back to article Government set to 'destroy' UK radio astronomy

The Government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is proposing to axe the annual £2.5m public funding for "e-Merlin" - an upgrade to the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network between the UK's seven radio telescopes, the Times reports. The proposal is part of a controversial plan to plug an £80m …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    It never ends!

    This Government have completely no idea about what a knowledge economy means, they do however understand that state benefits should be increased to keep pace with the rising cost of addidas tracksuits, nike trainers and bureburry baseball caps aka how to buy votes from the welfare dependant.

  2. Slaine

    value for money

    "Figures released by the National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog, put the current price of a single Eurofighter, known as Typhoon in the RAF, at £66.7 million."

    quote from

  3. Anonymous Coward

    At least we have the olympics - woohoo!

    We're spending billions on the security of the olympics, billions on dodgy wars we didn't want and millions on the "oh so deserving" MP's expenses. Oh I'm so proud to be paying my taxes!

  4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    The big question is...

    ...will the lights go off because of GB's cretinous energy policy or will they be switched off by the last person who knows how to change a light bulb, just before they leave the country?

  5. Avi

    I'm finding it incredibly difficult to feign surprise....

    So while on the one hand the government are trying to see just how much money can be wasted convincing kids who don't want to go to uni that they _need_ a degree, they're deciding that they can't afford to run the few places that actually want these graduates?

  6. Michael
    Gates Halo

    £80 million pounds...

    We could ask bill for a donation, but maybe Warren Buffet would be a better choice?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Alternative Investments

    They are spending the money saved to investigate a new, up and coming technology called a 'telescreen'. Hopefully, if all goes to plan, every house in the UK will have one by 2010.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Loss of science for £80m overall ?

    Loss of science for £80m overall and this project for just £2.5 million? Its an outrage. Especially when they spend so much on other projects (like the 2012 LONDON olympics, ID cards, military (incl. wars), IT projects)

    They were on the Radio 4 this morning stating that they have used public mone to upgrade the telescopes yet it'll be switched off before the benefits come through.... (sigh).

    Science expands frontiers but unfortunately gets a bad press. It just isn't spinnable unlike the olympics.

    Paris as she's quite clearly in control of government funding....

  9. Richard Boyce
    Thumb Down

    Are they playing poker?

    Is this a bluff? They must realise that laymen regard Jodrell Bank as something of a national icon, and hence MPs will take an interest in averting closure. Are they saying to government, give us more funds or we'll make the cuts that will cause you the most damage? If so, it's a dangerous game.

    Of course, this all helps the American headhunters, looking for able people. The more stick applied by HMG, the less carrot they need to offer.

  10. micheal
    Dead Vulture

    Oh well, at least they havent considered

    offshoring it to India,

    Most of the UK top boffins work privately now so the few that do remain will just do the same.

    Sad when you cant afford to fund research but have plenty spare cash for a third world country when they need it, maybe if the Astronomy Community had oil reserves the Gov would be much nicer with funding?

    Britain used to be in the top 5 international scientific advancement countries....nearer 500th now i assume since Nu-Labor decided the benefit class were more important than the working one...why are us londoners paying for an Olympics that is supposed to benefit "The Nation"? why dont they contribute? still waiting to see how much of the £8billion cost of the dome was recouped...same Labour as the '70's, throw money at it until it dies or starve it to death and hope no one notices

    R.I.P. the UK scientific industry, the UK Car industry, the UK Textile industry etc etc

  11. Tim

    Social sciences graduates in Cabinet

    They're getting their revenge for all the "sociology degrees: take one here" graffiti above the bog rolls they had to endure as undergraduates. Never mind the jocks and the geeks, these days only the mediocre have any hope.

  12. Craig McNeil
    Thumb Down

    It begs the question...

    All these cost cutting measures across everything the government has its finger in. Why? Where is all the money going? That's what I want to know!

  13. Hedley Phillips

    Just to repeat what has already been said

    Our government can afford to pay for two wars nobody wanted but can't afford £2.5m for education, science and learning, prisons, schools or hospitals.

    God help us.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    they wont give 80 million quid to science but will piss billions up the wall on "security" and wars.

    I love this place - can't wait to leave, I'll be sure to change the light bulb when I go.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Sadly not suprised

    Labour killed off our space program years ago, now killing this.

