CSIRO: science as a public good

Much fuss about the cuts at CSIRO climate research. This reminds me of a less serious situation 10, or perhaps 15 years ago, when cuts were proposed – I can’t recall if they actually happened – due to a conversation somewhat like:

Scientists: Global Warming is Real!
Government: OK, we believe you’re, we going to stop funding you looking for it.
Scientists: Oh wait, we didn’t quite mean it that way.

Cue today: as the Graun puts it In the email to staff on Thursday, Marshall said that since climate change was proven to be real, CSIRO could shift its focus.

Before I go further, to avoid confusion, I should say that for much of this I’m with Robert Wilson it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending. So it is possible to quibble many things – Cape Grimm CO2 monitoring for example: do we really need it, since we have Mauna Loa and others, and anyway we already know CO2 is going up. But really all that stuff is pretty cheap anyway, provides useful and interesting work for a variety of people, and makes the country a better place. OTOH, just as Controlled Washington, D.C. Wildfires are Crucial For Restoring a Healthy Political Environment science funding needs to be shaken up every now and again to stop people getting fat and lazy and blinkered.

But although Australia will lose some stuff of local relevance (VV points out why local stuff may well be useful), really most climate science is inevitably global; you can study the effects of El Nino on Australia but if you want to understand the mechanisms you need to look at least the whole tropics, and probably globally. Climate science is a public good, which is why governments fund it, but there’s the inevitable free-rider problem. Which in this case appears to be met with the usual free-rider response: disapproval from one’s peers, and loss of respect. Whether that will help is another matter.

Refs

* The gutting of CSIRO climate change research is a big mistake – John Abraham in the Graun (note errors; they aren’t “slashing hundreds of jobs”; note grotesque hyperbole, “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” is silly).
* Apparently climate science can stop now – better late than never I guess 🙂

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31 thoughts on “CSIRO: science as a public good”

  1. Hundreds of jobs? Well, 350 over two years. But that’s pretty much par for the course in recent years. The difference this time is that the CEO made a point of saying it was in accord with a strategy, and spelling it out. He’s a Silicon Valley guy (though originally an Oz Physics PhD) appointed by the Abbott government. I think they couldn’t see the point of CSIRO and wanted someone to turn it into a SV enterprise. The CEO is enthusiastic about the NetFlix management model. Lean and mean etc. The new PM likes that talk; it was his line of business. Climate is harder to spin off. It won’t excite venture capitalists.

    It’s said now to be 60 jobs in Oceans and Atmospheres. That will probably hit Ocean hard. They do a lot with ocean around Australia – the local aspect is important there. Part of the Division was once called Fisheries. As you say, maybe we can survive without it, but again, it doesn’t cost a lot in the scheme of things.

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  2. This is close to home for me. The issue that is getting people riled up is not the number of job losses per se (we lost loads more in the last few years) but where they are targetted – namely gutting the climate modelling/measuring capability.
    Oceans and Atmospheres has about 400 people but it is primarily the climate people that will go (O&A do lots of other stuff besides). This decision was made without consulting with the Bureau of Metorology who have significant joint projects, or state (and possible federal) govts & govt departments who use the O&A climate projections for planning/adaptation. The other heavily hit division are Land and Water. Weirdly the CEO says he is doing this so that more funding can be directed to climate adaptation.

    Nick – the “60” jobs lost (rather than 100) is because the CEO is saying that after firing 100 they will hire 30+ new people to work in O&A (but not on climate presumably).

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  3. The English-speaking world is subject to power brokers trying to kill the messenger. Yes, with “proof” seeming clear enough to move on, it would seem that things should be done instead of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. But taking away the people doing the heavy lifting about keeping information open doesn’t seem a good idea to me. Again, WMC, in my conversations with people with the UK, it is clear that they have no sense of the level of denial that controls things in the US (you’d think they could see Trump et al., but it’s not the leaders but the followers that are worrying); it appears to be similar in Australia.* You have a bit of it with Cameron/Osborne. Michael Moore published Stupid White Men which had to be pulled here because of 9/11; I arrived at Heathrow on the morning of 9/11 and picked up a copy on my way home. Europe is getting bigger cars and ruder people and more racist, just like us. Sad.

    *Eye opener on Gina Rinehart:
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/03/25/the-miners-daughter

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  4. For sone insight on Larry Marshall, see this tweet follow the advice, then open the link to his PDF of PPT.

    [I see what you mean. That’s clearly a guy whose main thought is business. I can see why a govt might want to bring someone like that in to shake things up; and I can see why it might go badly. Apart from anything else, I doubt he regards himself as committed; if it all goes horribly wrong, he’ll just leave and go elsewhere, leaving a mess behind -W]

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  5. Since the consensus is 97% settled, the cutbacks make sense. It’s a policy and engineering problem now. Time for the eggheads to step aside and let the grownups solve the problem.

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  6. #7 WMC

    To be more precise, since he’s being labeled a SIlicon Valley guy:
    1) There are some entrepreneurs and VCs who build businesses for quick exits, then on to the next.

    2) Then there are entrepreneurs and VCs who invest long-term in building strong companies that last a while and can get big. It’s OK to have some quick flips, and sometimes that’s the way it works out, but. if you look around at people who’ve built great businesses, 2) is the pattern, not 1).
    I’ve spent a lot of time in VC offices, and they are thick on the ground within easy bicycle range (Sand Hill Rd).

