Art of science management

May 22, 2008

The greatest damage to the community's trust in the Science and Technology Facilities Council has been self-inflicted. Its embattled chief executive's public denial of the scale of the cuts and his evidence to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee led MPs to call for "substantial and urgent changes" to "restore confidence".

"Lamentable communications" highlighted by the MPs' report and the lack of specialist advisory panels could be attributed to the youth of the STFC. But the hasty withdrawal from long-term international projects without proper consultation was inexcusable, since a flat-cash settlement had necessarily formed the basis for STFC's forward-planning assumptions. As Keith Mason knows only too well, "it is a mistake to think that excellent scientists will automatically make good managers" ("Blue skies and sterling support", 24 April).

Of course, Mason would not have been put under such intense scrutiny had the Treasury's settlement been more generous. Partial responsibility for the physics funding crisis rests with Government, regardless of any disputed legacy issues. Physicists now await the Government's response to the MPs' recommendations after such unwelcome and unnecessary distractions.

Paul Crowther, University of Sheffield.

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