Thanks to Dave for pointing out that the final results of the STFC programmatic review
sweepstakes popularity contest consultation exercise have been released. Following on from the recommendations, which grouped all projects into five projects, the STFC Council has decided where and how the money will flow.
The best news overall is that only the very lowest band of projects will no longer be funded, rather than two lowest as had originally been planned. As expected, Imperial Astrophysics has fared relatively well, with continued support for Planck, Herschel, Scuba II, UKIDSS, LISA Pathfinder and XMM Newton.
Overall, it looks like a relatively small number of projects will be “discontinued” and that STFC “will therefore ramp down funding at an expeditious but appropriate rate in consultation with the PIs/stakeholders. Where possible [they] will look for ways to ensure that there is a return on … previous investments.” In astrophysics, these projects include the UK’s contributions to the gamma-ray observatory VERITAS and the astronomical computing and data-analysis projects AstroGrid and CASU/WFAU, in particle physics the b-physics experiment BaBar, and most of ground-based Solar and Terrestrial physics. On the other hand, despite the panel recommendations which put it into the lowest band, the Mercury mission BepiColombo — which apparently threatens to consume the entire ESA science budget — will continue to be funded, because the UK contribution “is subject to an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the Agency and will be respected.”
But the dark underside to the entire process remains the assumed 25% cut to the “grants line” — the money to pay for the actual science return on these missions, as well as all of the science that doesn’t come from large projects, mostly in the form of salaries for postdocs: theoretical physics, observations of individual astronomical objects, and just thinking hard and opening up new areas to explore. I’ve just got a big stack of grant applications to referee from STFC — let’s see how many of even the best manage to survive the cut.
[I promise to find something new to talk about, now that this unsavory episode seems to be reaching its conclusion, for now at least. Until then, you’ll just have to follow my twittering, although you’re more likely to learn about my musical tastes than cosmology…]