Closing of the Australian scientific mind: CSIRO cuts and the war on science

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We risk our future with the CSIRO cuts

That climate change research at the CSIRO has become the targets of cuts should not come as a surprise to long-time observers of the climate change debate.

The cuts equate to 100 jobs among a total of 350 positions to go. The cuts will have the effect of gutting Australia’s capacity to monitor changes to the climate in the Southern hemisphere:

“Another senior scientist, aware of the planned announcement, said staff would be shocked by the news that basic climate science, including much of the monitoring of changes in the southern hemisphere, would be slashed…”

I could spend this post fulminating about the short-sighted nature of the cuts, and the damage being done to Australian science. But I think we need to pay attention to the long term pattern such cuts illustrate.

Graham Readfearn over at The Guardian has done an excellent article on some of the background of the cuts, and the worrying language of the new head of CSIRO:

“This week’s announcement by CSIRO executive director Larry Marshall has angered many in the country’s climate science community, who have been queuing up to criticise the moves.

But beyond the implications of the announcement, there has also been much bemusement about Marshall’s statements and his apparent simplistic understanding of aspects of climate science…

…In one of his first interviews, Marshall appeared to be intrigued by water dowsing – the ancient idea that farmers could use sticks together with a mysterious unidentified perception to find water under the soil.”

Well worth a read.

My own observation is that these cuts fit into a longer term pattern or trend: namely the ‘war on science” conducted by ultra-conservatives and the right.

The Culture War: science and the minds of the right-wing ideologues

There are numerous scientific theories (and in this I mean proven scientific “facts”) directly challenge touchstone conservative beliefs.

From climate change, to evolution and to the notion of an Earth billions of years old (not 6000 years old as some believe) science often runs afoul of cherished ideological beliefs and world views.

The science of climate change challenges the notion of perpetual growth, market-fundamentalism and that we can exploit natural resources without consequence.

Defunding “controversial” research areas: fears of climate scientists realised

The fears among Australia’s climate research community that they would be subject to savage cuts when the LNP came into power were palpable in the lead up to the last election.

Sadly these fears have come to be realised.

It is worth remembering that one of the first acts of the LNP government was to cut the Climate Commission. These latest cuts merely extend the same pogrom against climate change research.

One of the most basic tactics of conservative governments when they get into power is to de-fund research areas that run counter to their ideologies, donors and supporters.

We’ve seen this again and again across the world. Under Stephan Harper’s  conservative government in Canada their were substantial and systematic cuts to climate research (via DeSmogBlog):

“The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Research is forced to shut its doors after repeated requests for renewed funding fall on deaf ears. The foundation had offered about $120 million in university grants for climate and weather-related research over about 10 years. The total is above the $110 million multi-year grant it received from the government.

The foundation would later rebrand itself as the Canadian Climate Forum, relying on private donors to fund its work.

A labour union representing federal scientists, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, would also estimate that the Canadian government was in the middle of a three-year purge, cutting nearly $3 billion in spending and up to 5,000 jobs from its science-based departments, including many scientific research positions and programs in charge of monitoring air, water, and wildlife…”

In America, the Republicans have been waging a decades long war on NASA and it’s climate change research capacity.

Despite Prime Minister Turnball’s public acceptance of the science, his government is following the same path laid out at the start of the LNP’s term. The LNP’s broad, anti-science agenda has not changed.

We may have changed Prime Ministers to one who speaks of “innovation” and “agility”, but in reality its the same old culture war: facts versus values and world view.

Australia was a leader in an important field of scientific research. Following these cuts, no more.

We have effectively hampered the ability to adapt to the changing climate in these cuts.

In doing so we sow the seeds of future climate catastrophes.

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2 comments

  1. Mike, you’ve echoed my thoughts exactly, even to the point of the comparison I made at HotWhopper to the pogroms.

    There is indeed an underlying agenda to this – note how in this action there has been no similar slashing of positions to the many other scientific disciplines in the CSIRO (although renewables…) even though it could be argued that they have “discovered all that there is to discover”. And I use the quote marks deliberately – the last person to use this notion about nothing new to discover in physics was Lord Kelvin, a much more esteemed and informed scientists than Marshall, and Kelvin was wide of the mark. Matchall is just plain wrong in so many ways that he’s not even wrong.

    In other news this week Mark Steyne is to appear on next week’s edition of QandA, conveniently soon after Marshall’s buggering of the national capacity to conduct climatological research, and no doubt with an opinion or two about both the science of climate change generally and about the worth of Marshall’s axing of its research at the federal level in Australia. And ironally this materialised on the same day that it transpired that the much-loathed-by-the-LNP Clean Energy Finance Corporation was reported on ABC News at 8:00 pm to have made a $73 million profit in the last year, although peculiarly I can’t find any online references to the story…

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  2. Cross posting from HotWhopper:

    Finally some attention in the media. Nathan Bindoff gives Larry Marshall a serve in the quiet and sober way that characterises Nathan’s gentlemanly manner:

    https://soundcloud.com/user726680847/nathan-bindoff-climate-scientist-leon-compton-936-abc-hobart-csiro-jobs

    Nathan notes the gap that Marshall’s gutting will leave in Australian climate research, and why it will be a gap from a structural perspective. He even notes that Marshall’s interest is entrepeneurial commercialisation, which is at odds with the necessary and completely separate need for fundamental science – as is CSIRO’s traditional mandate.

    There’s been a lot of disbelieving chatter in the corridors, offices and laboratories of climatologists. I fervently hope that the Australian public quickly comes to realise how profoundly serious and ideologically hamfisted a travesty is this cynical move of Marshall’s (and by extension of the rabidly conservative LNP).

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