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Climate Hustle

The gutting of CSIRO climate change research is a big mistake

Posted on 10 February 2016 by John Abraham

Last week, surprise news shocked the world’s scientific community. One of the most prestigious and productive scientific organizations is slashing hundreds of jobs, many related to climate change research. The organization, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO for short) is simply put, one of the best in the world. It rivals well-known groups like NASA, NOAA, and the Hadley Centre for its contributions to climate science.

What does CSIRO do that is so special? Many things. For instance, they are world leaders in measuring what is happening to the planet. Their research includes ocean-going vessels and other instrumentation that measure the chemistry and temperature of the ocean; they help track where human-emitted carbon dioxide is going, how heat is building up in the oceans, and what is happening with the general health of the ocean biosystem.

CSIRO is also a modeling superpower. Their climate models form the backbone of our understanding of what changes have happened and what changes will happen because of human greenhouse gases.

But they also have deepened our knowledge about extreme weather. They’ve provided insights regarding how droughts, heat waves, and floods will change in the future.

All of these contributions are important not only for the understanding that they provide but also because this knowledge helps us plan for the future. If you want to know what we can do to mitigate or adapt to climate change, you need this information.

But according to CSIRO chief executive, Larry Marshall, CSIRO should shift focus. Here is the key statement he made last week:

Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change. That question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with?

Are you kidding me? What kind of backward logic is this? From the reports I’ve read, something like 350 positions will be cut from CSIRO with the heaviest cuts (over 100) coming from the climate research groups. How can you predict how to adapt if you don’t know what you are going to adapt to? This doesn’t make sense. 

Sure, I have colleagues at CSIRO (who I also consider friends). Sure I don’t want them to lose their jobs. But, the real reason this foolish move upsets me is that it forces decision-makers to fly with blinders on as they make decisions for our future. How fast will the planet warm? What will the impacts be? How will it change weather patterns? How will those weather patterns affect the Earth’s biological systems? All of these questions and more will be harder to answer after these cuts. 

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Comments 1 to 31:

  1. There's no attribution for this article. It's authored by John Abraham.

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    Moderator Response:

    [BW] Thanks for the heads-up. I added John Abraham as the author.

  2. Villaboo

    here you go:  http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-will-be-all-gone-as-csiro-swings-jobs-axe-scientists-say-20160203-gml7jy.html

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  3. The most important part of this article are the links to the petitions in the final paragraph of the Guardian version.  They are with Youth Climate Coallition, and Proud to be public.  Please sign one. 

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  4. "Posted on 10 February 2016 by [blank]"


    The author's name, underneath the title of this article was omitted.

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  5. A response by the head of the CSIRO.

    I think his view is wrong headed.  I agree we should ramp up studies on mitigation, but:

    1)  The key policy on mitigation, introducing a carbon price, is already well known, and is more a matter of economics than science; and

    2)  The impact of more technical fixes (geoengineering) cannot be assessed without the sort of knowledge generated by the division of the CSIRO he is in the process of gutting.

    Perhaps he has in mind more specific studies such as research into how to reduce methane emissions from cattle, or rice agriculture; or research into improving renewable energy sources.  However, while such research is welcome, with a carbon price it will be driven rapidly by the private sector wheras the basic climate research currently being conducted by the CSIRO will not be.

    This is like the reasons he gave in his original statement.  Then the cuts were justified, apparently, because staff turnover at the CSIRO was less than in commercial organizations (which is not a reason at all), and because it would create a career path (but apparently in an organization in which careers will be terminated early with little prospect of alternative funding).  His belief appears to be that the 9 odd years spent becoming a scientist should be rewarded with careers of a little less than that in order to encourage new students to dedicate that time for a truncated career.

    It appears to me that he considers 'renewal' a good thing, without understanding that renewal must be for a reason, and too a purpose.  Instead he has put renewal first as a management mantra, made massive changes on that basis with only post hoc justification at best.

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  6. Tom, isn't it time to move to applied science on the matter at hand: that being the problem that is global warming?

    (Most things are a communication problem...)

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  7. Ok, yes, I do see that you are saying measurement of applied solutions are important.

     I suppose I'm simply keenly waiting for more details on this change: we are supposedly the clever country afterall and Abbott just got booted for trying to dedicate hard-fought-for global-university-status to a climate change denier with tax dollars... there are many biting at the bit on this!! 

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  8. bozzza@7  "Abbott just got booted for trying to dedicate hard-fought-for global-university-status to a climate change denier with tax dollars..."

    That is just  nonsense he got booted because his colleagues told him in February 2015 he had 6 months to change or he'sd berolled.  He didn't change and he was rolled

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  9. (@ ryland, I claim poetic liscence: sorry! No, but seriously...)

    I find the truth to be: he had no moral authority as perceived from multiple angles. He was told to change, yes, but I do declare that the seemingly overly-authoritative promotion of propaganda to the detriment UWA's, ...let alone that of the proud anzac legacy and Australia itself, ...name is more than a footnote in that exact story.

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  10. Put the the Bjorn Lomberg episode into context.  Nowshere near the level of knghting Prince Philip and  it doesn't figure in any of the lists sof his gaffes and blunders.  

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  11. Doing work on mitigation & adaptation is neccessary but it needs to be done in addition to and not instead of basic climate research. If you no longer collect the basic data like CO2 concentrations or ocean heat how will you ever be able to know that what you do for mitigation actually has the desired effect or that any adaptation will really help?

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  12. After a scan of the internet I can't find much coverage of the CSIRO decision to dismiss/redeploy/give teduncancy to 350 climate scientists. apart from a piece in The Guardian reporting that 600+ scientists from around the worldd have signed a circulatiing letter of protest.  Is the fuss in Australia just a storm in a parochial teacup?  Just what is it that climate scientists at CSIRO do that isn't or can't be peplicated elsewhere in the world? The link between smoking and cancer is unequivocally proven and there is little if any research focussed on proving that link so is there need to focus on the association between CO2 and climate change as that link icnsidered settled?  It seems sensible to say well climate change is here its not going to go away let's see what we can do to mitigate/ameliorate/adapt our lifestyles to its effects.  The focus now isn't on the link between smoking and cancer but on how to better diagnose and traet cancer caused by smoking or due to other causes.  Why not for climate change ?

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  13. BeerbelW@11.  Sorry but I didn't see your post before I posted at 12.  With regards to measurements of CO2 concentration and ocean heat, I don't think CSIRO climate scientists were to the fore in either.  

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  14. bozza @various, I will not go into details because it is off topic, and politics to boot; but I agree with Ryland that Abbots 'captain's pick' of a new Lomborg center in Australia had no bearing on his dismissal.

    ryland @12, as it happens, research into the link between smoking and cancer continues apace.  That is because, the link between smoking and lung cancer is statistically well established, but there are less obvious links with other forms of cancer, but also, because the link between smoking and cancer was established statistically, the exact causal relationship between smoking and cancer has not been established.  Therefore crucial research remains to be done which will help in the treating of smoking caused cancers.

    In climate science, although the causal link between anthropogenic emissions and global warming is settled science, the exact value of climate sensitivity, the specific effect of clouds as a feedback, and in interaction with aerosols, are only roughly constrained.  Further, the process of downscaling model predictions so that predictions at a resolution useful to planners is still in its infancy.  Finally, until we have super computers several thousand times faster than the current crop, single model large ensemble experiments are not realistic.  Until we can do those, however, we cannot make significant progress in determining which are the more accurate models, and rely on an ensemble of model predictions to determine error ranges on predictions.  The CSIRO runs a key model in that ensemble, and its loss would significantly impact the quality of model predictions.

    These are issues quite apart from the obvious point that you cannot assess effectiveness of mitigation without the observational measures that were used to discover that mitigation is necessary.  I am sure experts in the various fields could think of more relevant factors.

    Please note that I do not object to the CSIRO changing its focus.  Had an announcement been made that 30 positions would be lost from current climate research to start increasing CSIRO research on mitigation (which already exists), nobody would have batted an eyelid.  What has me outraged is the blind managerialism that first determines on vague mantras "we need renewal" how many cuts will be made without, in the first instance, determining which particular research activities are currently productive, and will be into the future; and which are not.

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  15. ryland @13, John Church and Neil White (both with the CSIRO) are among the foremost experts on sea level rise, which is a very closely related field to that of ocean heat content.  The CSIRO's observatory at Cape Grim is probably the leading southern hemisphere observatory of CO2 and other trace gas concentrations.  It is certainly used by NOAA in developing its global average from measurements in a range of latitudes.

    Both groups are in the area lined up for the most cuts, and have work very closely identified with the criteria of what the CSIRO will apparently no longer do.  Further, given cuts to US research, that (for example) has meant even Mauna Loa has had to resort to crowd funding to maintain its CO2 observations, the assumption that we can casually dispose of Cape Grim is absurd.

    That raises the additional point that the willingness of conservative governments in the US and Canada to shoot the messenger on global warming be defunding science (and in Canada's case, defunding the keeping of scientific data), the assumption that Australian's contribution is now redundant is absurd.

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  16. I would not be in the least surprised if a certain Nigel Lawson were not to be found at, or very nearby, the root of all this. He is, after all, the nost experienced Conservative ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer whom inexperienced Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, has access to.

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  17. Supplemental reading:

    Funding and job cuts at Australia's climate change research body could undermine the country's goal of dominating the Asian premium food market by placing farmers at a disadvantage to U.S. and European competitors.

    Australia's extreme weather means farmers rely heavily on climate change forecasts from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to mitigate the impact of bushfires, cyclones and droughts.

    "In the next 30 years we will need to alter our farming habits due to rainfall, heat, drought, soil moisture. Australian farmers need the best data and predictions," said former chief of CSIRO marine research Tony Haymet.

    Without such data, Haymet said Australia and its farmers will be "at a disadvantage in the long run".

    Thousands of international climate scientists signed a protest letter over the job losses, saying: "If these climate science research cuts at CSIRO proceed without being filled elsewhere, then Australia will not develop its capability to assess the accelerating risks associated with climate change".

    Australian cuts to climate change research may hit drive into Asia by Jarni Blakkarly, Reuters, Feb 10, 2016

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  18. Because of these cuts, there will also be a loss of corporate knowledge at the CSIRO. This loss of knowledge and expertise is, justifiably, of concern. Science is a collegiate profession which grows through interaction between scientists, not from scientists just working independent of each other. Change and renewal in collegiate professions should be a gradual process that occurs from the bottom upwards, not from the top downwards otherwise there will be a loss of corporate knowledge. New people coming to the organisation bring new knowledge and those already there bring experience that can best utilise that new knowledge. The modern management practices that have evolved in an age of economic rationalism and neoconservative politics don't seem to account for the nature of collegiate professions. I am a retired educator and have seen the impact and loss of expertise that can occur from gutting from the top rather than renewing from the bottom.

    Another factor is that not all the climate scientists who have been at the forefront of climate reasearch in Australia can be necessarily redeployed elsewhere. Their expertise may not easily translate to a different discipline or emphasis. While the CSIRO should not be a welfare agency for scientists who no longer have experise that is relevant to their research, it is not as if the nature of the climate system and the Earth as a global ecosystem is fully understood yet. While the debate has been essentially won in scientific circles, it is not as if the debate has been fully won with the wider community. Reducing the climate science expertise of the CSIRO may also make it easier for climate deniers to continue to cast doubt because as the integrity of independent science is being undermined by reduced funding, corporate funding of vested interest "science" will most likely rise in response to a wider public acceptance of the science. After all funding climate science denial is more a delaying tactic to continue to exploit, what is now, a dwindling dirty resource for a technologically outdated industry. 

