Save Astronomy!

By Phil Plait | December 19, 2007 1:00 pm

Science in the UK is in trouble.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is an organization that helps scientists and engineers do their research. The STFC manages funding, operates huge research facilities, and acts as a scientific advisor for the UK government.

They are also about to get a huge funding cut — as much as 25%. The reasons are not specified, but a website has cropped up so that UK citizens can do something.

It’s called Save Astronomy, and they encourage people to take action. Letters can be written, petitions signed. Maybe the UK government actually listens to its citizens, so something will come of this grassroots effort.

Dave P has more info as well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy

Comments (19)

  1. Phil

    Would be an appropriate time to use your “DOOMED” picture, BA.

  2. Cusp

    Alas, the UK has over extended itself recently, being both in ESO and Gemini – and so the writing was a little on the walls. Looks like the UK will pull out of Gemini and the Isaac Newton group are also in trouble (as are astrogrid and merlin).

  3. John

    So do we not need to actually live in the UK to contribute?

  4. Andy C

    Thanks for the heads up Phil! I’ve signed the e-petition, asked my friends to spread the word, and will be writing to my local MP.

    As an answer to the contribution question, you do have to be a British citizen or UK resident to sign the petition.

    The petition seems to be moving along reasonably, it’s in the top 100 petitions (out of almost 9000 open petitions), and it’s gained over 50 additional signatories since I signed it around 20 minutes ago. Let’s hope it has the desired impact.

  5. Quiet_Desperation

    Same thing happeneing here in all sciences.

    http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2007/1218/1

    On thing I’m not getting, though: The Republican White House had proposed all sorts on increases with the idea of incresing American scientific and technological competitiveness. It’s the Democratic Congress slashing it all.

    And the same Congress is talking about raising SS taxes to support a broken and failing Ponziesque scheme. You see, Dem supporters? You see why some of us, while we hate the GOP, don’t like the Democrats, either? When it finally comes down to actions, they always fail to do the right thing. This is how they have a lower approval rating than even Bush.

  6. Stuart

    Cusp, the funding issues aren’t really because of Gemini. The exact reason for the crisis is unclear. Part of it was thought to be due to larger than anticipated operating costs at the Diamond light source, although Diamond has been claiming otherwise recently. Another issue is that of full economic costing (FEC). However, you are correct that UK subscriptions to ESA, ESO and CERN are also an issue as they are tied to UK GDP which has been going up in real terms and therefore squeezing the rest of the funding available.

    Whatever the causes, the result is a lack of (at least) GBP 80 million to cover existing (and some future) commitments. That looks like a serious case of mis-management by STFC. There are some conspiracy theories going around about astronomy taking the hit to get money for laser fusion research and Mars missions (see comments here) but a huge cock-up sounds more likely.

  7. Stuart

    (Take 2 with less links)

    Cusp, the funding issues aren’t really because of Gemini. The exact reason for the crisis is unclear. Part of it was thought to be due to larger than anticipated operating costs at the Diamond light source, although Diamond has been claiming otherwise recently. Another issue is that of full economic costing (FEC). However, you are correct that UK subscriptions to ESA, ESO and CERN are also an issue as they are tied to UK GDP which has been going up in real terms and therefore squeezing the rest of the funding available.

    Whatever the causes, the result is a lack of (at least) GBP 80 million to cover existing (and some future) commitments. That looks like a serious case of mis-management by STFC. There are some conspiracy theories going around about astronomy taking the hit to get money for laser fusion research and Mars missions but a huge cock-up sounds more likely.

  8. Good news for China, it seems, across the board. Don’t have to worry about greenhouse gas emissions, the powerful Western nations are busy wasting lucre in needless military adventurism and kneecapping their research budgets to do it, and a resurgent Russia more interested in global power rather than Asian dominance takes the limelight off of them.

    I’m not an OMG TEH CHINESE ARE OUT TO GET US fearmonger, but, strategically, this is a nice little set of windfalls for them.

  9. Ed

    I’m not sure it’s come to the *doomed* stage yet, but this is incredibly disheartening. As a UK citizen used to reading about the craziness of the US government’s approach to science (however accurate these reports are), it is really sad to read about the same lunacy in the context of our own government. To throw away the entire Northern hemisphere’s worth of large telescopes for what is, on a national scale, an absolutely paltry sum seems idiotic at least.

    I think a key difference to me is that I look upon the STFC’s failures as mere mismanagement, rather than the rather calculated misconceptions that the Bush administration appears to be applying to it’s approach to science. British lawmakers still resolutely repel the idea of teaching creationism in our schools, as does most of western Europe (outside of Religious Education lessons of course), for which we must be thankful.

