Says the Graun. If you agree you can sign the petition. The issue is that “On June 7th 2012, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that there is a strong strategic case for the merger of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to take place, creating a new Centre encompassing polar and marine science”. As it says that was June, so this is old news (ah, but the consultation only started in 11 Sep 2012), but has suddenly blown up. Back in March JEB had news of cuts at NOC.

Note: I used to work there, but left at the end of 2007… gosh, nearly 5 years ago. So I have some sympathy for them. But then again, I left :-).

If you’re feeling brave, you should read the 9 pages of the consultation document. Some of it seems to be honest; other bits seem to be cunningly worded mgt/pol speak; I’m not sure I’m able to read it all correctly. But anyway: the reason for all this is Money, of course [*].

One thing I find rather revealing is that the document keeps saying “ocean and polar science”, again and again. Which is because there isn’t really all that much in common between the two.

How is this going to save money? That isn’t quite clear: the costs of relocation and /or of redundancy of staff depend on the detail of plans which are still to be developed, but as the proposals envisage maintaining all three current UK sites, these are not expected to be significant. I don’t know how to reconcile that with In terms of on-going savings post transition, savings arising from merging management structures, from merging some functions and from the more coherent and efficient planning of large scale infrastructure are to be expected. BAS and NOC both run ships, and perhaps there is some saving to be made there. But not much; we (oops, I mean BAS) already hire theirs out for the summer.

I was going to touch on the political aspects of this, but fortunately John Dudeney (long-ex-deputy director; I didn’t get on with him well) has done this for me:

Britain is pre-eminent in Antarctic affairs, both in science and in policy leadership. HMG’s long term objectives for an influential place in the international governance of Antarctica based on a world beating scientific programme which underpins the policy, have been outstandingly well served by BAS and the Polar Regions Unit of the FCO. Any proposal for a change in the status of BAS must be judged by whether it will maintain (and even enhance) this success, and there must be measurable indicators of success that demonstrate this is the case. Talk of scientific synergies between polar and ocean science is misleading unless this requirement of government is maintained, because the imperative for British presence in Antarctica at the current scale is political and territorial, and not scientific even though the science is of first quality.

Um. And he is saying that in defence of BAS. You see the problem, of course.

[*] I’ve read in the comments a few people saying “aha, don’t like the message, shut down the science, eh eh?” I don’t believe that.

Refs

* Cuts threat to UK Antarctic research on climate change Graun/Obs: Merging the British Antarctic Survey with the National Oceanography Centre will harm climate research, say scientists. Nice quote from Jon: “The British Antarctic Survey is almost synonymous with the Antarctic ozone hole. Losing it would create a comparable hole in British science.”
* Stupid times require stupid solutions, says Romney
* Decision looms on future for British polar research BBC. Oct 5th
* Gore wades into British Antarctic row
* British Antarctic Survey saved as merger plan is scuppered – um, maybe

Comments

  1. #1 J Bowers
    2012/09/30

    William — “One thing I find rather revealing is that the document keeps saying “ocean and polar science”, again and again. Which is because there isn’t really all that much in common between the two.”

    Arctic oil? Page 4 (21) talks about Regional Innovation Clusters.

    Harvard: Clusters and Cluster Development
    “Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region. Clusters arise because they increase the productivity with which companies can compete. The development and upgrading of clusters is an important agenda for governments, companies, and other institutions. Cluster development initiatives are an important new direction in economic policy, building on earlier efforts in macroeconomic stabilization, privatization, market opening, and reducing the costs of doing business.”

    Criticism of such at the WP – Industry clusters: The modern-day snake oil

    And sorry if I see bad intent with everything this govt does, but I really do.

  2. #2 deconvoluter
    2012/09/30

    It is always dangerous to assume the first step in a certain direction will be the end of the journey. Look what has followed the introduction of just a few Academies.

    The final outcome of this change may depend on who wins the next election. If the unpopularity of the LibDems continues, it will rule out another hung Parliament, so that a limited change now could facilitate a more extreme policy later. I should be interested if anyone has direct experience of the move in 1990 of the Plant Breeding Institute from Trumpington to Norwich.. and the privatisation of the original site.

  3. #3 David B. Benson
    2012/09/30

    Sorry, but I don’t see the problem.