    Make kids go to Uni so that once they come out the other end they can retrain as a plumber.

    And they wonder why the brain drain continues in this country

  16. Justin


    The UK has always be known for its scienfic acheivments, and how it performed on shoe string budgets. To start shortening it even more is out of this world, instead of funding some million pound schemes in india or let the welfare system costings rise, why not invest in the UK more.

    Wouldn't be too surprised if another foreign benefactor steps in and embrasses this country even more.

  17. Dominic Kua

    Here's an idea

    Everyone hates politcal broadcasts, right? So why not see if one of the parties wants to donate their election advertising budget to keeping one of the few branches of science we've actually got facilities for, running?

    I'd vote for a party who did that.

    The alien, because they control the country and we were getting too close.

  18. Nomen Publicus

    Two faced bastard government

    I suggest that the radio astronomers immediately set up a very dodgy bank and go bust. Within minutes the government will be handing over billions.

    Alien 'cus now we won't see them coming.

  19. Dunstan Vavasour

    I could weep

    We can all point to our favourite examples of gummint waste - and as Reg readers we see plenty of examples of failed IT projects - but more than the funding shortfall, this highlights the low esteem in which excellence and achievement are held.

    As Avi has pointed out above, continually expanding tertiary education (I won't grace it with the title Higher Education) while undermining the excellence which should underpin it beggars belief.

    Oh, and Early Day Motions are invariably a waste of time.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    El reg and BBC News forums

    I read the comments on El Reg and BBC News almost every day. The common message from both forums is that UK,gov has failed, Labour is a joke, taxpayers money are being wasted... etc etc.

    Everyone reckons its time to get rid of the Government and vote someone else in, and that they can't believe it got this bad.

    Well they got in three times!!!! Someone voted for 'em... so someones lying!!!!

    I also think that we should continue to fund science projects like this, as we are falling behind in just about everything.

    We can raise the cash by scrapping the olympics and Crossrail, and by increasing the lease costs on places like Deigo Garcia and the Ascension Islands to the Americans. You want a war on Terror? Well the airbase rent just went up by £8m...

  21. gareth


    "So while on the one hand the government are trying to see just how much money can be wasted convincing kids who don't want to go to uni that they _need_ a degree, they're deciding that they can't afford to run the few places that actually want these graduates?"

    no these placed don't want history, economics, or psycology graduates

  22. Chris Miller

    Call my bluff

    This is from chapter one of Sir Humphrey's manual on how to defeat govt cuts. Whenever the RAF are asked to reduce costs, they conduct a 'study' and come back with a proposal to scrap the Red Arrows - cue blanching minister as he considers the effect of eliminating a high-profile, world-leading, popular element of the service and the cuts are quietly redirected.

    I suspect this is the same ploy by the STFC - pick on the most high-profile (to the public) part of astronomy rather than eliminating a few departments in unis that no-one's ever heard of. The danger is that with our arrogant, out-of-touch and scientifically-illiterate government, their bluff may well be called :(

    Or, of course, we could simply delay the start of the 2012 Olympics by 15 minutes, which would generate enough interest savings to cover this cost completely.

  23. Name

    Where does it go?

    Isn't 80million coincidentally the exact same amount it's going to cost to have new Northern Rock stationary printed on Government headed notepaper?

    Naturally Capita will be involved in the process.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Cutback the treasury

    £80m is a fraction of a crumb in government terms. The cut needs to be reversed, and quickly. Bailing out a failing bank to the tune of £50-100bn is much less important or valuable.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the money going?

    Iraq, Afghanistan, tax loopholes for non-doms, bungs for BAe...

  26. Chris Cheale


    Maybe we should start funding terrorists - on provision that we get a say on the targets? No. 10 Downing Street for starters - then we could start the FoI requests to find out where the rest of the buggers live?

  27. Spleen

    Here's an idea

    Offer to modify the telescope so it can point downwards and let the government use it to monitor potential terrorist and anti-social behaviour troublespots (i.e. Shami Chakrabarti's house) for a certain number of hours in the day. See how quickly the millions rush in then.

  28. simon

    complain to your MP

    goto and fire off a 5 min email.

  29. Senor Beavis

    Is anyone else...

