Astronomy and Particle Physics

Written evidence submitted by Professor Mike Barlow, University College London (APP 08)

(1) The current STFC Chief Executive has been reported to have made comments at a number of venues to the effect that "there are too many astronomers in the UK" and that "UK astronomy was over-funded during the decade beginning 2000". The data that I have gathered below, on the numbers of professional astronomers in ten advanced economies, show that there is no basis in fact for the first of these statements. I suggest that a proper comparison of funding levels per astronomer for ground-based and spaceborne research in each of these ten countries would show that there is no basis in fact for the second of these statements either.

(2) The table on p.2 below lists the numbers of professional astronomers in each of ten advanced industrial economies who are members of the International Astronomical Association (IAU). Members of the IAU normally hold long-term positions at universities or research establishments and are nominated by the subscribing body for each country. IAU assignment to a particular country is by residence, not by country of birth.

(3) The table also lists the population and 2009 GDP (in US$) of each country, while its final two columns list the number of IAU members per million population and the number of IAU members per trillion $ of GDP. These two ratios are plotted in Fig.1.

This comparison shows the UK to be in the middle of the distributions for both the number of astronomers per million residents and per trillion $ GDP, with 5 countries above the UK and 4 below.

(4) A comparison is also needed between the amount of research funding per IAU astronomer in each of the ten countries. Because each country has different funding mechanisms and funding bodies (e.g. there are at least four significant funding agencies in the US), I suggest that it is appropriate and within the current terms of reference for the Science and Technology Committee to commission such a comparative study.

Professor Mike Barlow
Professor of Astrophysics

Dept of Physics & Astronomy

University College London

14 February 2011

Declaration of Interest:

I am a professional astronomer employed by University College London

Table 1



IAU Pop. GDP(1) IAU Members per

Members US$ mn Pop. $tr GDP

Australia: 258 22.5m 849bn 11.5 304

Japan: 597 127m 4.308tr 4.7 139

Netherlands: 205 16.6m 658bn 12.3 312

Spain: 303 46m 1.364tr 6.6 222

Sweden: 112 9.3m 338bn 12.0 331

USA: 2573 309m 14.256tr 8.3 180

France: 695 63m 2.108tr 11.0 330

Germany(2) 530 82m 2.806tr 6.5 189

Italy: 567 60m 1.740tr 9.5 326

UK: 521 62m 2.139tr 8.4 244

Totals: 6361 797m 30.566tr 8.0 208

Data sources:

IAU Membership:


GDP(1): Wikipedia

Note (1): PPP = Purchasing Power Parity.

Note (2): The incorporation in 1990 of the former East Germany (population 16m) added very few IAU astronomers to Germany's total.

Figure 1