    Also, it seems strange that the Australia Government is happy to fund laboratories to assess whether products meet Australian safety and health standards, even though there are many other assessment laboratories in other countries. I would have thought that studying the climate would be a similar, unless of course the Government doesn't think there are safety and health issues related to a changing climate.

    It seems that the economic rationalist LNP Australian Government wants to embrace fund cutting policies that reduce the level of scientific expertise in Australia while at the same time beating the mantra of innovation. It's a bit like their Direct Action climate change policy, funding to reduce emissions while allowing increased emissions. But then again, it's all about the accounting, not the scientific reality.

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  19. mancan @18, your comment is excellent all round.  However, it does seem to attribute the current changes to the CSIRO to the government.

    As it happen, the chief executive of the CSIRO is not appointed directly by government, but by the board of the CSIRO.  The Chairman of the Board at the time this was done was, Simon McKeon, was appointed by a Labor government.  He raised ire among deniers by his attitude towards Climate Change:

    "Despite admitting he has "no scientific pedigree", Mr McKeon says he wants to see the issue of climate change elevated to the top of the political and public agenda.

    "We may not have all the answers to what is occurring, we may not have certainly all the solutions to how to fix it," he said.

    "But the point is, why wouldn't one take out very strong insurance to at least do what we can to future-proof our well-being? I think it's a no-brainer.""

    Even today, nearly half of the board are Labor appointees, and at the time of appointment of Larry Marshall, the majority would have been.

    As tempting as it might be to suppose this is an act of the government, it is not.  It is the act of an independent manager of the CSIRO, of whom there is no reason to think that he is a denier or influenced by deniers.

    There is a contradiction between Prime Minister Turnbull's supposed commitment to innovation and his not reversing Abbott's cuts to the CSIRO - but this decision is not a direct reflection of that contradiction.

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  20. Tom Curtis @19 I'm in the process of replying to your earlier comments but I was so taken with your comprehensive and even handed  reply to mancan18, to whom I am also crafting a reply,  that I had to send this immediately 

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  21. On the same topic, funglestrumpet @16, it is very dubious that the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer has much direct influence on the Treasury Department of the Commonwealth of Australia, or the Treasurer in the Australian Government.  Given the details @19, the idea that this redeployment of CSIRO resources results from the undue influence of Lawson in UK politics is not credible.

    For deniers as for supporters of science, this came as a bolt of lightning out of the blue.  The only difference is that they while they celebrate the loss of fundamental research on climate, supporters of science regret it.

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  22. mancan18@18  Your comment "It seems that the economic rationalist LNP Australian Government wants to embrace fund cutting policies that reduce the level of scientific expertise in Australia while at the same time beating the mantra of innovation."  The cuts to the CSIRO were under the aegis of Tony Abbott.  The "mantra of innovation"  is from Turnbull.  

    Compare like with like?

    Your obsdervation "But then again, it's all about the accounting, not the scientific reality."is equally applicable to the personnel changes at CSIRO. However at today's Senate hearing the CEO of CSIRO said ""that CSIRO would ensure "vital" modelling and monitoring of climate change would continue.".

    Is all this angst premature?

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  23. Further information, and comments.

    First, Larry Marshall clarified the restructure on Monday 8th here.  Amongst other things he said:

    "In our Oceans and Atmosphere business we have about 420 staff, not 140 as reported by some media, and after these changes we expect to have about 355, contrary to media reports. We asked business unit leaders to focus their operational plans on growth, and growth within finite resources will always initially lead to making choices about what to exit. However, as painful as any redundancy is, for the majority of the 5,200 CSIRO employees there will be no change to their current circumstances as a result of these plans, and we will also recruit new people with new skills."

    This, however, seems like misdirection to me.  Specifically, the 100 full time positions lost from the Oceans and Atmosphere section will be lost from just two out of five units.  Both are heavilly focussed on climate research.  The question is, how many staff are their in the two units that will sustain the losses?  Larry Marshall does not answer, and the answer it probably 140.  Marshall merely distracts us by inflating the denominator.

