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Australia Space Science Politics

SKA Telescope Site Debate Not Over Yet 78

angry tapir writes "Although earlier reports claimed that a scientific panel recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array, the SKA board of directors is still debating which country will host the enormous US$2.1-billion radio telescope. The scientific panel only recommended South Africa by a narrow margin earlier this month."
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SKA Telescope Site Debate Not Over Yet

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  • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @07:22PM (#39469903) Journal

    Whatever decision they made will have a lasting effect for the next 50 years

    They should not make the decision based on any other criteria but for the best of this program itself

    Political correctness has no place in Science research

  • by Fluffeh ( 1273756 ) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @07:57PM (#39470117)

    I sort of agree, but have this to add - From the article, the scientific panel had "no enormous preference for one over the other". To me, it means that both sites are good, fit the needs of the SKA and would work well. While I haven't read the recommendations in all their lengthy glory, I sort of get the feeling that both locations are well suited to the needs.

    Given that, it is actually political correctness that comes down to the final choice being made. You are absolutely right in the fact that this is a 50 year project. If both geographic locations fit the needs, then the final choice will rely on what political aspects of the locations can cause problems somewhere in the next fifty years. Will both countries be politically stable for the next half century? Will there be religious stability, will there be stability in infrastructure, are political relations with all the SKA members likely to stay on friendly terms?

    Given the large financial investment in the SKA, you really need to ensure the place you build it will be the best overall location, not just the one that has a fraction better INSERT SOMETHING that makes the scientics go "Ooohhhh" just that little touch longer. They need to be able to use the facilities for the entire length of the project in the best possible means. Having a location that is 0.12% better in terms of measurable 3 doesn't mean that much if the folks running the show have to be evacuated due to a political influence, or they run out of electricity, or some other potentially foreseeable event occurs.

  • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Sunday March 25, 2012 @08:45PM (#39470449)

    Nevertheless, I'm sticking to my original statement - Whatever decision they want to make, make it according to one criteria, and ONE CRITERIA ONLY -

    What is best for the program, which will last for the next 50 years

    Fair enough, but I shall stick to my assertion that this is exactly what the SKA board is doing.

    You say that we all have eyes, but I cannot see any evidence of political correctness going on here. You say that political correctness has influenced the psyche of the Europeans, and yet I don't know of any multi-billion dollar project that has been unduly influenced by such things. And even if they had, the SKA member countries include Australia, Canada, India, China, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA which should be a diverse enough group to rise above the PC level.

    While it does *NOT* mean that the so-called "Panel" made their decision based on PC alone - the suspicion is unfortunately, unavoidable.

    It is only unavoidable if you base your opinion on your pre-conceived prejudices rather than looking at the facts. And what is with calling the SKA panel a so-called "Panel"? Is there something about the make-up of the Square Kilometre Array organisation that you are not telling us? Perhaps you have more "unavoidable suspicions" ready to rock the world of astronomy!

  • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Sunday March 25, 2012 @11:02PM (#39471239)
    If Aus/NZ has a technically better (lower noise, larger area etc) proposal, what other factors should be taken into account by the scientific panel?
  • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Monday March 26, 2012 @01:08AM (#39471779)

    If Aus/NZ has a technically better (lower noise, larger area etc) proposal, what other factors should be taken into account by the scientific panel?

    Did you even read the part that I quoted? It lists some of the factors that were considered. Yes, there are some non-scientific things on the list, but scientists are not so insular from the realities of the world that they cannot consider cost, access etc. Do you really believe that a scientific panel would not consider things like the cost to build the site, but would actually be more guided by what you described as the "feel good" factor they get from giving money to African nations?

    I notice that you forgot to include any citation for your "feel good" factor claim too. You probably should try backing up your claim that the Australian site is "apparently" technically better too, and preferably neither citation should be from the Australian camp either.

    As the anonymous coward (dom) pointed out, and as was also stated in my quote, the South African site "sits at a higher altitude" than the Australian site. There is not a huge advantage of one site over the other. We know that this is true, because it is exactly what the panel said! I think that I will take their word for this over your "apparently it is technically better" remark.

  • by MiG82au ( 2594721 ) on Monday March 26, 2012 @01:35AM (#39471879)
    As an Australian, you embarrass me.
  • Re:Fascinitating (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 26, 2012 @01:50AM (#39471917)

    A good way to compare these countries, given that we're talking about a radio astronomy project, is to look at their radio astronomy facilities. Trimble & Ceja [] did a study of the citation rates of papers based on data from different telescopes (as a measure of how significant the rest of the world thinks the results from those telescopes are). Numbers 2 and 3 are the Australia Telescope Compact Array and the Parkes Radio Telescope, also in Australia. (Number 1, by a large margin, is the Very Large Array in the US.) There's only one South African radio telescope, and it's lumped under "Other".

    It's also a bit surprising that you cite South Africa's strengths in mining (when Australia is China's primary source of raw materials), heavy engineering (Australia's shipyards are busier than South Africa's) and defence (Australia is collaborating on the JSF). It's particularly amusing when you say that Australian universities have a few hand-me-down computers - presumably like the Pawsey Centre [], which is on the top500 supercomputer list - and that's only stage 1, with 7% of the final installed capacity. And what's it being used for? Radio astronomy.

    The only cogent point in your post is Australia's limited nuclear experience - which would be really relevant if the SKA were nuclear-powered. (Hint: it's not.)

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard