

    Many ties with foreign institutions will be lost as a result of this decision. UK researchers, many of whom have great experience, will be forced to move abroad if they wish to continue their work. None of these facts bode well for the future of the UK science.

    I have focused on the ILC, but you can expect to hear similar stories from across the scientific disciplines.

  26. Anonymous Cowherd
    Happy

    Yes, Minister

    o

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Merry Christmas

    "It's precisely this kind of thing that lead me and many other fellow Ph.D graduates to quit academia and head to the city where our talents are actually appreciated and rewarded."

    Yes and probably myself and a lot of colleagues will leave for the city even if we survive this crisis. If they will still take us after umpteen postdocs. If we dont take part in the linear collider where is the future for us young people after the LHC finishes?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Next up:

    Beleaguered boffins beg Big Brother for bonus bucks before budget blowout blindsides boson breakthrough?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    More lay offs may be comming soon....

    ...because some other boffins in Scotland figured out how to create a table-top synchrotron for the bargain prize of only a few million (!) dollars for a high powered laser.

    See this newscientist.com article:

    http://technology.newscientist.com/article/dn13032-desktop-synchrotron-aims-to-freeze-molecular-action.html

  30. Keith T Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Give and take?

    I'm getting confused.

    At one end we are starting to have a big push in science education on schools.

    At the other end we are seeing scientists - sorry - boffins getting told they aren't wanted.

    Why should any child want to excel in science if there's no prospect of a proper boffin job after years of study?

  31. Chris G Silver badge

    Boffins in Blighty

    What these boffin chappies in blighty need are `innovative skills´ after all, that's the name of the bunch with the money.

  32. T. O'Hara
    Jobs Halo

    They're in the wrong science class.

    Why don't they just become climate scientists and promote more global warming catastrophes. There's no need to do any scientific work. Just apply the following:

    Oh my god! A hot summer = global warming.

    Oh my god! A rainy summer = global warming.

    Oh my god! More rain today than there was this time last year = global warming.

    Oh my god! Less rain today than there was this time last year = global warming.

    etc,.

    Then write a computer program to show the ice melting over the next 20 years, et voila! Money for nothing and another excuse to tax us until we're dead.

    PS. It's now a religion so that's why god is so involved.

  33. John Young

    Re: Have I got this right...

    "MP's plan to loose Boffins at a new facility so they dont loose admin at an old one?"

    No, you have it very, very wrong.

    The old facility at Daresbury is where the new 'Diamond' facility should have been built, but politics (an alliance of the Wellcome Trust and the French Government) made it go South. Maybe it wouldn't have overrun its budgets if it had 'stayed' 'up North'.

    Paul, quit whinging is such a horrible, shameful, patronising way.

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could have both facilities? Wouldn't it be nice if a few bob could be diverted from the London Olympics to promote science across the UK?

  34. Baggie
    Unhappy

    Well I'm screwed

    I am currently doing my mPhys project on the International Linear Collider, which has just got the chop... Feels kind of pointless continuing working now...

    Since the UK has no real export commodities apart from knowledge, it seems pretty stupid to cut (and in real terms it is being cut, not increased) science funding.

    I just feel sorry for everyone who has already invested so much time and effort into these important and valuable projects. What a waste.

  35. Ben
    Unhappy

    I really shouldn't

    read these types of articles when writing up its bad enough trying to remain disciplined to get it finished, take away job prospects and what the point :(.

  36. Peter
    Unhappy

    The Call Centre Genius Alliance

    "Nu Lab dont want a clever population... they want to stay in power - just look at the dumbing down of everything... so

    1) We will have the best telephone call centre staff in the world, cos its the only thing we will be able to do."

    Well, my team at a national telco ISP is

    2* MEng Mechanical engineers

    2* MEng Civil Engineers

    A EngD- Electrical Engineer

    A MSc Chemsitry (me)

    4* BSc Biochemistry

    A BSc in Computer Science (who's not "allowed" to use his knowledge as it breaks the rules set by the above ISP)

    And a fully trained Doctor (of medicine)

    As the Loonies in charge say we need Scientists/ Engineers/ Doctors.but this is the only jobs we can get.

