More on space and politics

The champagne glasses are away and the knives are out to dissect the various events of the past couple of days. We’ve had the launch of the UK Space Agency, the debate on the Future of Physics Research by Dr Evan Harris, the Budget and Science Question time.

The last of those will have to wait until Hansard reports at eight in the morning, but the others all have links galore. On the space agency, the logo has had some comments with some comparing it to Dad’s Army and the travelling arrows, others finding it all to reminiscent of an organisation in Dr Who. Having said that, it isn’t a bad logo by all accounts. The UK Space Agency apparently has a new twitter account, but twitter mad Science Minister Lord Drayson isn’t a follower, so is it real? Or doesn’t he want to promote the Minister for Outer Space all of a sudden… The e-Astronomer has a post launch summary of the agency and several high ranking professionals have made comments on the issue there. Generally, people are wondering about the vagueness. I still think the whole thing was an off the hoof attempt to divert attention from other happenings. The real launch (website and everything) comes on April 1st, so we’ll see if it lives up to that day or whether it’ll prove a break from the past. But we mustn’t lose sight of what an agency like this can do – as exemplified in this post by a teacher and would-be astronaut on a Times blog.

The debate on the Future of Physics Research is on Hansard here (starting halfway down the page). It was led by Dr Evan Harris and included contributions from Adam Afriyie, the shadow science minister, David Lammy, The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (standing in for the Science Minister, Lord Drayson, who sits in the other House of Parliament and therefore cannot attend) and the MPs Bob Spink, Annette Brooke and Andrew Smith. It was pretty much a series of political exchanges on definitions of ring-fencing and calls for a comprehensive spending review, following a more sober and informative trek along the terrain of physics in the UK. Plenty of numbers for the #SciVote campaign to hammer home during the election period.

In the Budget, there were one or two sweeteners for science, including some extra money to fund 20,000 new science, technology, engineering and mathematics places in universities (equipping more students to do a dwindling amount of funded research?), which was welcomed by business, who recognised the underfunding of science by increasing the spending of its own money a few years ago. But generally in the budget itself and the accompanying document, there was little of interest. No big restructuring. The article in the Times gives the Royal Society‘s response (they, Like Afriyie, want to see the numbers in the next Comprehensive Spending Review) as well as links to those of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (concern about cuts to the Universities feeding into the science budget), a blogger for Nature (Vague on vision for science, Mandelson plans total cuts of £950 million to universities between 2010-2013 – 5% of budget) and one in New Scientist (sweeteners amount to £385 million, cuts to £600 million). The ‘vision’ for space will decide whether we’re a nation that will be sending software updates to increasingly automatous rovers on Mars or balloons with cameras covered in duct tape.

The New Scientist blog also mentions another report from the science and technology committee on independent scientific advisors (it’ll pop up here with the rest soon enough). The new rules have been tightened up a little, but Evan Harris has been a little concerned about one that implies “mutual trust” to be maintained between scientist and politician. He worries its a little too “I’ll scratch your back…” for his liking.


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