Back to Life, Back to Reality

While I’ve been galavanting across Europe and the USA, the ongoing UK science-funding crisis has entered a new, possibly even grimmer, phase. The STFC itself is so strapped for cash it will only be issuing grants lasting until October 2010, instead of the usual two or three years. This is rumored to be engendered by a new £40 million shortfall and related to the ongoing reviews of STFC science and facilities such as big telescopes and membership in international collaborations like CERN and the European Space Agency. The results of these reviews and consultations have started to come in, and they will be digested in a likely mysterious and political process to give the STFC executive cover for its decisions input from the scientific community as it forms its strategy for the coming years.

Meanwhile, even those applying for these underfunded grants are being increasingly pressed to prove their economic worth, possibly over and above the scientific merit of their proposals. The Guardian discusses this in the context of the search for the next Lucasian Professor at Cambridge (a lineage which stretches from Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking) and asks whether the UK can continue to maintain its leadership in blue-skies (but perhaps manifestly “useless”) science like cosmology and general relativity. My colleague Peter Coles reminds us that this is exactly the sort of things that Universities should be doing, of course.

Looking towards next year’s election, Nature Magazine examines the science policies of the likely Conservative Government, which would unsurprisingly take this economic stance even further.

Trying to digest all of this, Andy Lawrence and Peter Coles — with lots of input from informed commenters — have decided that it may, in fact, be time to panic.

Still, I suppose it might be better than being at the University of California, where academics are being furloughed to save money — although grants from the Federal government are still flowing (and can often be used to top-up salaries cut by the furloughs). Things, as they say, are tough all over. (And yes, of course, we supposedly but not certainly employed-for-life academics have it pretty good despite these cuts.)