Right now, the UK’s astronomy and nuclear/particle physics research council, STFC, is supposedly undergoing a series of “consultations” with the community to try to figure out exactly which of the many possible big-ticket items (telescopes, satellites, particle detectors, etc.) the community wants to pursue.
In the meantime, however, things are proceeding in their usual autocratic way, as our financial overlords attempt to deal with the financial shortfall that a combination of bad luck, the global financial crisis, their own mismanagement, and government policy (in no particular order), has bequeathed the council.
Following on the cancellation of the Clover CMB experiment, this week we heard that the number of Advanced Fellowships per year will be cut in half, from twelve to six for all of astronomy and particle physics, and that the outreach budget will be cut by even more.
I came to the UK on an AF, and so have a soft spot for the program: the five-year fellowships have a very profile worldwide and are indeed open to applicants from all over the world. They have traditionally been one of the best ways to attract and retain young scientists. In many institutions, coming with the imprimatur of a pretty rigorous peer-review process, they lead directly to a truly permanent academic position.
As my fellow AF-alumnus, Peter Coles (from whom I got most of this information and the inspiration for writing it here), puts it: “Who needs half a dozen top class scientists when you can have Moonlite instead?”
Update: There was a package on BBC news today, lamenting the state of UK “space policy” — even the representative from EADS Astrium (“industry”) was complaining. Meanwhile, Lord Drayson, the “space minister”, was on the Politics Show, at least admitting this sort of thing “is going to cost money” — especially the twenty-year plan he wants.