back to article Boffins ask for £338m to fund quantum research. UK.gov: Here's £80m

The UK Treasury has decided that £80m is perfectly sufficient to support quantum research – a quarter of a billion less than what was asked for. Norman Lamb MP, chair of the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee, bemoaned some impressive underfunding by the Treasury in a letter (PDF) sent to the Chancellor of the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given the US economy is many times larger than the UK economy allowing a much larger spend is anyone surprised ?

    In equivalent terms, UK boffins are asking for roughly $3bn.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      It so happens that the bills won't be lower in the UK than the US, I don't think that the cost of research cares about the size of the economy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >I don't think that the cost of research cares about the size of the economy.

        But your ability to pay for it does, tax revenue isn't a bottomless pit.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          But your ability to pay for it does, tax revenue isn't a bottomless pit.

          Hardly relevant is it? Either you get involved or not. Half-arsed efforts are likely to fail. Commitment done the right way will more likely pay off.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            >Hardly relevant is it? Either you get involved or not. Half-arsed efforts are likely to fail. Commitment done the right way will more likely pay off.

            Tell that to the kid who needs a kidney transplant, sorry we spent all the cash chasing qbits so if you convert to Buddhism you may come back.

            There's only so much research dosh, you can throw £1bn developing a new wonder drug to find it causes liver failure in phase III trials thus falling on it's arse and yet a lone Australian researcher on a shoestring looking into stomach ulcers permanently cured millions with off the shelf antibiotics; budget isn't everything but ingenuity is. I've always been amazed at Indian scientists ingenuity on a budget.

            Research is a gamble and if you never buy a ticket then you'll win bugger all.

    2. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Yes if only there was a some way we could combine our research effort with a number of countries with shared economic interests, some sort of union

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Yes if only there was a some way we could combine our research effort with a number of countries with shared economic interests, some sort of union

        Amusing. Except from that I have been i such pan European projects and seen it from the inside. And it was pretty ugly, a science version of Fawlty Towers. A lot of companies just see the funding as means to add to the gross turnover without actually delivering the goods. And due to the structure of these project the project manager has absolutely no way of putting a stop to it.

        My in project experience is that pork barrels are not found in the US alone.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          "My in project experience is that pork barrels are not found in the US alone."

          Maybe now, but Trump's gonna fix that.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          >Amusing. Except from that I have been i such pan European projects and seen it from the inside. And it was pretty ugly, a science version of Fawlty Towers.

          3 votes down.

          Is that because you didn't like what was written or because you have direct experience that is contrary to this? Some aspects of the voting in here are rather unclear, especially as no arguments are fielded.

      2. EmilPer.

        oh, right

        how do you like your "European Google" ?

        or the "European Online Library" ?

        is ITER anywhere close to being finished ?

        government sponsored science in Europe produces only one thing: papers.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          I seem to remember

          there was one thing, a sort of distributed document thingamajig, that looked quite promising in it's time.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obvious solution, round one bazillion

    ... that the UK scientists get their degrees and skills in the UK, and then move across the pond.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Obvious solution, round one bazillion

      UK scientists get their degrees and skills in the UK, and then move across the pond

      Maybe. With a finite budget, somebody has to decide what research areas get funded. The problem is trying to decide what gets funded - no matter how scientifically worthwhile, or fulfilling it might be for those involved, choices still need to be made. And sometimes that includes stopping or reducing funding when earlier work suggests that more funding won't be a sensible action.

      Unfortunately it has all the appearances of typical government approaches to funding anything - "picking winners", stop-start funding, poorly co-ordinated programmes, failure to capture commercial benefits, and often a failure to understand and support the things we are good at, whilst funding is being thrown at things where we're late starting, have no exceptional or unusual competence, and other countries (or companies) are much more focused on delivering successful results - like autonomous vehicles.

      I can't say whether quantum "stuff" is a worthwhile investment, but I would ask what happened to the miracle that was going to be graphene? Why should quantum be preferred to any other research area?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Obvious solution, round one bazillion

        >we're late starting, have no exceptional or unusual competence

        Except that the UK has several of the best universities on this planet. At least that is what the ranking lists tell us and I sure hope they are right as I was a visitor to this country to get a degree.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Obvious solution, round one bazillion

        "Unfortunately it has all the appearances of typical government approaches to funding anything"

        Yeah - it's called poor leadership. Really poor leadership.

        It's the one thing the UK government is good at.

        For them, "leadership" is a Dunning-Kruger word.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Obvious solution, round one bazillion

        >And sometimes that includes stopping or reducing funding when earlier work suggests that more funding won't be a sensible action.

        OK. How about stopping funding for gender studies and peace research? And does anyone know of any peace that was achieved due to peace research? Seems more like pork barrels for former politicians and their friends.