    Marshall goes on:

    "The second area of correction is our ability to support climate measurement in Australia. Cape Grim and RV Investigator are not under threat from these changes. The Cape Grim air pollution monitoring station which is a source of much of our greenhouse gas information will continue to be that source. Our climate models have long been and will continue to be available to any researcher and we will work with our stakeholders to develop a transition plan to achieve this. The RV Investigator, operated by CSIRO for scientists from Australia and around the world as a state of the art research facility will continue to operate scientific voyages, gathering data every day at sea. We also have an air archive which is a resource available to any researcher to investigate air changes over time. We will also continue our contribution to the international Argo floats program which provides thousands of datapoints for temperature and salinity of our oceans; and we’ll be investing more in autonomous vehicles, using innovation to collect more data than ever before."

    While happy to hear that Cape Grim will survive, I am less than sanguine about the other reassurances.  RV Investigator is a multi-function research vessel and can continue its voyages very easilly without any research on climate (focussing instead on ecology, for instance).  Nor does a continued contribution to the Argo floats program assure us that the level of contribution will remain the same.  Finally, the phrasing of the assurance regarding the climate model suggests that it will not be used by CSIRO researchers, merely that it will be available to others (of which more later).  More important, it contains no assurance of the continued development and testing of the model, without which it will be obsolete in 4-5 years.

    Ryland above reffers us to the Senate Estimates hearings, for which (unfortunately) a transcript is not yet available.  The SMH, however, reported on the hearings.  From them we learn that:

    1)  An original document planning this restructuring indicated the need for the loss of only 35 positions from Ocean and Atmosphere, which can reasonably be taken as the number of cuts necessary to impliment the restructure without loss of significant, relevant capacity.  Apparently the increase from 35 to 100 positions was a top down position made without familiarity with the research being cut.

    '"Those numbers of 100 are very round," said one senior researcher, who had watched the live stream of the hearing and whose work may face the chop. "What was the rationale for coming up with them? We still don't know."'

    2)  The board was told of the level of cuts involved in the restructure just two days before the public announcement.  From that it is clear that this was not a decision made in consultation with the board, and ergo also not a decision whose rational has been tested by independent scrutiny.

    3)  The executives making the decision had not adequately informed themselves of the details of the operations and research they were cutting.  This is evident in their having made several errors about that research in responding to Senate Estimates.  In particular:

    "For instance, they initially said the key Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS) model jointly worked on by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO was "open-sourced", allowing for wide-ranging contributions that might offer the opportunity for savings."

    A belief that the software was open access may well have contributed to a belief that the CSIRO "climate models have long been and will continue to be available to any researcher" even while cutting the staff that operate those models (see Marshall's clarrification, and discussion above).

    This is fairly crucial in that Senate Estimates is the only indepedant scrutiny of the suitability of the restructure, and for the exectives to not have the basic facts underlying the restructure at their fingertips for Senate Estimates shows the numbers were chosen independent of an actual analysis of the number of staff needed to be retained for the capability Marshall claims will be maintained.  His clarrification is therefore revealed more as a statement of faith than something of which he can genuinely reassure us based on analysis.  Worse, his faith inflated by a factor of three the number of cuts an actual analysis showed to be appropriate.

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  24. Tom Curtis, thanks for your extensive comments. They are illuminating as your comments always are. I was not aware of how the CSIRO is managed. I am well aware that Labor, as well as the LNP, do not always see science as a funding priority and are happy to make funding cuts whenever they feel it is necessary. Personally, I think that independent scientific research should be funded as a fixed percentage of GDP and it should be related to the CPI to guarantee that funding. What level that the funding should be is, of course, an open question. However, it should be at least comparable to our OECD partners. Also, I don't think that independent science research can be easily privatised in Australia without the integrity of the science being compromised at times. This is because Australia does not have a history of the extensive philanthropic funding of science that some other countries have. Nor does it have the extensive high tech arms industry of our allies which attracts some of their Government funded scientific research. This is and has always been the problem of properly funding science in Australia. Certain appropriate funding would ensure that our best minds are attracted to science in Australia, remain in Australia and are gainfully employed, after all, science, while the short term dividend is not always clear, is the great multiplier that has driven the evolution of our high tech modern society and is needed to protect it.

