Essay by Eric Worrall
h/t Dr. Willie Soon; Climate scientist David Karoly has slammed the Aussie Conservative Government for diverting CSIRO attention away from working on “settled science”, towards providing “customer driven science”, consultancy services for businesses.
CSIRO has become ‘extravagant consulting company’, one of its former top climate scientists says
After cutting ties with the agency, Prof David Karoly is free of its restrictions on commenting on climate policy
A leading Australian climate scientist says the national science agency, CSIRO, has been turned into a “very extravagant consulting company” under the Coalition, with its scientists barred from speaking publicly about government policy.
Karoly, who worked on four of the six major assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, returned to CSIRO in 2018. He agreed to head its Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub in the wake of the chief executive, Larry Marshall, making deep cuts to the organisation’s climate science capacity on the grounds the problem was “proven”. That push was partially reversed after public and political pressure, with Marshall later acknowledging it had been a mistake. Karoly signed on to help build a new program.
While he is proud he helped secure an effective 50% funding increase to be spent on a new climate systems hub, he says the cuts had been “stupid” and had a lasting impact. He says staff in CSIRO’s oceans and atmosphere unit were last year told 70% of CSIRO funding now had to come from external earnings – contracts with industry and government agencies – rather than core funding for a project to be approved. Historically, there had been about 30% external funding.
Karoly argues it has fundamentally changed an organisation that was once known for its international-standard “public good” science. Famously, CSIRO radio astronomers accidentally invented what became wi-fi while doing unrelated public good research. Karoly says that sort of work is now less likely.
“CSIRO’s approach is now to make money,” he says. “It’s essentially a very extravagant consulting company, and unless it has large enough external earnings science doesn’t go ahead. It means public good science has disappeared from CSIRO unless someone else is willing to pay for it.”
He says focus on “customer-driven science” is not limited to the federal Coalition, but it had accelerated the shift. “It’s not just a Liberal National party government perspective, it’s also a Labor party perspective: that the users should drive the science to answer the questions that are important for them,” he says.
Karoly says scientists at CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology are routinely blocked from speaking publicly and have their work suppressed if it could be interpreted as at odds with government policy. As one of CSIRO’s top climate scientists, Karoly was allowed to talk about global greenhouse gas emissions and the urgent need to reduce them, but not allowed to talk about Australia’s approach to the issue or performance in cutting emissions.
What can I say – it seems absurd to go around telling people “the science is settled”, then express surprise when they infer from your statements that your research is complete.
And inferring that the public good does not include solving real world problems and helping taxpayers who fund your research is even more absurd.
The CSIRO has not completely ditched pure research – I would protest at that. I accept Karoly’s point about the development of Wi-fi. Pure research has its place.
But the entire nation suffers if all the best scientific minds are preoccupied with trying to solve how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
There is clearly enough demand for the applied science services on offer, to support the view that the increased prioritisation of CSIRO research efforts towards solving real world problems was reasonable and justified.