Examination of Witnesses (Questions 259
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2008
Good morning, everyone. May I welcome our witnesses to our final
session on investigating the science budget allocations for the
next comprehensive spending review. We have two panels this morning.
We need to be very quick because we know that Swapan has to be
on a flight to warm parts very shortly and we are very grateful
for your time. I wonder if I could ask you both to introduce yourselves
and to say where you are from this morning, starting with you,
Professor Holdaway: Good morning,
Chairman. I am Richard Holdaway. I am Director of Space Science
and Technology at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and here wearing
the hat of Head of the Department. I chair the British National
Space Centre Advisory Council. I have an overview of parts of
the community and their involvement in the CSR outcome.
Professor Chattopadhyay: Good
morning. I am Swapan Chattopadhyay. I am the Director of the Cockcroft
Institute and hold the Sir John Cockroft Chair of Physics at the
Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster.
The STFC Delivery Plan was written over a period of time in consultation
with the advisory committees which were set up by STFC and DIUS.
How were you consulted?
Professor Holdaway: Perhaps it
would help if I explained the general setup within STFC first
of all. There are effectively two distinct parts: there is the
strategy part which deals with strategy and the peer review process,
the budgets, the allocations, the decision on cuts and the interface
with DIUS; and then there is a Chinese Wall effectively to the
operational part of STFC which is where the bulk of the 1,500
scientists and technologists sit. Those are the gentlemen and
ladies who build instruments, operate facilities and interface
on a day-to-day basis with the community within those three groups.
Within that part there are seven operational departments, so particle
physics is one department, space science and technology is another
department, and we lead those departments. In that sense we are
pretty much in the same position as the heads of university departments
where we are given an allocation by the strategic part of STFC
and we operate within that allocation. We are part of the community
in that sense and so there is an exchange of information on the
types of programmes that may be funded or may not be funded, but
we are not part of the decision-making process.
How did you find out about the cuts?
Professor Holdaway: Through the
first sighting of the Delivery Plan at pretty much the same time
as the rest of the community.
As the Director of Cockcroft, were you involved at all in the
decision-making in terms of the strategic plan?
Professor Chattopadhyay: No, I
was not. I should probably give you a preamble about where I stand.
Everything I say today is from the perspective of somebody who
is new to the United Kingdom. This is my tenth month in the job
after about 30 years of a successful career serving in the US
Department of Energy, at two national labs, the Lawrence Berkeley
Lab and Jefferson Lab, and two major universities, the University
of California at Berkeley and Harvard. When I speak about my Institute
today, the Cockcroft Institute, I am really using it as an iconic
symbol that really represents an entire community of excellent
scientists and technologists throughout the UK, including our
sister institute, John Adams at Oxford and Royal Holloway, Imperial
College and particle physicists and natural scientists throughout
the UK. The Cockcroft Institute has five stakeholders, the three
universities, Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster, STFC, which
is a strong stakeholder, and the North West Development Agency.
I happen to be employed by the universities and for reasons of
proprietary I have been kept entirely out of the process of the
STFC Delivery Plan.
As the Director of Cockcroft and as the Director of the Space
Science and Technology at Rutherford Appleton, you were kept out
of the decision-making process, were you not?
Professor Holdaway: Kept out of
the decision-making process and, quite rightly, that is how it
was before STFC was formed. In our case the decision-making process
on which programmes to fund was made by PPARC, it was not made
by CCLRC and we are still in exactly the same position now and
quite rightly so.
Q264 Dr Gibson:
Did you try to give them information about what you thought should
Professor Holdaway: We were able
to provide our views on that as members of the community in exactly
the same way as the heads of university departments, yes.
So it was no surprise to you then when these cuts came about?