    NZ here I come...

  37. big daddy
    Alert

    yes it confuses me as well

    We're going to end up with facilities and few users. If you read the STFC "delivery plan" which is code for cuts and redundancies, then it looks like the cuts in university grants will be 25-30%. the reality is that its going to be alot worse than that:

    1) grant cycle is 3 years, therefore at this time 2/3 of the grant purse is already committed - you dont have to be a boffin to work out what that means to grants just submitted into the system this year.

    2) given the lack of funding the council has a list of strategic priorities (actually in astronomy they only listed galaxy formation and large scale structure), presumably if you are working in something else (eg exoplanet detection) you might as well jump on a plane to the USA. This will def. have an affect on undergraduate student recruitment.

    Its also clear from the plan that there is MUCH worse to come.

    Pen pushers slaughter UK boffins.... Our facities will be shrines to a time when we had people to use them. Its a sad day for UK physics and especially UK astronomy.

  38. lglethal Silver badge

    Where is all the money going in the UK?

    No money for the boffins, no money for the engineering projects, not enough money for the NHS, or schools.

    Where is all your money? You must all have bloody good tax dodges!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Toaster

    Do synchrotrons make good toast?

    Time to toast a politician.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    http://europa.eu/epso/index_en.htm

    this is where UK scientists and engineers can sign-up for the epso (european personnel selection office) open tests/competitions and qualify for a Reserve List from whence nearly all scientific posts are recruited. Salary is approximately between £50k to £150k pa depending on experience. I have a HNC in Telecomms Engineering and I'm currently on about £72,000 net-of-all-taxes salary, (is that about £120k gross?)

    Why are maths and physics studies decreasing in the UK?, the rewards - if you look to the 500million people EU market rather than quaint old blighty - are better than being a BigBrother contestant, and there's a slightly higher chance of success!

    plus most of our UK workers - who joined in the 1970's - are starting to retire so there is regular, if bursty and stealthy, recruitment.

  41. Bill Fresher

    @ Iglethal

    "Where is all your money? You must all have bloody good tax dodges!"

    It's all gone writing off mortgages for Americans with bad credit.

  42. MarsExpress

    Re: STFC

    There's only one STFC, one STFC.... there's only one STFC

    Or, there will be, soon:-(

  43. James Condron

    mis-read

    i thought this story was about some experiment going wrong and killing a load of people... surely i'm not the only one who saw this and thought 'cool' ?

  44. Bill Coleman

    @ T. O'Hara

    dont be a muppet - the ice caps *are* melting. It *is* due to our environmentally destructive power production methods - and needs to be curbed *now* to prevent global catastrophe. your head in the sand attitude is the reason governments seem to think a 3% cut in carbon emissions by 2012 is unreasonable and un-achievable. the reality is it's nowhere near enough. especially with the escalation of power needs in china and india where they are burning coal for christ's sake!

    So yes, rather then spending billions on seeing what happens when you collide sub-atomic particles a near light-speeds to produce more sub-atomic particles - (We've been doing the particle accelerator thing for years now, and while its very interesting it is clear that nothing of any great practical use will come from it in the near future) would we not be better off researching serious alternative cheap energy production methods with some out-of-the-box thinking?

  45. Evil Graham
    Thumb Up

    What's the problem? Just offshore it.

    Short of money? There's a simple answer, just relocate all the boffinry to another country where boffins are cheaper.

    This strategy has already saved a fortune and worked brilliantly in the IT industry, where legions of satisfied customers are enjoying even more customer service than ever before - at a fraction of the price.

    Am I allowed to claim credit for coining the new verb "to offshore"? If not, never mind, one genius idea per day is quite enough.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Practical uses

    "We've been doing the particle accelerator thing for years now, and while its very interesting it is clear that nothing of any great practical use will come from it in the near future"

    rubbish. There are numerous technologies currently in use that were originally developed for cutting edge particle physics research and were not intendend to have practical applications. You are using one of them now by even having this debate here.

