Monday, 14 December 2009

Interesting days ahead

It can't have escaped many people's attention that there is a serious worldwide financial crisis going on.  There have been innumerable reports in the news about forthcoming cuts, even before the recent pre-budget report.

It would be nice to try to place the financial responsibility of recovering from the crisis on the banking sector, which was largely responsible for the problems, but the time for that is long past.  They have been bailed out and the City shown up as not the contributor to tax revenue it has liked to claim but a drain of historic proportions.   This leaves the rest of the economy to figure out how to keep going.  Whole countries are at peril of defaulting; Iceland a few months ago, and Greece in the news today.

Now it's the task of the rest of the UK economy to recover from the debts we've incurred.  Science funding will take its part alongside everything else, as it must.  I'm a nuclear physicist (hence the purpose of this blog) and nuclear physics will no-doubt be part of the cuts, of course.  There is a fear in the nuclear physics community that (university) nuclear physics may be cut from the budget outright.  A recent story in the Guardian quoting my colleague Jim Al-Khalili highlights some of the issues.  You might well expect me, as a nuclear physicist, to say that funding in academic nuclear physics should be increased, rather than cut, because my job depends on it.  In truth, my job doesn't - at least I hope the University of Surrey would give me support and a little time to make headway into other research areas - or if not, the skills that working in nuclear physics have given me would make me pretty employable.  But the UK funding of Nuclear Physics is embarrassingly small by the standards of competitor countries, yet it was just judged in an independent review as high quality despite at a scale below OECD norms. It really is at such a low level that to cut it a bit is to essentially get rid of it.  It may be that we can do without it, despite having plans to increase nuclear power to counter global warming.  We can always buy the expertise in from elsewhere if we think that's right for the UK, but I can't really believe that cutting science that we'll then have to buy from outside can be cost-effective.  I rather fear we'll find out pretty soon.

Expect announcements in the next few days.