Professor Holdaway: It was certainly
no surprise that there were some cuts. When the whole community,
including ourselves, heard that there was a funding problem because
of the size of the allocation from DIUS it was clear that cuts
would have to be made. That in itself was no surprise. In terms
of which programmes were cut initiallyand we will know
on Monday of next week what the next round of cuts are in terms
of specific programmeswe have no direct involvement in
that and, as I said, quite rightly so. You need that Chinese Wall
between the operational part of the operation and the strategic
part of the organisation.
Let us talk about the actual cuts themselves and the decisions
about them. If we accept that there was going to be a reduction
in budget and therefore some reduction in programmes had to take
place, what do you understand as the process of actually deciding
which bits get dropped?
Professor Holdaway: The process
is undertaken by the peer review panels. So there is a science
board and there are two peer review panels that sit below that
and those are the bodies that always have and still do make those
decisions. They take advice from the community in different ways.
There is a difference between the current system and the previous
system which is that there are, to all intents and purposes, no
advisory panels under STFC whereas there were under PPARC. So
it is slightly more difficult for the community to get its input
into that process. There are ways of doing it but it is not quite
Swapan, there is a peer review system which looks at funding the
best science. The peer review system says we need to make particular
cuts because this is not the best science. What on earth is wrong
with that? This is how science should operate.
Professor Chattopadhyay: I have
two observations to make. There has been an active request made
to the STFC stakeholder representation in the Cockcroft Institute
not to share any information about the decision-making process
of the STFC Delivery Plan. There was some level of secrecy until
the very end of November when it all came out despite my requests
to get information out. I am not an STFC employee. First of all,
on this whole business of communication, transparency and the
review process, I have brought it to the attention of STFC senior
management multiple times through electronic messages and discussions
with people directly, but I regret to say that there has not been
the inclusion of Cockcroft's concerns in this regard in terms
of protecting the skills base in accelerator science and technology
for the UK. Secondly, as for the so-called peer review process
that people talk about here, which I am taking to be below the
level of PPAN and PALS, for the last 35 years I have been used
to a very inclusive process where the community that is being
reviewed knows they are being reviewed and the people that you
choose as the members of the review committee are chosen with
input from the community about the most respected scientists that
could judge the field. Eventually, when the report comes out,
you share the report with the community for factual accuracies
and courtesy and to ensure there are no political, parochial and
scientific conflicts. There have been three reviews that I have
partially participated in or been asked to give input to: one
was the light source review, one is an ongoing accelerator science
and technology review and one is a particle physics review. I
think the committee members were handpicked by STFC despite my
pointing out to them that at some point --- In the case of the
light source review, I even wrote a letter to the committee that
chose the so-called peer review committee which was judging on
the light source about the incompleteness of that committee.
The Chief Executive has said to this Committee that he is very
proud of STFC's peer review system. Obviously you do not share
Professor Chattopadhyay: From
where I sit the due process has not been followed, the process
has been flawed and hence you cannot expect anything but flawed
recommendations from such peer reviews.
Do you share that view?
Professor Holdaway: Peer review
panels have a very difficult thing to do.
Do you share that view?
Professor Holdaway: My concern
is not about the nature and the make up of the peer review panels
themselves. They had a very difficult job to do and I think they
have done it perfectly adequately. The concern of the community,
which I share to a certain extent, is how hey get their advice.
I think the communications and the advice there has not been what
it should be and I am confident that that will be rectified for
the future, but it has not been that way in the past.
Q271 Mr Boswell:
Coming back to your concept of Chinese Walls, I can see why that
might happen, not least because of people who might wish to compete
with you in certain respect, for example, in the university sector.
It is an attempt to produce an "all fours" situation.
I do not think we would object to that in principle. As for the
argument about Chinese Walls and the disclosure of strategic decisions
only at the last moment and as a result of a process which is
closed to you, is it your feeling that that is in a sense being
used either as an excuse by STFC or that it is somehow just reducing
the quality of the review process through inhibiting dialogue?