    Ryland, accounting and scientific reality are always fair for comparison. It is the money provided that determines the science that is studied. The scientific reality will stay the same whether it is studied or not. It's just that we may not know what it is. For our viability into the future, it is important for us to know what that scientific reality is. Ultimately, the money for science is usually allocated by people who have qualifications in business administration, economics, finance, the law or in marketing. While our scientific organisations are normally managed by people with a scientific background, not many outside these scientific organisations, such as our politicians and Treasury, who are the ultimate arbiters of funding science, do not have a scientific background and necessarily understand its needs and nature. So when they decide on a funding cut, it is the managers of scientific organisations who have to curtail scientific programs, not the people who have decided to cut funding. Not many people go into science for the money. They go into it because they are curious and just want to know what is happening and how it happens. If they happen to make a lot of money out of it, is merely coincidental. Science does not always pay a short term dividend in the economic sense, but it does tend to pay a huge long term dividend from which the whole of society benefits. Climate science is about the long term dividend of protecting our world and should be properly funded. It is not about either-or it is about doing both.

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  25. Tom Curtis @ 23.   Unlike mancan@18 I am surprised at the unusual amount of speculation and supposition in your discussion.  I too read the SMH but I also read the Australian and trust neither to give a totally unbiased report. You express reservations on the statements made by Dr Marshall on staff cuts, the RV, Argo and the climate models that have no basis in fact.  They are in fact pure speculation

    On RV Dr Marshall stated:"The second area of correction is our ability to support climate measurement in Australia. Cape Grim and RV Investigator are not under threat from these changes."Your interpretation is:"RV Investigator is a multi-function research vessel and can continue its voyages very easilly without any research on climate (focussing instead on ecology, for instance)". What evidence have you that any of this will occur?  As far as I can determine it is again speculation with no basis in fact

    On Argo, Dr Marshall: :We will also continue our contribution to the international Argo floats program which provides thousands of data points for temperature and salinity of our oceans; and we’ll be investing more in autonomous vehicles, using innovation to collect more data than ever before."

    Your comment is : "Nor does a continued contribution to the Argo floats program assure us that the level of contribution will remain the same."

    Any evidence that it won't? Marshall certainly gives no indication it will be changed. He specifically states "we'll be investing more".

    On climate models Dr Marshall states:"Our climate models have long been and will continue to be available to any researcher and we will work with our stakeholders to develop a transition plan to achieve this."

    You say "the phrasing of the assurance regarding the climate model suggests that it will not be used by CSIRO researchers, merely that it will be available to others (of which more later). More important, it contains no assurance of the continued development and testing of the model, without which it will be obsolete in 4-5 years."

    This is purely your interpretation of Marshall's phrasing.  Another interpretation could well be  "that as the statement says models will continue to be available etc, these models will be fit for purpose".  

    On the staff cutting to which you refer Dr Marshall said: "In our Oceans and Atmosphere business we have about 420 staff, not 140 as reported by some media, and after these changes we expect to have about 355, contrary to media reports."

    Your comment "This, however, seems like misdirection to me. Specifically, the 100 full time positions lost from the Oceans and Atmosphere section will be lost from just two out of five units. The question is, how many staff are their in the two units that will sustain the losses? Larry Marshall does not answer, and the answer is probably 140". "

    "Seems like misdirection to me" is a purely subjective assessment with no apparent basis in fact Why is there "probably 140"? That number is specifically referred to by Dr Marshall as being incorrect.  

