UK physics chief next for the chop in funding bloodbath?
Select committee evidence 'inaccurate, unconvincing and unacceptable'
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 yesterday on the physics budgetary crisis that the explanation Mason gave for his decision to make cuts to ground-based solar-terrestrial physics (STP) was "inaccurate, unconvincing and unacceptable". The famous radio telescope at Jodrell Bank is one of the facilities threatened by STP cutbacks.
Mason is now under pressure to quit as chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) over his handling of the affair. The committee charged: "We are at a loss to understand how Professor Mason could think that secretive reviews would have anything other than a divisive effect on the community and undermine confidence in any of his future decisions."
The STFC was formed by the merger of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council with the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils in 2007. The £80m hole in its finances emerged from those "secretive reviews" late last year, and has already caused major upheaval for the UK physics community.
The MPs were particularly concerned with how the cuts have damaged the UK's international research reputation. In January British researchers were humiliated when their funding to participate in the international Gemini infra-red telescope was withdrawn. STFC's failure to consult overseas partners on its plans was deplorable and made the UK look "unreliable and incompetent", the MPs said.
The select committee criticised both the department for innovation, universities and skills for its stinginess as part of last year's comprehensive spending review, and the STFC for how it delivered savings. The funding council's problems have been exacerbated by poor management. "Substantial and urgent changes are now needed in the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give it the leadership it desperately needs and has so far failed properly to receive," it wrote.
That's being widely interpreted as a blatant call for Professor Mason to resign. The committee also called for a moratorium on all STFC funding decisions until a review by Southampton University vice-chancellor Bill Wakeham is completed in September.
In a statement, the STFC said: "Council believes that the executive and its new peer-review structure did a good job in developing a forward-looking and affordable programme within its allocations.
"Prior to the publication of the report Council and the executive recognised and accepted the need to strengthen the management team, to consult more widely on its future programme and to improve its communication with staff and its research community.
"Council is determined that STFC continues to move forward in addressing these challenges. It fully supports the Chief Executive and his management team in doing so."
You can read the full select committee report here. ®
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 ....
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?
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.