Professor Holdaway: No, I do not
think so. The community that I work with within the laboratory
and outside is a very close community and of course from time
to time we compete with the university groups. Most of the time
we are competing alongside university groups. I think we all have
pretty much the same view. The community understands fully the
need for cuts and that certain projects need to be cut. The problem
for individuals is like unemployment, ie unemployment may only
be a few per cent but if you are unemployed it is 100%. The same
is true of the small areas of the community where the cuts have
fallen, they feel aggrieved, rightly or wrongly. In this country
we concentrate on the bad news rather than the good news. Yes,
there are some cuts that are affecting some people very, very
radically. On the other hand, 80 or 90% of the programme is continuing.
There are some exciting new programmes coming up and the community
recognises that as well. It just wants to be sure that the decision-making
process has the proper governance.
Q272 Dr Gibson:
I think that is a general problem in science and the peer review
system. Did you know who the peers were going to be? Who chose
Professor Holdaway: They were
chosen, as far as I know, by the Chief Executive. You can check
that in the next session.
Q273 Dr Gibson:
And you saw the report?
Professor Holdaway: And I saw
Q274 Dr Gibson:
Do you think the peers would be chosen in different circumstances?
Strategically there are going to be cuts so you pick the peers
who know what to do, but if they are suddenly going to double
your budget presumably you would pick other peers. Is that true?
Professor Holdaway: I can conjecture.
That may have been the process. I think I am the wrong person
to ask. Keith Mason will be able to answer that very, very clearly
for you. I have seen no evidence that the panel was picked to
come up with a particular decision. I think an interesting issue
is whether there was any direction from DIUS in terms of the outcome
of the review. I have no evidence from where I sit to know that
there was but there may have been and that might then dictate
the members of the panel.
Q275 Dr Gibson:
Where would that influence come from within the Department, Permanent
Secretary level or somewhere else?
Professor Holdaway: I would not
have thought so. If you look at specific cuts in my own area on
STP and on Gemini, I cannot imagine for a moment that decisions
of that nature would be made within DIUS.
Q276 Dr Gibson:
Do you think it goes beyond the Department to the Treasury?
Professor Holdaway: Only at a
high level. The Treasury may have a view on whether it believes
particle physics and space are worthy areas of pure science. In
the case of space, I think there has been a big change in the
attitudes both of Government in general and the Treasury in particular
as a result of the space strategy and the various audits of space
science and technology. The oft quoted number by the last three
ministers was £200 million investment in space and £7
billion downstream manual turnover. That is a story that speaks
Q277 Dr Gibson:
What would you say if I said everybody moans about peer review
when they do not get their grant?
Professor Holdaway: Of course.
That is a problem with peer review and it has always been the
Q278 Dr Gibson:
Is there another system you would accommodate in your work?
Professor Holdaway: The only alternative
is one slightly closer to the American system. The problem with
peer review, as I am sure everybody in this room knows, is that
when you come to the decision-making process you throw out of
the room anybody that knows anything about the subject because
if they are any good at their subject they are almost certainly
involved in the consortium that is bidding for the grants to get
input into the programmes. So that is always a problem. This is
why it is very important for those peer review panels to have
the right advice before they make their decision and you need
the right structure to do that. I think that is part of the community's
concern as to how the decisions are made and whether there is
transparency in those institutions.
In terms of the International Linear Collider and Gemini projects,
in your opinion was there adequate peer review prior to the stopping
of those two projects?
Professor Holdaway: I cannot comment
on the Linear Collider. In terms of Gemini, there was consultation
with the community. Gemini has been going 14 years, which is quite
a long time for a programme. I know that within parts of that
community the feeling was that with things that are coming up,
like the VISTA programme which is just about to go online, the
exciting new programmes with the extremely large telescope and
so on, there are big opportunities for that same community. Those
directly involved in the Gemini programme, however, have a problem,
which is that if it is cut very quickly they are out of a job
tomorrow and that is not really the right way to manage things.
That is why I think there has been a change in the situation with
Gemini which no doubt Keith Mason will talk about in the next