    In conclusion, why is the climate science community, of which SkS is certainly a member, so vehemently hostile to any actions it considers a threat to its beliefs and activities?  The furore  the appointment of Bjorn  Lomborg generated and the current hand wringing and prophecies of doom about proposed cuts at CSIRO epitomise the "to the ramparts" attitude of the climate science community at anything it perceives a threat to its beliefs and importance.  To the unbiased observer this could appear to be more like knee jerk paranoia than anything else.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Slogannering is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

  26. mancan18@24.  I've been a practising laboratory based scientist for over 30 years running research programs, supervising PhD students and applying for grants, so I'm acutely aware of the problems with funding in science.  What I find amazing about the proposed changes at CSIRO is the attitude that if these changes occur the study of climate science as we know it will cease to exist.  

    You say "For our viability into the future, it is important for us to know what that scientific reality is."  

    Just because there will be a cut to the climate science research at CSIRO does not mean that Australia will not know what that scientific reality is.  For example it has been said that a reduction in CSIRO climate scientists will impinge on Australia's ability to monitor sea level change which in turn will mean developers won't have the information necessary for projects that are close to the sea.  As NOAA has just launched the Jason-3 satellite which according to  NOAA "will be able to detect changes in sea level height down to the millimeter" and "help us to track global sea level rise, an increasing threat to the resilience of coastal communities and to the health of our environment." it seems even if CSIRO no longer measures sea level change, developers can still get information appropriate for their needs.

    In the supplemental reading provided by John Hartz at 17 it is said:

    "Funding and job cuts at Australia's climate change research body could undermine the country's goal of dominating the Asian premium food market by placing farmers at a disadvantage to U.S. and European competitors.

    Australia's extreme weather means farmers rely heavily on climate change forecasts from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to mitigate the impact of bushfires, cyclones and droughts.

    "In the next 30 years we will need to alter our farming habits due to rainfall, heat, drought, soil moisture. Australian farmers need the best data and predictions," said former chief of CSIRO marine research Tony Haymet.

    Without such data, Haymet said Australia and its farmers will be "at a disadvantage in the long run". 

    Surely the prime need for farmers "to mitigate the impact of bushfires, cyclones and droughts" is information on short term weather forecasts from BoM not long term climate change forecasts from CSIRO.

    Isn't the alteration of farming habits in the next 30 years exactly what is proposed by Dr Marshall in looking at ways Australia can adapt to climate change?  As for information on rainfall, heat, drought soil moisture all this is obtainable from sources other than CSIRO.  

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  27. Ryland thank you for your detailed response. My main concern comes from observing Government cost cutting measures over the last 40 years. It seems that every time a Government saving has to be made, it seems that science always cops more than its fair share. It also appears that due to the change in funding emphasis over the years, that Australia has difficulty retaining scientific expertise and attracting new expertise. I would like to see guaranteed science funding for independent scientific research based on a fixed percentage of GDP and the CPI, with scientists managing it and determine the science programs that are important and that need continued funding. I was a mathematics educator with qualifications in economics (albeit a long time ago), so I haven't had to apply for grants, but I have seen the impact that unilateral funding cuts can have where managers have had to cut important programs that they still see as important, just not as important as others deemed to be worthy of continued funding. Of course there is little point in Australia entirely duplicating everthing that is done overseas, it couldn't afford to anyway. However, it is important that Australia retains its standing within the international scientific community, but to me, it does not appear to be at the forefront like it used to be.

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  28. ryland @25, if your charge is that Dr Marshall has not properly detailed his plans so that I lack essential knowledge on the issue, well then I agree.

    If your charge is that my 'speculation' was no more than that, you are wrong.  First, contrary to your implication, I have not speculated that RV Investigator will wind up climate research.  Or that the ARGO float program will continue its current rate of deployment.  I have merely pointed out that we have no specific assurance on these points, and that therefore Dr Marshall's "assurances" have not been to the point.  Second, even on that limited basis, my querying as to whether Dr Marshall's "assurances" have been sufficiently informative to actually reassure have been based on fact.