  3. alain williams Silver badge

    Reason why ...

    because it is obviously better to give the money to banks - can't have their funds drying up and not being able to pay the usual mega-bonus.

    This is because bankers are obviously much more valuable to the country than physicists because ..., err, umm, gosh - I am certain that there are lots of reasons ... I seem to have temporarily forgotten any of them!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reason why ...

      I seem to have temporarily forgotten any of them!

      I suspect for people on modest and sub-modest incomes, the benefit from either bankers or quantum shit research is pretty meaningless.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Reason why ...

        I suspect for people on modest and sub-modest incomes, the benefit from either bankers or quantum shit research is pretty meaningless. ... Anonymous Coward

        Whereas the actuality, AC, is the complete opposite. The benefits in one over the other are mind-blowing and well worth investigating.

    2. Schultz

      ... obviously better to give the money to banks...

      Hey, someone should combine the two and create some quantum funds, hire physicists to model the markets using their magic quantum math skills...

      Oh, that has been done?... Cf. Banking crisis, etc.

      I guess if you hire smart scientists to mess with the money, they do mess. With the money. It starts tunneling into the strangest pockets.

  4. Keith Oborn

    So the US gives us some hope

    Make large box

    Insert Trump into box along with radioactive atom

    Observe

    50/50 is better than the status quo!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: So the US gives us some hope

      Make large box

      Insert Trump into box along with radioactive atom

      Dont' open it

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: So the US gives us some hope

      Forgetting the flask of hydrocyanic acid and the geiger counter to trigger the hammer actuator is a schoolboy error.

  5. Mike Richards

    Funding based on historical precedent

    Because Britain has a long and honourable tradition of beating the world through boffins tinkering at the bottom of the garden equipped with nothing more than bits of an old radio, some sealing wax, a garden shed and a bottomless supply of hot, sweet tea; government funding is proportional to the current cost of a shed and Morrisons own-brand teabags.

    1. deive

      Re: Funding based on historical precedent

      Agree, however quantum is an entirely different world. You'll never be able to just experiment in the same way.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Funding based on historical precedent

        "You'll never be able to just experiment in the same way."

        Thinking outside of the shed at the same time?

    2. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      Re: Funding based on historical precedent

      Because Britain has a long and honourable tradition of beating the world through boffins tinkering at the bottom of the garden equipped with nothing more than bits of an old radio, some sealing wax, a garden shed and a bottomless supply of hot, sweet tea; government funding is proportional to the current cost of a shed and Morrisons own-brand teabags.

      And not forgetting that the other part of the tradition is to lead the world for a short time, and then at a critical moment have the Government chop away the funding, allowing another country - usually the US - to profit from it. See the early history of nuclear power stations, gas turbines, supersonic aircraft (I'm thinking Miles M.52), digital computers, radar etc. etc.

  6. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Quibbling

    The letter makes for an interesting read. I was blissfully unaware that we already had a quantum fund.. I mean programme. So for this budget round, it asked for £338m and was told 'nope'. The letter is a little vague about how Prof Delpy & Co planned to spend the money other than creating more innovation centres. With 3 suggested, maybe that was one each for England, Scotland and Wales (sorry NI). But like similar innovation centres, it doesn't really explain why they're necessary, or end up being an unnecessary overhead. Taking away the cost of buildings and instead funding research activities seems a much better use of the money.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Quibbling

      It's pretty certain they knew they would get a fraction of what they asked for (after al they are boffins so thoeretically not stupid) , so they thought of a sufficiently large number to present to the treasury and most likely got more than they expected.

      The UK gov has a long and dishonourable record of not supporting our top scientists, I suggest a proportion of what they do get from the Treasury be spent on lottery tickets, they are more likely to provide more funds later.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Quibbling

        Well, being quants, they're meant to be masters of uncertainty. Or they've turned into bureaucrats, hence the desire to build centres of empi.. I mean excellence. Having said that, throwing together quantum physicists and nanotech types could make an interesting combination, or possibly new perils.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quibbling

          Having said that, throwing together quantum physicists and nanotech types could make an interesting combination, or possibly new perils.

          So long as its a controllable type of new peril, I'm in. How about a nanotech "grey goo" that can be programmed to consume all life within the London SW1 postcode, and then stop at the boundary?

          Obviously we'd need to make sure Queen and Phil the Greek weren't at home, as I'm rather fond of them, but as for the rest.....

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Quibbling

            So long as its a controllable type of new peril, I'm in. How about a nanotech "grey goo" that can be programmed to consume all life within the London SW1 postcode, and then stop at the boundary?