  4. #4 James Annan
    On holiday
    2012/10/01

    It seems that Ed Hill’s megalomania knows no bounds.

    (walks away whistling innocently)

    [Who is this “Ed Hill”? I never knew him -W]

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    2012/10/01

    Whole lotta readjustin’ goin’ on.
    1) Meit ice
    2) Send geologists
    3) Discover ????
    4) $$PROFIT$$

    Eos, Vol. 93, No. 38, 18 September 2012
    NSF Realignment Plan Includes Moving Polar Office Into Geosciences Directorate

    “… Under the realignment, which would begin 1 October, the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) would become a division within the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) …. the intention of the reorganization is to “position the Foundation to be more effective in responding to the important global scale issues that we share.”…
    … Cecilia Bitz, chair of the Advisory Com- mittee for Polar Programs—a federal advi- sory committee that is also referred to as the OPP Advisory Committee (OAC)—said ….
    … the realignment decision had “no input from the OAC.” She told Eos that “the OPP leadership was given little time to offer input, during which time they made strong arguments, also drawing from the [OPP] vision document, to demonstrate how OPP has operated successfully as its own unit within NSF. I heard the news of OPP’s move back into [GEO] less than 24 hours before the press release” that NSF issued on 7 September.

    Stupid ice. It was always just in the way anyhow.

  6. #6 J Bowers
    2012/10/01

    This Ed Hill?

  7. #7 J Bowers
    2012/10/01

    If David Willetts “wants a 10% cut in NERC expenditure and a 45% reduction in its capital spending by 2015″ (45%????!), why not just streamline and force cooperation between different agencies on the use of ships, which must be one of the biggest expenditures. Perhaps create an “Scientific Maritime Support Agency”, which would allow for the existing two agencies (even more?) to reduce expenditure and personnel time, which would go toward satisfying budgetary requirements? I’d imagine it’s even possible that could be undertaken by the MoD who are no strangers to science as they aren’t short of maritime experience and resources, and are owners of the Met Office, a chunk of the annual dividends from which could be allocated towards this. The MoD also has a forward planning interest in supporting polar and oceanic research, given the US Navy’s projections of potential conflict with the opening of Arctic resources.

  8. #8 J Bowers
    2012/10/01

    In fact, there’s already plenty of precedent on collaboration, and discussion of more, with the Royal Navy, which Ed Hill’s even been involved in.

    INVESTIGATING THE OCEANS INQUIRY (PDF from p.277)

  9. #9 J Bowers
    2012/10/01

    Ah, “synergy”.

    Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping Limited (OHM)
    “A technology spin-out company from the University of Southampton, Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping Ltd (OHM) is a provider of remote electromagnetic sensing services designed to detect the presence of offshore oil and gas.”

    Which acquired Rock Solid Images. The RSI Management team came from ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Haliburton, BP, Elf…

    [I should probably have been cynical about the commercial exploitation stuff in the post; never mind, I’ll do it here.

    The govt is always keen on this stuff. And it never works (just about). Because… well, the scientists don’t care, because they don’t get any of the dosh if it works, and because they became scientists to get away from this stuff in the first place. if they wanted the cut and thrust of the commercial world, and all the pain of being a start-up, they’d do it directly, not via the got.

    So lots of play-acting goes on, and pointless distortion, and so on -W]

  10. #10 J Bowers
    2012/10/01
  11. […] 2012/09/30: Stoat: Axing the British Antarctic Survey would mean the end of Scott’s legacy? […]

  12. #12 J Bowers
    2012/10/14

    A-ha.

    Environmental science agencies told to help oil firms drilling in polar regions

    “Natural Environment Research Council says science agencies should help ‘de-risk’ investment by UK oil companies”

    [It doesn’t really mean very much. They are trying to be “relevant”, as I think I said in the post, but its mostly window dressing -W]

  13. #13 J Bowers
    2012/10/26

    Now NERC seem to be trying to wriggle out of Science and Technology Committee scrutiny of the changes by shifting their timetable, but the elected ones are having none of it. Classic.

    [Now that is rather interesting -W]

  14. #14 Stoat
    2012/10/31

    […] stuff: I reported before that Axing the British Antarctic Survey would mean the end of Scott’s legacy?, but it looks like MPs say […]

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