Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Antarctic Merger Is Frozen Out

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Antarctic Merger Is Frozen Out

Article excerpt

Survey stays intact after politicians and scientists put proposal on ice. Paul Jump writes.

The chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee has denied putting undue political pressure on the Natural Environment Research Council ahead of its widely welcomed decision to abandon the proposed merger between the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre.

On the eve of a meeting of Nerc's council on 1 November, at which the final decision was due to be taken, the select committee released a report critical of the merger proposal.

It was published just hours after a committee hearing with senior Nerc figures, who insisted that the merger would promote scientific impact and synergy and save about Pounds 500,000 a year.

The proposal, published for consultation in September, provoked widespread concern about the loss of the iconic British Antarctic Survey name and what that might signal about the UK's commitment to its presence in the South Atlantic.

In its report, published on 31 October, the select committee says Nerc had failed to provide an "adequate evidence base" and had not given adequate consideration to the BAS' "geopolitical role".

Speaking to Times Higher Education after Nerc's decision to abandon the merger was announced on 2 November, the select committee's chair, Andrew Miller, denied that the report's conclusions had been determined before the hearing with Nerc took place.

He also defended the committee's involvement, arguing that since its members were not ministers, the Haldane principle did not apply.

Mr Miller added that it had been impossible to ignore the high level of concern from "extremely reputable parts of the scientific community" and prominent public figures such as the former US vice-president Al Gore.

He said that Nerc needed to think harder about how to "keep up the morale of (its scientists) and protect the underlying science in the most cost- effective way". …

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