And here I was, thinking we had a funding crisis!

24Jan08

Boy, do I feel silly. Apparently UK astro/particle (PPAN) physicists concerned about the STFC funding crisis have absolutely nothing to worry about because “UK physics has a brighter future,” at least according to STFC’s chief Keith Mason as reported by the BBC. Or as we would say back in the US, `Mission Accomplished.’

Speaking of the US, I finally got a response from one of my senators regarding the status of the FY08 bugdet. Politicians must have a template for science funding letters because the letter was a grammatically-correct version of I. Pearson’s letter to UK students. After the usual `I support science’ platitudes, the letters continue with figures of how the number of dollars (or GBPs) spent on research is actually increasing, and hence everything is okay.

Maybe, as one UK student pointed out, physicists are less susceptible to `political number waving,’ but these bits of fluff always have me rolling my eyes. There’s no mention of funding increases relative to inflation (i.e. `real’ increases). Nor is there any mention of the devastating effect of having to halt programs, especially international collaborations, because the funding level falls below what was promised (even if there is a small net increase). Finally, as a physicist, I know that it’s not very meaningful to measure dimensionful numbers; instead of measuring numbers with units of [money], it’s more meaningful to take ratios of such numbers. For example,

$ILC FY08 request / $Iraq War FY08 request = 1 / 2270.

Exercise: (a) Using this (or any other) ratio for “loss to fundamental research”-to-“unfortunate federal expense,” estimate how much the scientific community will hurt for the $150B being spent to jump-start a shaky US economy. (b) Compare this figure to the annual operational cost (or construction cost) of your favourite NASA ‘Beyond Einstein’ program or HEP experiment.

These statements have consistently failed to address any of the actual concerns that we keep bringing up. How did the funding for an `American Competitiveness Initiative’ supported both by the [Democratic] Congress and the [Republican] White House end up being sacrificed for the FY08 budget? How can the STFC cut PPAN funding with minimal feedback from the PPAN constituency, despite promises that the PPARC-CCLRC merger promised not to compromise funding for either body? How can we ensure that funding is allocated in a fair and unbiased manner, and not being funnelled into pet projects to the moon or Mars (also)?



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