    ...misreading STFC as STFU? I am gloriously offended every time an article about them appears on the Reg

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    the government have to find some way to pay for bringing freedom and democracy to a long suffering world.

    Paris because she has more sense and integrity than this bunch of comedians.

    Anonyous because the terror databases are getting their tenticles everywhere now.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I've said it before and I'll say it again:

    This is what happens when you have a bunch of PPE graduates running your country. I mean really, look at the house of commons, can anyone name an MP who had a career in something science/tech based before they went into the house? (And I don't mean as an accountant for a sci/tech firm...)

  32. Anonymous Coward

    i spy...

    this is especially worrying, given that - as if by some fabric blackhole - the aging patrick moore is gradually being swallowed up by his ever-rising trouser waistband [last observed somewhere in the region of his armpits]. with both 'pazza mozza' *and* jodrell bank on the way out, the entire public face of astronomy in britain will be that bloke with the bubble perm out of queen.


    mine's the one with the lightbulb in the pocket!

  33. Mike Richards Silver badge

    And a couple of weeks ago...

    ...the government was getting all warm and gooey at the thought of sending a Brit into space - possibly the quickest way to flush money down the toilet ever invented.

  34. paulc
    Black Helicopters

    Obviously only Tory votes affected here...

    no Labour marginal seat in danger of being lost in this constituency...

    Funny how they'll blow millions and even billions propping up failing businesses in areas where the Tories could steal some seats...

  35. bothwell

    @AC, it never ends!

    "the rising cost of addidas tracksuits, nike trainers and bureburry baseball caps aka how to buy votes from the welfare dependant"

    Yes, the UK chav population is well known for its high turn-out at the polls.

    Wait, what?

  36. Waldo
    Gates Horns

    Whers the money going.... er, into evaluating ways to save money silly!


    Being a cynical sorta guy is somewhat of a burden ....

    However, as a science graduate and interested in all things science, new, exciting, interesting.... means I kinda question a bit.

    So... What is the government spending all the saved money on. Where ever you look in the UK today the Government seems to be saying... "cost savings", "budget reductions" "not economic to continue" or my favourite " not in the broader public interest"..

    So where's the money going?... silly me, Iraq, Government IT projects, security "improvements" eg ID cards, and lets not forget the best, M.P. expenses claims for items up to £ 200.

    Outlook NOT good. - We continually dump science AFTER we have proved its a worthwhile project and could reap a benefit from it... So thanks, at least one or two Anonymous Cowards think on similar lines...... :-))

  37. Anonymous Coward


    Someone should buy up all these research facilities that are being closed, and then just as the STFC are pattign themseleves on the back, they should then ban any organisations or people connected to the STFC from using the facilities or being part of the research. It would be entertaining (of course people using them already should be able to see out thier projects before being invited to renounce the STFC as a bunch of bean counting charletens and continue with new projects)

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    uk science...

    i'm in uk academia, and we were recently sent this...

    it's what the STFC values as its high and low priority items for scientific research.

    i'm going to ignore the fact that £80M is a small amount for the gov to bail out considering Northern Rock etc, just take a look at what they value.

    for those who want a summary, the 'Advanced LIGO' is high priority

    whereas the LSF, or 'Lasers for Science Facility' is Low Priority (basically means it's canned).

    LIGO is looking for gravitational waves, which scientifically are an unproven theory, and so esoteric that they border on useless even if they are found.

    LSF is the only facility in the UK giving any researcher access to high quality Lasers for plasma research, biological research (confocal etc.), optical tweezers.... the list goes on.

    its not just radio astronomy that's getting destroyed, it's just about anything of tangible scientific value.

    but if you research black holes or create a business plan that buys bad debt, you'll have money thrown your way whether you're right or wrong.

    Anonymous, because guess who pays my wages.

  39. Graham Bartlett

    @Nomen Publicus

    Only if the people banking there are white, and preferably rich.

    Lloyds gets a bail-out for the upper-crust. Northern Rock - that's a lot of folk who might vote the other way at the next election. But BCCI - it's only Muslims investing there and none of them vote, so no worries about needing to bail them out.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "can anyone name an MP who had a career in something science/tech based before they went into the house?"

    Margaret Thatcher.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @i spy

    But the bubble permed bloke from queen is a CELEBRITY.