            Don't tell anybody.. but I think there may be goo-brewers operating inside W1. Well, inside the DFRL at the Royal Institution. Which makes that a bit of an inside job as far as the patrons go. Or risky if the goo escapes because it could find a rich source of metallic food to replicate with inside the Tube. Which could be a plot, or one of those pub conversations along the lines of how long it'd take something <15nm to eat an elephant. And given quantum effects at nanoscale, it makes them strange bedfellows and keeping them close together would make it easier to keep an eye on them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quibbling

      Taking away the cost of buildings and instead funding research activities seems a much better use of the money.

      So we might think, but that's not how the world works according to Westminster.

      Look at the costs of the Francis Crick institute. All the "investment" was a for a swanky fancy-architecture building in one of the most expensive cities in the world. A £700m investment, no less. Except that the fat end of £100m went to the land purchase, over half a billion went on design and construction costs. And at the end of it the complaints about the working environment grew loud enough to reach the national press.

      If we assume that (outside of fancy London gin palaces) the average cost of a senior research scientist and their support researchers, facilities and research costs are £140k a year, then the alternative to building a cathedral to science in the form of the Crick Institute would have been 5,000 man years of research. I know what I'd choose, but politicians and civil servants don't think like I do.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Quibbling

        "I know what I'd choose, but politicians and civil servants don't think."

        FTFY

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Quibbling

      creating more innovation centres.

      I've never quite grasped the concept of "innovation center" or "center for excellence" other than a buzz phrase meaning "we'll toss money into this hole and then someday put the dirt back in after we have enough money to retire".

    4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Quibbling

      Jellied Eel,

      Lest you have forget to always remember, NI are Titanic FutureBuilders. And if dare, or would even simply care, just ask Holywood Palace Barracks Inmates for the Latest AIdDevelopments and Present Surreal Shenanigans from Native Service AIgents.

      And as has always been the case, it in not what you know, but whom you know and who would know of you, which makes all the difference.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Research? What research?

    There is industrial-flavored pork barrel, and there is scientific-flavored pork barrel. I'm speaking about scientifically meaningless vanity projects which won't advance science one bit, their only point being to capture budgets and direct them where it profits some politician, directly or indirectly.

    I don't know what that "National Quantum Technologies Programme" is, and might not be doing them justice, but I somehow don't think they are directly connected to the guys covering huge blackboards with unintelligible formulas.

    When I hear "National Quantum Technology Hubs", I automatically imagine posh committees of politicians' friends and families getting paid to rent some nice place and discuss how important their work is. Some real scientists might profit from this too (as show figureheads), but it would be just accidental and most definitely not further science.

    Science needs scientists and labs, and those need money to work, not "Programmes".

    /rant

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Research? What research?

      When I hear "National Quantum Technology Hubs", I automatically imagine posh committees of politicians' friends and families getting paid to rent some nice place and discuss how important their work is. .... AC

      Clearly does one not know the True Nature of Quantum and what to expect of its Novel Energies, AC.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    They probably think it's enough. As the location of the funds will be subject to uncertainty all the recipients will think they might have got what they needed. Until they open the box, of course.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Special Advanced Services Daring to Win Win with New Arms in Virtual Models

    money from the National Physical Laboratory would see a "small number of demonstrator projects" created.

    Where/Whom does one pitch with a demonstrative project for grant funding?

    Name, Rank, Serial Number, or email address for that and those best to remain relatively anonymous.

    You surely must have been fully expecting that, El Reg, knowing what you know has already been freely shared on quantum leaps made here.

    It would be nice though to know that it does not come as a phreaking bolt out of the blue to UKGBNI Governments but we'll know all about that shortly, won't we, whenever we see quantum leaps reported ... or not as the negative sub-prime case might be.

    Can you Unsee what you now Know to Be and NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTivated?

    Of Course you Can't. What do you want to do with All of IT?

    And as for Badging such as Vapourware? Oh please, you cannot be serious? You do Realise how much Catastrophic Damage can be Done to Shadows Hiding Future Ignorance and Hosting Present Arrogance?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You would think that with so much at stake an invite to a meeting with the relevant all revealing would be a rightious right move?

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      IT aint Rocket Science . It is Much More Simply Complex that that.

      You would think that with so much at stake an invite to a meeting with the relevant all revealing would be a rightious right move? .... Anonymous Coward

      Quite so, AC. It is as simple as that. It does however require all parties to exercise an exceptional intelligence and for some who may be too many, is that always going to be a hurdle too high to straddle and take a long view and short position from.

      It does not stop one from introducing oneself and launching programs into systems via obscure invitations and elite exclusive executive administrations baiting though, exploiting vulnerabilities and testing extant security defences.

  11. vtcodger Silver badge

    Fortunately we'r talking quantum here.

    Surely there is some sort of quantum effect that allows one pound to do the work of four?

    Let's see, if we define quantum size as 500M pounds isn't 80M exactly the same as 338M?

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