Monday, December 7, 2009

Spash Scandal One Month On

As you may have heard, Clive Spash resigned from CSIRO and is moving back to Europe, apparently to Norway (I'm not surprised really about this)... I haven't spoken with him since the Darwin meeting. In the meantime, the issue has been debated in the Australian Senate and CSIRO have been trying to clarify their policy (see below). Dr Clark's position looks reasonable. I guess the problem is how the word "advocate" is interpreted. I would have assumed that saying "ETS's are crap" based on supporting arguments like Spash did is not advocacy. Saying "Labor's policy is trash, I prefer the Liberal Party's approach" would be advocacy. But that is not how CSIRO treated his work. What do you think?

From: Clark, Megan (OCE, Campbell)
To: CSIRO - All Staff
Subject: CSIRO Public Comment on Policy

Dear Colleagues

Over the last few months I have shared with you the importance of communicating the results of our research. Over the last few weeks there has been debate in the Parliament, and in the media on CSIRO’s ability to comment publicly on government and/or opposition policies.

As discussed in my last email to you, as a publically funded research agency the principles of our Charter are clear. CSIRO staff are actively encouraged to debate publicly the latest science and its implications and to analyse policy options, however we do not advocate for or against specific government or opposition policies.

I stand by the Charter. It protects the independence of our science and comment. It also protects each of us from being exploited in the political process. It allows us to provide frank and fearless scientific input to policy development.

However our independence and scientific integrity in the eyes of the Australian people are diminished if we publicly support or criticise government or opposition policies. We are trusted by the Australian community because of our record of scientific excellence. They know we have good internal approval and review processes in place for all of our publications.

I, my Executive Team colleagues and the Board value our scientific independence and will always defend your right to speak publicly in a manner consistent with the Charter.

Today’s policy makers need our high quality independent science and related advice on the complex challenges they face. Climate change and its impacts, water scarcity, biodiversity decline, Australia’s growing urbanised population and food security are just some of the national and global issues they grapple with on a daily basis.

In any given week CSIRO scientists have a wide range of interactions with government, industry and the wider community. In the climate change space for example over the last two years we have published numerous papers and reports on the ETS and carbon trading issues, as well as extensive work in complex policy areas such as water. In addition, in March we conducted a briefing on the latest science of climate change for members of Parliament. We also made over 40 submissions and appearances before Parliamentary Committees looking at the issue of climate change since 2008. We need to continue to be a strong voice in these critical issues.

As science is now predicting how our actions today will affect us in 50-100 years from now, there is an even greater responsibility for science’s contribution to society to be substantive and supported by rigorous scientific method and robust analysis.

I encourage each of you to continue to communicate the results of your work consistent with our Charter.



Dr Megan Clark
Chief Executive, CSIRO

CSIRO Corporate Centre, Limestone Avenue
Campbell, ACT 2612 (all correspondence);

Mayfair House, 351 Royal Parade
Parkville, VIC 3052

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