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Decision time for UK ground-based astronomy June 3, 2009

Posted by Sarah in politics, science.
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By the end of this year, UK astronomers are likely to know what ground-based observational facilities they will have access to in the next decade. Today, the Science and Technology Facilities Council or STFC, the body that administrates funds for UK astronomy and particle physics, has published a (long-rumoured) consultation document inviting the community to discuss priorities in ground-based astronomy in the next 10 years. The document was prepared by STFC’s recently formed Ground-based Facilities Review Panel, made up of 6 UK-based senior astronomers (incidentally all men). An electronic questionnaire will be available in the near future for astronomers to express their views, and “facility directors and interested groups” are invited to submit paper contributions. (more…)

Funding people, not projects April 23, 2009

Posted by Sarah in politics, science.
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Today I attended a talk by Prof. Cornelis van Bochove, who was appointed as Professor of Science Policy Studies at Leiden University in February last year. Van Bochove has had an interesting career: after a number of years in econometrics research, he became Director of the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics for 5 years until 1999, after that Director of Research and Science Policy at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science until 2007. In those years he apparently always showed a keen interest in astronomy and was a strong supporter of the Dutch astronomy community, which has a long history of international excellence. Rather than hang up his hat, van Bochove joined Leiden to go back to the bench. The focus of his research is “evidence-based science policy”. So he’s looking at the science behind funding science. A bit of a brain twister, I know. But the talk turned out to be very interesting, and a little bit surreal. (more…)

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.