    It’s pretty weird to think that in England we have a system of government that is in theory fundamentally linked to religion (the Christian religion in particular obviously), yet which would not dream of pressing religious views upon its citizens, whereas in the US there is this fantastic theoretical separation of church and state and yet almost all US politics (at least those I come to hear of) are marred by religion. That may very well be a complete misconception by a foreigner who hasn’t visited the US for five years, but it’s perhaps important to note that this is the impression many people outside the US are presented with.

    This wasn’t meant to be any kind of rant, and I hope it’s not taken as one, more the ventings of a frustrated individual who is tired of the relentless onslaught of irrationality by people who really ought to know better. Big kudos to Phil for his continuing coverage and publicity of such idiocy, and to Chris Lintott (of BBC Sky at Night fame) who first brought my attention to this via his website at http://chrislintott.net/.

  10. “Maybe the UK government actually listens to its citizens …”

    I’d laugh, but the pain might kill me. And I thought you were a professional skeptic!

  11. Ed,

    Most Church Schools don’t teach creationism in Religious Education lessons either.

  12. Mike J

    Maybe a grant from the Discovery Institute, or the CSE ministry would be in order… you know.. to demonstrate a “good will” approach to the legacy sciences of 18th century— help these folks become “illuminated” to the new facts about creation, and the falsehoods that abound in so-called modern astronomy..

    what falsehoods you say? well… lets start with parallax geometry, and how you can’t measure large distances using this method, nor can redshift from stars be used as a reliable means to measure distance, as it has been proved that light can be slowed down..

    so the two means that astronomers use to measure space cannot be correct… thus everything that comes from these “inaccurate” measurements of space also becomes incorrect… imagine if everything is much closer, or much further away… that would change everything.

    For those who don’t know what parallax geometry is, and how astronomers use it, or don’t know about the dubious ‘redshift’ measuring— I suggest you put your skeptic abilities to work and get to the bottom of this … well… er… conspiracy

    Or you can take the blue pill and stay in your comforting matrix…

  13. Grand Lunar

    I sure do hope something can be done to lessen, or eliminate, this cut.
    Everyone needs to fight anti-science.

    A rant: I saw on Yahoo that Congress approved $70 billion for activites in Iraq and Afganistan.
    Now if there’s anything that needs a cutback, THERE it is. Just $10 billion from that would do far better being put forth toward NASA’s budget.

  14. Frank Ch. Eigler

    Why not combine two prevalent threads and plea “Save Bad Astronomy From Bush”?

  15. CR

    The US Congress (which is currently enjoying a Democrat majority of members) has frequently gone against public opinion and ‘caved in’ to the GOP administration wishes in order to not be perceived as weak. Um… huh? Anyway, this latest war budget approval is just the latest (and sadly, probably not the last) sign of that. I’ve heard some Dem reps & senators on radio interviews (sorry I don’t have actual citations/links) say they also won’t consider impeachment (even just initiating investigations, whether or not the actual impeachment process goes any further) beacause they don’t want to be perceived as partisan. Wha…?

    So, to echo Quiet_Desperation’s statement above… neither major party in America is worth much, and both go against the common good.

  16. Folcrom

    Has anyone had a close look at how Britain is being run.
    It’s no wonder they can’t afford to fund science.
    Trained monkeys could run the Brittish government better.

    Folcrom.

  17. Mr Folcrom, if you would kindly furnish us with the aforementioned monkeys, we’ll get onto it right after New Years … ;)

  18. Foggy

    The 2012 Olympics seem to be devouring funding for all other activities. At the time London won the bid to host the Olympics, we were told that they would cost GBP 2.5 billion. The latest estimate from the Government is GBP 9.25 billion. The missing GBP 6 billion (USD 12 billion) is being scraped together from all sorts of places. Science funding has been cut, but also funding for the Arts, and even sports funding – something that the Olympics was supposed to promote!

    Still, we will have 14 days of terrific sport, won’t we. Isn’t that nice!

  19. Mike J writes:

    [[Maybe a grant from the Discovery Institute, or the CSE ministry would be in order… you know.. to demonstrate a “good will” approach to the legacy sciences of 18th century— help these folks become “illuminated” to the new facts about creation, and the falsehoods that abound in so-called modern astronomy..

    what falsehoods you say? well… lets start with parallax geometry, and how you can’t measure large distances using this method, nor can redshift from stars be used as a reliable means to measure distance, as it has been proved that light can be slowed down..

    so the two means that astronomers use to measure space cannot be correct… thus everything that comes from these “inaccurate” measurements of space also becomes incorrect… imagine if everything is much closer, or much further away… that would change everything.]]

    1. Ground-based trigonometric stellar parallaxes are good out to about 100 light-years, and parallaxes from the HIPPARCOS satellite extend that to about 1,000 light-years.

    2. Redshift from stars isn’t used to measure stellar distances. If you’er talking about the cosmological red shift, that is too small to measure for interstellar differences. It only becomes noticeable at intergalactic distances.

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