Today, Tuesday, is not going to be a good day for astronomers in the UK unless I’m very much mistaken. Particularly for post-docs whose contracts run out in the near future (like me). We already know that we’re going to lose access to the Gemini Observatory. But the real picture is almost certainly much worse than that. Andy is reporting informal discussions of cuts at the 25-40% level. As the Royal Astronomical Society point out, what’s worse is that these cuts are being made ‘with no briefing or consultation of the community during the decision making process’.
The reasons for the cuts aren’t officially clear. There are several factors at work, but among them is the need to bear the costs for new facilities being provided at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in particular the Diamond Light source. Before last year, this would have had nothing to do with the astronomy budget, but now we’ve been merged with the research council that used to run RAL it’s our problem too. I went back to the parliamentary record to see what had been said about the launch of the new Science and Technologies Facilities Council, and found Lord Truscott, a Labour peer, introducing the new council in the House of Lords. He said, just under a year ago In essence, I can confirm again that this is not a cost-saving measure. . In which case why are astronomers now paying for other’s projects?
Of course, it may be that the pessimists have got there first, and the announcement will bring good news to all. I doubt it, though. Hold on tight – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Update: A pretty good BBC story here, although you should note that as far as I understand it, STFC didn’t get things wrong,
CCLRC did. (CCLRC was the council merged with the particle physics and astronomy research council to form STFC – ie it wasn’t us!). those from beyond particle physics and astronomy did. (Update per comment below).
Update : Excellent interview on the Today programme today with the minister which seems to announce a review. It’s at about 7.22. I’ll get a transcript up later.