2008-03-06

Jodrell Bank is faced with closure?

Even more bad news under the save astronomy banner: The Times is running a story today suggesting that the famous telescope at Jodrell Bank faces closure.

I'd gathered from the list of possible cuts on the Save Astronomy website that Merlin was under threat but I hadn't even considered the idea that this might mean that the Lovell Telescope itself would be under threat.

This whole STFC nonsense was depressing to start with, it's almost impossible for me to find the right word to describe my mood now.

Is this it? Has this country given up on physics and astronomy? Has this government now decided that it's really not worth the time or money? I disagree. I'd try and say why I disagree but there's little point when Nigel Hawkes at The Times has done a far better job:

Do any of these discoveries matter? To most people their significance is as remote as the objects they describe. But astronomy is not meant to be useful. It is not a science designed to give us new products or better devices, but to help us to place ourselves in space and time. The understanding of the cosmos begun by the Greek astronomers and carried on by Kepler and Newton has fallen in this generation to astronomers who use radio and X-rays and satellites to deepen our knowledge.
As a parent I can't help but wonder what the trickle-down effect of all of this is. If this carries on it has to have a negative effect on the understanding and teaching of science in our schools. If we, as a country, fail to encourage and support physicists and astronomers who will be around to do the outreach? Who will be around to inspire parents and children alike? Is my son facing a future where only the mundane is taught, where only those things that help him become a good little worker and consumer matter? Will I be left with more of what I experienced yesterday when the main thing he could tell me about his day at school was that he'd been taught a first century zombie story, complete with all the gory details, as if it were fact and as if it were important?

I worry for people like Stuart and Megan. These two (to pick two examples who are associated with Jodrell Bank) people have, one way or another, been an inspiration and have provided lots of encouragement to me personally, even if they didn't know they were doing it. Just the simple fact of knowing that professionals were reading my silly little blog, and were evening linking to it, gave me more confidence to natter on about my small interest in the subject. That in turn encouraged me to try and get more involved in promoting a popular interest in astronomy (to the point that I help out where and when I can with the Society for Popular Astronomy).

I can only see one positive in this news of possible closure. Us Brits like our icons. You don't mess with our icons. You get rid of a British icon at your peril. Jodrell Bank is one such icon. I can only hope that any suggestion of closing Jodrell Bank is akin to a suggestion that funding should stop for the Red Arrows.

Please, somebody tell me this isn't happening. Please, somebody tell me I don't really live in such a short-sighted country.

Please?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

As an Open University Bsc student (if the government doesn't cut my funding) and Mother of a 13 year old "Natural Scientist" (his teacher's words) This government's attitude to science in general is deeply depressing .

martin said...

As school teachers who have both used the facilities at Jodrell Bank to interest our pupils in Astronomy and Physics, we are disgusted that once again British Government policies are shortsighted. Doesn't the government realise that we need the facilities at Jodrell Bank to enable us to compete with the rest of the world in research and development. Our son, a sound engineer with a good degree has emigrated to the US because the opportunities over there are greater than here. How short sighted!
Two disgusted teachers

Anonymous said...

We need to cut funding because we need money. What those huge satellite dishes are doing anyway, well, we have cable nowadays.

No, we need money to fight angry people from a desert who believe in absurd ancient stories. And we need money to promote different views in science class, that there are more theories than evolution. And of course, to tell children ancient stories (that are absolutely true according to well funded men in robes who don't have to pay taxes).

Seriously, it's scary. In the eighties it looked like enlightenment won. Science and technology would bring relief, understanding and common sense to everyone, peace. Now it looks as if some new medieval times are hopping over the horizon. Supported by ignorance.

Anonymous said...

I have just written to both The Minister of State for Science and Innovation AND The Shadow Minister for Science to protest the proposed cuts. I we HAVE to fight this!

Anonymous said...

I am not a scientist but this news is deeply shocking. Jodrell Bank is on of he things that makes us stand out. It is a fantastic place and part of our country's heritage of discovery. I remember my first trip there from Infant School in 1968!
New Labour - very shocking...
Julia
Manchester