A bit of a mess

Due to a monumental cock-up, UK Astronomy is set to lose something like 25% of its budget. This will decimate astronomy in the UK twice over (including the VO implementation, AstroGrid), and will surely reverberate all across the world.

Save Astronomy

For details, see www.saveastronomy.org.uk. Andy the e-Astronomer has more, as do Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer, Stuart of AstronomyBlog, et alia.

  1. TomLoredo:

    Thanks for the post, Vinay, especially the links to the UK reporting/blogging. I’d heard from a UK colleague about this, but I appreciate the further info you provided.

    Although the cuts are not as drastic, things aren’t looking too rosey for science funding in the US, either:

    A Budget Too Small (a ScienceNOW report on hefty cuts in the science part of the budget congress passed in late December)

    NASA comes off looking not too bad in this report, but when you look at how money has been reallocated within NASA in the past several years, the news is actually pretty dismal, as the pressures that have acted to reduce funding for science within NASA will likely be exacerbated by the budget changes. If you read recent NRC reports on the state of the various NASA science programs, the picture is pretty bleak. See, for example:

    An Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs

    Review of Goals and Plans for NASA’s Space and Earth Sciences

    A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Astrophysics Program

    (Note that NRC provides executive summaries of these reports, if you are interested in the findings but not the whole argument.)

    There are several other reports on specific NASA programs that are also disturbing. Even planetary science, which looks on the face of things to be doing well, has seen little investment in planning for future science missions, so the future prospects even of that high-profile progam are disappointing.

    These reports are all somewhat ironic following the Metcalfe article on the PhD production/employment rate that Hyunsook pointed us to.

    A couple months ago (before these recent setbacks), a college friend wrote me for advice for his son, who is just entering college and is very interested in astronomy. While I did give him some advice on astronomy programs, my strongest suggestion was that he major in physics instead of astronomy, to give him more options in what I see as a dwindling “market” for astronomers. This may be Metcalfe’s hypothesized self-regulation of astronomy PhDs in action! However, the situation for physics isn’t exactly looking pretty, either. It’s probably not as bad as in biology, though!

    Happy New Year, Science (not!),

    01-02-2008, 7:26 pm
  2. hlee:

    I’m not sure if it’s wise to say the following but I always have my advice for young people who wish to study science. Study mathematics. Physics is also good but somehow many follow a narrow alley of material science. On the other hand, mathematics could offer more diverse choices during college years including physics, statistics, and economics, which are basics to other fields. The senior statistics course that I taught at PSU was cross offered for mathematics students among many were studying actuarial science, which seems very popular nowadays, or the other double major. Depending on demands in the society and those financial supports from the outside, I saw people migrate from mathematics to computer science, statistics, physics (astrophysics), economics, finance, biology (bioinformatics), engineering, and social sciences all of which demand mathematical thinking.

    Now I become curious about ASTROBIOLOGY(?), exploration of biological conditions in the universe. Could it fill the budget deficiency? To my understanding, as long as it’s related to human life, there’s no shortage.

    01-03-2008, 1:45 pm
  3. vlk:

    Astrobiology, unfortunately, is vaporware.

    Good point about mathematics. Never hurts to know math. But the way it is taught is usually not very practical, and I have generally found that the best people to learn math from are physicists. Hence: Physics.

    01-03-2008, 5:34 pm
  4. TomLoredo:

    Astrobiology may currently be vaporware, but NASA just announced (1/8/08) some significant new investment in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). There was an NSPIRES email announcement about it this week; more info is at NAI. The amount of money is significant, but still, I’m with Vinay on this; it’s too volatile a discipline to recommend to students, unless they have a true passion for it.

    On the other hand, I agree with Hyunsook that some physics subdisciplines (e.g., materials science) are likely oversubscribed at this point. Applied math may be a good alternative, as she suggests. I think physicists are appealing hires in a number of non-physics areas because of their combination of quantitative skills and modelling skills (i.e., having a good intuition for “mathematizing” things in the real world, including knowing when to give up on “mathematical rigor”). Some applied math programs may offer that “magic” combination.

    What I see as the growth areas in physics are biophysics and the physics of complex systems (e.g., granular systems, emergent behavior, etc.). And many of the outstanding problems in these fields require solid statistics or probability skills.

    01-09-2008, 6:54 pm
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