    So he'll have some sort of cred with the chavs.

    One Science Policy! Sorted!.

    Time for a cuppa.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Where does it go?

    This government has had more money in reserve and through extortionate taxation than every previous UK government..... just where does this money go?

  43. RW
    Paris Hilton

    Sad but true to form

    Sitting here in Canada and reading the headlines from Britain, I can only shake my head. What a bunch of muppets you guys have in government!

    Sometimes it seems like Those In Charge don't understand that there's a wide gulf between true expertise and what one learns from a quick scan of the latest "For Dummies" book. Unfortunately, "they" probably do understand the difference, but intellectual elitism (i.e. brains) is one of the political errors that must be stamped out; otherwise, how will the New British Man arise from the ashes? (Cue the Bolsheviks and their New Soviet Man. Precisely same kind of thinking as far as I can tell.)

    Maybe what British universities should do is simply shut down their sociology departments and thereby shut off the flow of idiots into public life. Any takers?

    What's going to happen to Britain when everyone's on the dole and no one is actually working?

    Paris because (a) I love using the Paris icon and thinking up spurious excuses to do so and (b) she's got more gumption in her little finger than all of NuLabour's mandarins have in their collective braincases.

  44. Anonymous Coward

    from reading Anonymous Coward's pdf...

    "However, e-Merlin has been delayed

    substantially from the original start-date of 2006 that was assumed when

    PPARC made a commitment to support its operations, and early 2009 is now

    about the time when e-Merlin will be starting surveys."

    So the withdrawal of funding is just a punishment for delivering late?

  45. Luther Blissett


    > "what British universities should do is simply shut down their sociology departments"

    In which case which "true expert" will be able to help us distinguish the New British Man from the old one, or the imposter, or the muppet put up by the government and featured heavily on the BBC, etc? Or is it just a matter of common sense, like radio astronomy seems now to have become.

  46. Slaine
    Gates Horns

    looking on the bright side

    we still have absolutely no trouble finding the odd million quid to save a bunch of newts.

    (Oh - and that's sarcasm - from one science graduate to another)

  47. Dan
    Thumb Down

    War, Rock and Sebastian Coe

    Realistically, this is the pinch of 2 continuing wars (countless billions), nationalising Northern Rock (18bn), paying for the Olympics (3-5bn) and a debt of over 40% GDP.

    Astronomy is the first easy target for pen pushers who have no idea (or interest) of what facilities like Jodrell Bank have achieved.

    Be prepared for more cuts across more industries as the mire continues... the recession starts here - blame Tony.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: LSF

    How are gravitation waves an unproven theory?! They are predicted by General Relativity which has passed many experimental tests so it is good to make further tests of such a theory.

    And what use is GR? Well how do you think GPS satellites make the calculations to account for gravitational time dilation which if they did not account for GPS would not work?

  49. Mike Richards Silver badge


    Depressingly, John Denham, the minister in charge of science funding at DIUS, is a chemist by training.

    The rest of his dog's-dinner department seem to be the usual bunch of third-rate lawyers and straight-out-of-university political science graduates, who'd get more of a kick out of an episode of 'Money Box' than they would out of 'Cosmos'.

    Denham's building quite a legacy isn't he? Not content with effectively gutting the Open University, he's about to shut down British science.

  50. John Munyard


    How ironic that our Government is prepared to pay the £10million cost of RIchard Branson's failed bid for Northern Rock, and yet at the same time is butchering science funding in this way.

    A plague on New Labour's ignorant, uninspirational, second rate house.

  51. john hennessy

    You can't avoid the inevitable

    and it is inevitable that science in the UK will grind to a halt unless it can generate money of its own accord. The problem is that there are very few people who actually understadn science AND money. People like Newton did!

    Those who are pursuing a scientific education - have fun, but also learn some Mandarin AND just accept there is logic in accounting (just not as we know it Jim)

  52. Stewart Haywood

    Don't they know....

    That ET is a terrorist and we need all the radio telescopes we can get our hands on to keep track of his multiple mobiles?

  53. Richard


    "Well they got in three times!!!! Someone voted for 'em... so someones lying!!!!"

