Australian Climate Scientists Bitter Over Interference
The Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 13, 2006
A former CSIRO senior scientist and internationally recognised expert on climate change claims he was reprimanded and encouraged to resign after he spoke out on global warming.
Graeme Pearman said he believed there was increasing pressure in Australia on researchers whose work or professional opinions were not in line with the Federal Government's ideology.
His view accords with that of a growing number of scientists concerned about the pursuit of "intensely political" areas of science, such as the debate over climate change, amid fears that views contrary to government policy were unwelcome.
Dr Pearman says he fell out with his CSIRO superiors after joining the Australian Climate Group, an expert lobby group convened by the Insurance Australia Group and environment body WWF in late 2003.
A core aim of the group was to encourage Australian political leaders to consider carbon trading where industry pollution is capped and there are financial incentives to reduce emissions and other measures including a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050.
The Federal Government has said it will not pursue carbon trading at this stage. It accepts that global warming is real and poses a threat to the Australian environment, but does not support mandatory targets for reducing carbon emissions.
Dr Pearman, who headed the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research for 10 years until 2002, said he was admonished by his Canberra superiors for "making public expressions of what I believed were scientific views, on the basis that they were deemed to be political views".
"In 33 years (with CSIRO), I don't think I had ever felt I was political in that sense. I've worked with ministers and prime ministers from both parties over a long period of time, and in all cases I think I've tried to draw a line between fearless scientific advice about issues and actual policy development, which I think is in the realm of government," he said.
Dr Pearman is one of three leading climate experts quoted on the ABC's Four Corners tonight who say they have been repeatedly gagged in the public debate on greenhouse gas cuts.
Dr Barrie Pittock, who was awarded a Public Service Medal for his climate work, has told Four Corners he was instructed to remove politically sensitive material from a government publication on climate change.
And Barney Foran, a 30-year CSIRO veteran, cited a case in August when CSIRO managers told him they had fielded a call from the Prime Minister's Department suggesting he should say nothing critical about ethanol as an alternative fuel.
Dr Pearman is one of a dozen senior climate change experts who have left the Melbourne-based atmospheric research division in the past three years as revealed in The Age on Saturday. The departures have raised concerns about the impact on Australian efforts in the important area of climate research.
Dr Pearman believed his involvement might have been "a factor" in his being offered redundancy two years ago. He was also at odds with the CSIRO's emphasis on wealth-generating research, arguing "public good" science was being lost. He was concerned about increasing pressure on researchers whose work or professional opinions were not in line with political ideology.
"I don't think it is something that has been specific to (Australia). It's a sign of the times that governments seem to want to get on with the job of making decisions based on the ideology they have presented in their elections, and they are more reluctant to seek open and fearless advice from scientists, from economists, from the judiciary, from groups & (who) might not agree with their position."
Dr Pearman's views echo those of James Hansen, the top climate change scientist at NASA, who last month said the Bush Administration had tried to stop him speaking out after he gave a lecture calling for urgent reductions in greenhouse gases.
CSIRO's deputy chief executive, Ron Sandland, said that although CSIRO encouraged scientists to talk about their work, it insisted they did not comment on government policy.
He said he did not know the details of Dr Pearman's case, but if a scientist were to join a group that argued against government policy as the Australian Climate Group did on carbon trading he or she would contravene CSIRO's media policy.
The executive director of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, Bradley Smith, said there were increasing tensions between scientists and policy makers, reflecting "a major cultural shift in the relationships between government, industry and science. The driver of all this is the emergence of knowledge economies. Research and development has increasingly become a centrepiece of industry policy."
Areas such as climate change were now "intensely political", and the 1950s notion of scientists being free to give frank and fearless advice was now completely naive, Mr Smith said.
Graham Harris, former chief of the CSIRO Land and Water Division, said he could not comment whether scientists were being stymied or silenced. But "once scientists worked on neat little esoteric problems no one cared about now they are working on water and greenhouse and all these highly charged issues," he said.
"In the water area, for example, a lot of people hate scientists being advocates for a particular kind of solution. The National Farmers Federation put out a paper saying it wanted 'agreed science'," Dr Harris said. It was an indication of the strong pressure scientists were under.
"It happens all around the world. Politicians don't like criticism, so they use whatever levers they can. It's all part of the commodification and politicisation of science."
Australian Greenhouse critic says views cost him his job
Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 13, 2006
A former CSIRO division chief and world expert on climate change says he was reprimanded and encouraged to take redundancy after joining a group of scientists urging action to cut greenhouse gases.
Graeme Pearman says he fell out with the CSIRO hierarchy after joining the Australian Climate Group, which was convened by the Insurance Australia Group and the World Wildlife Fund in 2004. It worked to encourage political leaders to consider carbon trading and other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Government has said it will not pursue carbon trading at this stage.
Dr Pearman, who headed the division of atmospheric research for 10 years until 2002, said he was admonished by his Canberra superiors for "making public expressions of what I believed were scientific views on the basis that they were deemed to be political views. In 33 years [with the CSIRO], I don't think I had ever felt I was political in that sense."
He said he believed his involvement with the group may have been a factor in his being offered redundancy.
He said he was concerned about growing pressure on researchers whose work or scientific opinions were not in line with government ideology. But he did not believe Australia was alone in this, and it was "a sign of the times".
Another former CSIRO scientist, Barrie Pittock, told the ABC's Four Corners he had also been censored, having been asked to remove politically sensitive material from a government publication on climate change. A third scientist, Barney Foran, said the Prime Minister's Department had asked him not to say anything about ethanol as part of broader work on biofuels he was undertaking.
Dr Pearman's comments echo those of Dr James Hansen, the top climate change scientist at NASA, who says the Bush Administration had tried to stop him speaking out since he called for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The CSIRO's deputy chief executive, Dr Ron Sandland, said while the CSIRO encouraged scientists to talk about their work, it insisted they did not comment on government policy.
The Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, denied the Government had acted to prevent scientists from criticising its stance on climate change.