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New Year, New Financial Crisis April 2, 2009

Posted by Sarah in politics, science.
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British astronomers have had a rough ride in recent years. Last year began with doom and gloom over the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)’s budget deficit that caused it to withdraw from the Gemini consortium. The series of events that ensued were covered in great detail on the web so I won’t delve back into the particulars – but it’s safe to say that the future of British astronomy did not look so bright. Still, everyone plodded along.

Now once again the British community is in a bit of turmoil over news of yet another major budget deficit for STFC, that has just caused it to pull out of a major project. Contributing to the recent problems is apparently the devaluation of the British pound against the Euro but I’ll leave that discussion to those who know more about it – good coverage of the situation over on Andy and Peter’s blogs and on Paul Crowther’s webpages.

Clover, the cancelled experiment, was a high-profile cosmology project to look for the signatures of primordial gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background – read here for more info on the science. This was not a design study that was called off: Clover was in an advanced stage of development, hardware delivered and lots of money already spent. The project had always ranked highly in previous programmatic reviews.

Sad news for the British community and for all the rest of us too. Britain is a major player in European astronomy, if British astronomy suffers we all feel the effects. Some of the STFC fellowships are hanging in the balance at the moment too, and a decision on those is well overdue already (interviews were initially delayed because of a snowstorm over London). This is pretty distressing to the applicants, and a complete nuisance to other institutes as delays in announcing important fellowship appointments always cause bottlenecks in the whole jobs carousel.

With the huge amounts of money being thrown around to save our economies, why are we having to beg, borrow and steal for every penny to go into our science? I’m pleased to see I’m not the only one asking that question.

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