    In the 2005 General Election, nationally only something like 22% of the eligible elctorate voted for Labour. So it's the unrepresented 78% who are complaining on the various forums you mention.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    The Government need the money to fund the ID card project!

  55. Anonymous Coward

    @john hennessy

    The problem is that most money making scientific endeavors stand on the shoulders of those scientists who actually do "Base Science". "Base Science" is not money making with in itself, so most "economically astute" people discount it. With out it there is no Money Making Science.

    The whole idea of science paying its own way is a fallacy, Science is the way to get the building blocks of innovation. Neglect it and you can wave innovation goodbye.

    Governments are supposed to encourage innovation to enable growth of the nation both economically and culturally.... One of the main ways they do this is in building the knowledge.levels of the nation. At a personal level with schools, colleges and universities and at a national level with the support and funding of scientific endeavors.

    Here in Australia, there has been a checkered history with our National scientific institution the CSIRO. One of the things I have seen the CSIRO do in the past at a very succsessful level is work in the "Base" sciences. A team here came up with the gene shears and have done ground breaking work in other fields. But once again a lot of the work is on science with no integral economic value,

    But with out that research being done, money making exercises like that between Monsanto and the CSIRO, would not have happened.

    So supporting only the science that can make money will eventually lead the nation into stagnation and eventually into economic failure.


  56. Anonymous Coward

    Jodrell Bank

    I went to Jodrell Bank for the first time last year. We got shown around by some ultra-nerdy Uni Student types. It was interesting, the Uni guys/gals were all but drooling at the prospect of e-Merlin. I guess they will have to go back to their crystal radio sets now.

  57. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Time and Science wait for no dumb bag man. They Generate their own Wealth for Honourable Friends.

    "and it is inevitable that science in the UK will grind to a halt unless it can generate money of its own accord. The problem is that there are very few people who actually understadn science AND money. People like Newton did!

    Those who are pursuing a scientific education - have fun, but also learn some Mandarin AND just accept there is logic in accounting (just not as we know it Jim) " ..... By john hennessy Posted Thursday 6th March 2008 19:24 GMT

    How very true, john hennessy, and whenever there is no SMARTer Vision in the UK, any who have SMARTer Vision to Sell will Invite Foreign Sovereign Funds to Invest/Rest/Address their Foreign Currency Surplus to ITs AIResearch and dDevelopment thus giving them Inalienable Rights to ITs Use and Intellectual Property Claim.

  58. Dave

    @Anonymous Coward

    could you please show me evidence of gravitational waves then?

    being an ex-astrophysicist i know about the bullshit surrounding most 'astronomy research', and i know a nobel prize was given for 'proving' the theory of grav. waves, but that doesn't change the fact that it's mostly mathematical masturbation, the majority of which is fallacious.

    if you really have an open mind read the original papers again (Schwarzchild, 1916 for example) and compare Schwarzchild's solution with some of the rubbish that's published now. Schwarzchild's original (correct) solution does not allow for the existence of black holes.

    consider this with the fact that none of the grav. wave detectors have seen what they're looking for, and you'll realise why i refer to myself as an ex-astrophysicist.

    ...and Tux, because no one ever picks him.

  59. Anonymous Coward

    I may be cynical, but.....

    Call me a cynic, but £2.5m sounds like a very small figure to cover the operation of a large facility like Jodrell Bank. Taking into account the averaged maintenance cost (I assume that from time to time they need to physically inspect and repair the dish) I would have been comfortable with a number at least a magnitude greater.

  60. Anonymous Coward

    Schwarzchild is so yesterday.

    "if you really have an open mind read the original papers again (Schwarzchild, 1916 for example) and compare Schwarzchild's solution with some of the rubbish that's published now. Schwarzchild's original (correct) solution does not allow for the existence of black holes."

    And yet we have incontrovertable proof of black holes. How do you explain that away? All the funky maths in the world can't replace observation, as an ex-scientist you of all people should know that. So yeah close down Jodrell Bank and return us astronomers to the dark ages of funky math. Nice one.

  61. Gary


    DO NOT pay any more to Galileo, stop ALL free loading "asylum seekers" and other such drags on the rations, and sack this government! We will not only get radio astronomy back on track, but probably be on Mars in about two or three years! (To think our first radio telescope used a Gernan WW"2Wurzburg radar dish as an antenna!) Gary

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