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Australian government finally gets slightly serious with CSIRO board

Posted By Joanne Nova On March 7, 2015 @ 2:50 pm In Big-Government,Global Warming,Politics | Comments Disabled

The Abbott government has at least grown enough backbone to not renew the Labor appointees Chairman to the CSIRO board, who have allowed scientific standards to decay so badly. It’s about time. As long as any director of CSIRO claims that “consensus” has any meaning in science, then the board is an unscientific failure.

UPDATE To clarify: There is no official policy to not reinstate people because they were appointed by Labor. But three directors/panelists say they have heard unofficially there is.  I think board members should be sacked if they don’t serve the public, not because of who appointed them. It would be a silly thing for a Minister to say. But in the case of the CSIRO, the Labor appointee appears to be a political assignment rather than a scientific one, and should have been replaced long ago. See my comment #1.1.1 for names and more details.

UPDATE #2: Bolt calls it an anti-Abbott rumour. “And a spokesman for Tony ­Abbott told The Weekend Australian there were more than 50 government agencies with boards where a person was appointed by Labor and reappointed by the current government… “

Not surprisingly, this has angered everyone who wants an unscientific agency that promotes big-government policies ahead of rigorous science. The current Chairman, investment banker Simon McKeon, will be leaving in June. He says public servants do it for the love of it:

“The great majority of people who put up their hands to serve on a federal government agency are really doing it for the nation,” he said. “All I’m saying is we’re missing out on the corporate memory.

So let’s cut the salaries of middle managers and executives at CSIRO by half. They won’t mind, will they? It’s “for the nation”.

Back in its glory days, CSIRO had no almost no administrators and executives brought in from outside. It was run by scientists, and it’s work was far less impeachable. Now, a class of bureaucrats are paid more than the scientists to run everything — how ever did the organization cope without them, back in the day?

I wonder how much it easier it would be to find replacement scientists compared to replacement bureaucrats. Would there be able people willing to do the job of the CSIRO Chairman for half his salary? Yes there would. Would there be able people willing to do the job of any of the scientists in CSIRO for half their salary? You’ve got to be joking!

And why worry about corporate memory, when the corporation is dysfunctional? CSIRO is supposed to be a scientific agency. It has thoroughly compromised itself with releases of highly biased, politicized reports such as State of the Nation, which provide advice that is worse than useless because they are loaded with half-truths, hiding model failures, adjustments, and uncertainty from the paying public. There are good scientists at the CSIRO, but most have stood by and said nothing as the standards collapsed. If CSIRO can allow the nation to waste billions on futile schemes to change the weather, the agency is counterproductive and working against Australian interests. Close it down, split it up,  and set up smaller newer ones.

McKeon was appointed in 2010, and interviewed in 2011 (below). His predetermined opinion on climate science was very clear.He was already a carbon activist in 2008. Do you suppose that was part of why the RGR government appointed him? He was passionate about changing the climate, but what we really needed was a chairman who was passionate about scientific standards:

SM: I never thought I would end up chairing a wonderful organisation like CSIRO. I’m not a trained scientist or a technical person. But I am very passionate about some of the great challenges affecting mankind, such as climate change and reducing global poverty, and how science can assist. In a way, not having a science background is a strength. CSIRO has a vital role in ensuring science is important to all Australians, not just those with science backgrounds.

SM: It is not appropriate for me to comment on the politics of climate change. But I will say that the research I see emanating from organisations such as CSIRO, the Australian Academy of Science and the Bureau of Meteorology continues to demonstrate the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. The science appears to me to be quite clear cut on this point.

Both political parties have shown a willingness to tackle the issue, but there’s little time to wait. And, most importantly, I appreciate the importance for Australia of retaining a strong element of international competitiveness and acknowledge that we’re a tiny polluter globally (although massive on a per capita basis). But as a prosperous country, we must be a leader in this space, not a freeloader.

It would have been better for the nation if Tony Abbott had paid out all their contracts in Sept 2013 and immediately appointed people who understand the scientific method instead. McKeon was lauded as “compassionate”, but we don’t need compassionate research so much as we need effective research that gives accurate predictions.

Back in 2010 McKeon effectively said CSIRO should have more political importance:

”One of the things I’d be very keen to promote using the CSIRO as a platform is to elevate again the proper role of science to being that foundation rock upon which good community decisions are based.”

His first goal should have been to make sure CSIRO had impeccable scientific standards.

Back in 2010 he was already using the mindless “buy insurance at any price” argument:

”But secondly, what do we do about it [climate change]? Well, I think that even if we’re in an era where we’re not really sure whether there is climate change or whether it’s going to be deleterious to the species, to the globe as a whole, we’ve got to take out insurance.”

I’m sure investment bankers don’t get rich by buying house insurance that costs more than the house. It is hard to believe he cannot see through this analogy — perhaps he just didn’t want to?

This is good news. Abbott might finally be getting more serious about appointing people who know what science is. But ultimately it may not make much difference. The whole culture of the CSIRO needs changing, and just as Maurice Newman and Janet Albrechtson could not repair the ABC culture, a whole new board of CSIRO won’t be able to do much either. But it’s a step in the right direction.

What we really need are more science projects that are funded by citizens directly, through donations, business or philanthropy rather than through the stranglehold of monopolistic gatekeepers of big-government interests.

CSIRO budget is $1.2 billion a year.

Posts on the downfall of the CSIRO:





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