The UK government claims that the controversial decision to pull the country out of plans for the International Linear Collider (ILC) was taken on the basis of peer review. The government’s claim is made in its response to a petition on the Downing Street website, signed by over 17,500 people, that called on the prime minister Gordon Brown to “reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to particle physics and astronomy”.

The response to the petition also pours cold water on any prospect of the funding shortfall being reversed. Indeed, the government insists there has been no cut in the STFC’s budget. “Claimed reductions in STFC’s budget appear to have been derived from STFC’s aspirations for the three-year comprehensive spending review period from 2008/9 to 2010/11,” the statement says. “These aspirations never constituted an agreed set of activities or funding for them, and the suggestion that £80m has been cut from its budget is wrong.”

Funding shortfall

The UK’s withdrawal from the ILC, which is set to be the next big experiment in particle physics after the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, was announced late last year by the Science and Facilities Technology Council (STFC) after it was left with a shortfall of £80m in its budget.

The pull-out shocked many in the particle-physics community, including Brian Foster of Oxford University in the UK, who is European director of the ILC’s global design effort. Speaking to physicsworld.com in February, he claimed that the council had never discussed the matter with him but “presented it as a fait accompli”.

Now, however, the government says that the decision was taken on the basis of peer-review evidence. The government’s statement also tries to implicate the US in the decision in the withdrawl from the collider, saying that “the US Congress seems to share this sceptical view of the prospects for the ILC”.

“I think the statement about peer review is government spin at its worst,” says Foster. “The whole process was driven by top-down nudges and winks that ILC couldn’t be afforded. Fortunately now we are into a phase of consultation where I hope that we can have constructive dialogues on the way forward.”

But John Wormersley, director of science programmes at the STFC, says that the decision to pull out of the ILC was discussed before it was made. “The government is referring to the fact that the ILC action was discussed in STFC’s PPAN [particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics]science committee and our science board,” he says. “The science board then made a recommendation to [STFC’s] council, before council made its decision.”