    In 30 years there will also be lots of spin off technologies in use that noone anticipated (though nowadays physicsits are better at recognising when they can exploit something as a spin off IMO).

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Bruce Banner

    I think he was mixing up the TV show with the Comic Book story lol ;)

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flipping Gov

    Frankly, I'm a undergrad, and if this is what's going to happen then I'm buggering off to foreign shores to do a research career! It's effing hopeless.

  49. Sara Fletcher
    Boffin

    Not like CERN

    "So yes, rather then spending billions on seeing what happens when you collide sub-atomic particles a near light-speeds to produce more sub-atomic particles - (We've been doing the particle accelerator thing for years now, and while its very interesting it is clear that nothing of any great practical use will come from it in the near future) would we not be better off researching serious alternative cheap energy production methods with some out-of-the-box thinking?"

    This is important - the Diamond particle accelerator is NOT about smashing particles together and making new particles, it's a facilty where scientists from a whole host of different disciplines come to carry out research. Synchrotrons like Diamond have been used to create new drugs, to study GMR (the technology underpinning iPods), and to study how pollutants move through the environment - real, tangible applications. It's not even the spin-offs that might result from technological developments, these machines already the result of that.

    Diamond and the SRS up in Daresbury are not one-trick ponies for a small community of particle physicists, they are multi-purpose facilites, used by chemists, biologists, engineers - and people looking for alternative energy production methods as well as ways to minimise humanities environmental impact.

  50. TeeCee Gold badge
    Joke

    Political suicide?

    You'd have thought that having found that pissing off a load of people who might want to build an atomic bomb has turned out to cause a shitload of trouble, they'd have thought twice before pissing off a load of people who actually *can* build one......

  51. 3x2

    @bill

    "your head in the sand attitude"

    The only "catastrophe" I see is the one going on in your head.

    "rather then spending billions on seeing what happens when you collide sub-atomic particles [...] - would we not be better off researching serious alternative cheap energy production"

    err .. like Fusion Reactors or something? or shall we just utilize the hot air from you and your ilk praying to "Gia"?

  52. The Badger
    Boffin

    Re: Not like CERN

    "Diamond and the SRS up in Daresbury are not one-trick ponies for a small community of particle physicists"

    No, but as you say in passing with reference to "spin-offs", if that community of particle physicists (not such a small one, and not purely particle physicists, either) hadn't been "smashing particles together and making new particles", you wouldn't have stuff like Diamond. It'd be more about "banging the rocks together" for all those chemists, biologists and engineers.

    And of course, if you want to look for "ways to minimise humanities environmental impact", take a look at the politicians. (Unless you meant to write "humanity's", in which case we could still start with the politicians...)

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Mark ...

    "Seems to me that the northerners would be more than happy to move down to pretty Didcot/Chilton."

    You've not been to Didcot have you ...

  54. Slaine
    Coat

    bugger boffins - buy bullsh1t

    it's simple really, one holds the keys to the future of mankind, the other holds the purse strings.

    Physicists, like MOST scientists, seek the truth; politicians seek re-election. The truth, however, is a real pisser if one is seeking re-election so the moral of this story is completely lost.

    Nice icon of a politician rifling through my pockets.

  55. Seaside

    One trick ponies

    "Diamond and the SRS up in Daresbury are not one-trick ponies for a small community of particle physicists, they are multi-purpose facilites"

    While I completely agree that Diamond is doing cutting edge work in a great many fields, you might want to reflect that the one-trick particle physics ponies

    - originally developed the accelerator technology used by Diamond

    - developed the sensor and detector technology used by Diamond

    - invented the world wide web thereby making this debate possible

    The spin-off of 50,000 particle accelerators in the word treating cancer is not a bad one trick pony; mini-versions of hadron accelerators at use in CERN and elsewhere are presently being developed by one-trick ponies to further improve cancer treatments. So we should stop all one-trick research ?

  56. Charles Manning

    @Peter

    Your call centre mates might actually find a proper job here in NZ, but we're also at least partly on the dumbing-down bandwagon.

    From what I see this is largely a result of two things:

    * More performance measures on teaching establishments. The establishments get funded depending on the number of grads they pump out. It is far cheaper/easier to pump out burger-flipper grads. You don't need specialised staff and equipment to generate BAs in media studies, just tell the little tykes to email/chat their friends and write a few essays about the experience. Extra points for writing it text speak or submitting a youtube rap instead of a boring old essay. Research and science is a lot harder and more expensive to teach and generates less money for the organisation, so those classes get dropped and pressured by the administration.

    * Less performance measures on students. No more failing because you're not good enough - nope that is all negative and destuctive to the students self-worth. Now it's all "Not Yet Achieved" etc. That's fine for people doing a BA in Coffee Studies (how serious is a bad cup of cofee -- really), but do you really want a "Not Yet Achieved" style person servicing aircraft ("Ladies and gentlement, your aircraft was serviced by Not Yet Achieved Services - please remain seated otherwise you might make the engineers feel bad about themselves") or designing bridges etc?

    Of course, there's also the money part of the equation. A truck driver/builder can make as much as a scientist and can start when he's straight out of high school w so where's the financial moitivation in going to university for many years?

    So NZ might have the same problems as Blighty, but at least the fishing is better.

  57. Paul Murray
    IT Angle

    Outsourcing

    I wonder how much money is going to fatten the bottom lines of outsourcing companies?

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  60. IDK
    Black Helicopters

    @Bill Coleman; OT reply

    OK, so you 'believe' in our impact, being the cause of global warming. So, based on that, where are all the archaeological finds of power stations and the like that were responsible for the warming of the planet after the last ice age? Or were the mammoths even more flatulent that cattle, and it was all the methane?

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    It's like bronzy or silvery but made of iron..

    "The number of people studying Physics at A-level and at University has been dropping off for the last 10-15years and things are just getting worst.

    Yep, you watch, English will be the next thing to suffer."

    quod erat demonstrandum.

  62. Bill Coleman

    ...in defence (OT)

    OK, so my understanding of the research carried out at the Diamond facility was flawed - my bad. I retract the re-distribute funds argument.

    ...but that said, the backlash cased by my claim that our power production methods are accelerating global warming is worrying. It appears that believing we are the cause of environmental problems is immediate grounds for dismissal as a clueless tree hugger all hyped up on media FUD

    @IDK - yes, climate change is not new and has in the past been an entirely natural phenomenon. However, the rate of change historically has been very slow. What we are undergoing now in terms of acceleration of temperature change is unprecedented.

    @3x2 - "The only "catastrophe" I see is the one going on in your head." Quite reasonable to assume the insides of my head are catastrophic given my ignorance on the subject of the Diamond facility. But, sadly no - it's not the *only* catastrophe, the environmental one outside my head is quite real.

  63. Simon Greenwood
    Pirate

    Re: Where is all the money going in the UK?

    Well, let's think... the former Chancellor of the Exchequer's insistence in keeping to spending limits imposed by the outgoing government in 1997 and subsequent mismanagement of the economy based on the usual short termism and the ridiculous notion that private companies have some interest in public service. Then there's six years of assisting our basket case of an 'ally' in a wasteful and indecisive 'war on terror' which has achieved completely different aims to those which it started out with while spunking public money up the wall in the name of 'freedom' for a start. I don't know where he's gone actually, someone said that he was Prime Minister now, but surely the Prime Minister would be publicly signing the Lisbon Treaty today...?

  64. The Mighty Biff
    Alien

    Headline recognition shocker

    Good grief.

    Your splendid headline has gained recognition from esteemed physics blogger Peter Woit :

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

    It always gives me the shivers when two websites, which are unrelated other than by my surfing habits, link up like this. I expect I'm living in the Matrix, or something.

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