    Take the RV Investigator.  It was recently hired out to oil and gas companies because government funding of the ship was limited to 180 days of the year.  While concurrent research in addition to the oil exploration was conducted, that research was restricted to ecological research, as mentioned in the above article.  For a voyage commenced in November last year (possibly that above if delayed, or possibly a follow on voyage), research was again restricted to ecological research.  That RV Investigator conducts voyages in which climate research is not undertaken is a fact.  Not speculation.  Therefore Marshall's assurance that "The RV Investigator, operated by CSIRO for scientists from Australia and around the world as a state of the art research facility will continue to operate scientific voyages, gathering data every day at sea" provides no assurance of continued climate research by RV Investigator.  It may, under Marshall's plans - but the evidence for that has simply not been provided.

    Or consider the number of staff cut.  We are told that 100 of the 350 overall cuts will be from just two sections of Ocean and Atmosphere, the two most closely involved with climate research.  The sections of Ocean and Atmosphere are:

    • Coastal Development and Management
    • Earth System Assessment
    • Engineering and Technology
    • Ocean and Climate Dynamics
    • Marine Resources and Industries 

    Of these, Earth System Assessment and Ocean and Climate Dynamics are the most closely entwined with climate research.  I do not have direct figures for the number of staff in each, but across all five there are 420 staff.  If they are evenly divided, that means there are 168 staff in those two divisions, a calculation that ignores the number of administrative staff.  So on those figures, we are looking at a 60% cut in the climate related research, although it is probably higher than that.  That is a lot more than the 24% you would estimate from the figure actually given by Dr Marshall.

    Unless we think the other three divisions are mere cyphers, there is no shadow of a doubt that Dr Marshall has deliberately concealed the impact of the cuts by quoting the larger, irrelevant figure rather than the current staffing levels of the two divisions that will actually experience the cuts.

    Finally, with regard to the computer model, if Dr Marshall was leaving a sufficient staff to appropriately update the model, it would have been irrelevant to his point that the model was open source.  That he thought it was, and defended the cuts on that basis makes it plain that he does not envisage more than a skeleton staff maintaining the software, and therefore more than staffing levels required to keep the model up to date.

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  29. Further update:  I turns out that the savage cuts to research under Tony Abbott are just about to have their largest impact.  The impact was delayed because of the number of scientists on short term contracts.  This appears to be a case of the Liberal's war on science.

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  30. Further on staff levels in the two units, my reasonable conjecture that they had 140 staff (based on an approximate reasonable estimate of similar value plus the fact that the number came from somewhere) is confirmed in this article, which says:

    "In a letter that was also sent to the CSIRO's board and chief executive Larry Marshall, the 2900 researchers said the decision to cut 100 full-time positions out of about 140 staff from two units of the Oceans and Atmospheric division "alarmed the global research community"."

    (My emphasis)

    Again, Dr Marshall appears to be guilty of deliberate misdirection in discussing the staffing numbers of the Oceans and Atmosphere division, most of whose units will not experience cuts, rather than the staffing numbers of the two divisions which will experience 100 cuts and which focus on climate research.  That is a cut of approximately 70% of the climate reasearch staff of the CSIRO.

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  31. JH@25. I am sorry for the sloganeering it was out of order.


    mancan18 @26 You comment "My main concern comes from observing Government cost cutting measures over the last 40 years. It seems that every time a Government saving has to be made, it seems that science always cops more than its fair share."


    Agreed. I think that many Australians and indeed many people in other countries, know very little about science, don't understand science and it doesn't play much of a part in their lives. For example, the comment "Oh. I'm hopeless at maths" is not uncommon. People seem quite OK with that but not with saying "Oh I'm hopeless at reading" as most are ashamed of not being able to read. That, I think, sums up the attitude of most to science, it is something they don't mind admitting they know little about. Governments therefore feel that as the populace, in the main, doesn't much care about science, chopping science budgets is a lot more politically acceptable than, say, increasing the GST or introducing a co-payment to the GP.

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