    A) The real issue is that most places need to do better in commercializing relevant research (whether from govt agencies or universities). We once visited a well-known Cambridge area guy, very hip to entrepreneurship, proudly pointed us at a map of all the spinoffs around Cambridge (probably best such area in UK/Europe) … and said “Of course, when we need venture capital we go to Palo Alto.”
    That was back in 1990s, maybe it’s changed.
    I once spent a few hours briefing a British Minister and his entourage who were visiting Silicon Valley trying to figure out what UK could do better. (among other things, I told them they needed to visit Fry’s Electronics. :-))

    B) However, there is the sort of research that is not really commercializable, that is part of a society’s investment in itself, and it is really hard to fund that except via government and sometimes big foundations. (Carnegie Dept of Global Ecology at Stanford is one like that).

    It is really hard to combine that kind of research with commercializable R&D inside one relatively small organization. (I say relatively small, because Bell Labs had 25,000 people in R&D, plus support, but only ~1500 in R (Area 10), and it was funded differently, had different timeframes, etc See R2-D2.

    In every company I’ve worked at, there was always a need to carefully protect some future-looking work from the vagaries of quarter by quarter development.

    Some of the VCs I know could do well running A), almost none running B). I can only think of two offhand.

    Anyway, I think CSIRO suffers from having split missions with different requirements, and both pieces are needed, but they are different.

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  7. “It’s a policy and engineering problem now.”

    Care to tell us what exactly people should be adapting to? If there is one area where climate science still needs to do a lot of work, it is on regional changes. If one is to adapt to climate change, it may not be wise to do so on a global average, when the regional differences can be really large…

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  8. #11 Ahh, but Eli wasn’t there to hear the reason I told them to visit Fry’s….
    a combination of local history, economics, and technology, strangely relevant as one of the ingredients of S.V. not widely available in most other places, at least not 30 years ago.

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  9. Marco:
    “Care to tell us” Nice passive aggressive arrogance, bravo.

    Source reduction: BC, SOx, NOx, VOCs Ozone first using off the shelf scrubbing and linking it to trade agreements. CO2 source reduction is a longer play.

    WRT regional impacts, the models are not and will not be capable to make such predictions to be of any benefit. Throwing good money after bad is not a strategy for success.

    Mosher makes a good point, improve adaptation (infrastructure) to deal with 20th century weather. Obviously, the Swiss don’t need to worry about SLR as much as Bangladesh.

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  10. Howard, are you really that much a simpleton? I ask seriously.

    The science in many areas is ‘settled’ – gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago and a Nobel Prize was won in large part for their indirect detection decades ago. Yet, science still attempts to directly detect them. Why? Well, for a better and more thorough understanding.

    Your notion that “WRT regional impacts, the models are not and will not be capable to make such predictions ” is not backed by any science. It’s a know-nothing view that is contradicted by the improvement of models over the course of the last 50 years. It also neglects the movement towards regional climate models and/or statistical downscaling methods.

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  11. Howard, you cannot expect anything but passive-aggressive response to handwaving.

    And thus you can expect that again from me regarding your claim that “WRT regional impacts, the models are not and will not be capable to make such predictions to be of any benefit.”

    And you base that on what, exactly? Your immense knowledge and understanding of the field?

    Also, “improve adaptation (infrastructure) to deal with 20th century weather” is a rather stupid thing to do, when you already know that 20th century weather is *not* what you can expect in the 21st century with the ongoing climate change!

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  12. When “grownups” like Trump, the Kochs, Lord Monckers, Romney, Abbot, or the managers appointed by the Governor of Michigan to “solve” Flint’s insolvency are “let” in, the problems they actually

    solve are: “how do we accrue more wealth, power ,and influence”; “how do we further our right wing agenda”; “what’s the cheapest engineering patch that will hold ’til the next election/bankruptcy”.

    When the electorate lets them in, the “grownups” see the henhouse as an opportunity.
    The “grownups” of SEQWater were put in charge of managing water storage and treatment in South East Queensland 2008 July 1; Wivenhoe Dam became one of their a$$ets. In 2010, they

    issued “The South East Queensland Water Strategy” – “…the adaptable blueprint for maintaining water security in South East Queensland (SEQ) into the future.”

    https://www.dews.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/32734/seqws.pdf
    on page 29 it discusses “On-site scale – … local governments(not our problem!) in SEQ have incorporated water-sensitive urban design into these [development] requirements, often in partnership

    with developers. Water-sensitive urban design …seeks to avoid or minimise the impacts of development by: •••reducing downstream flooding (3rd priority) ”
    on page 30, the LAST consideration in developing The Strategy, subcategory Social Outcomes, is flood mitigation – below, among other considerations, “Home gardening” and “Access to sporting

    fields, parks and gardens”
    on page 40 SEQ Water Grid operations, it mentions in passing “Many individual dams are also constructed with a flood storage compartment that sits above the water storage compartment.” but

    that’s not shown on their illustrative diagram.
    on page 80 Projects currently underway, they list “….increase water supply from Hinze Dam by at least 6000 megalitres per year and(oh, by the way, coming in second) provide additional flood

    mitigation for downstream communities.”
    on page 98 they mention “…modifying the operating rules that balance water storage capacity and flood mitigation capacity. Downstream flood impacts will be a key consideration in investigations

    into any of these options.”
    on page 130 in the 10th category and 42nd bullet point of Key elements of The Strategy they assert that “New or raised dams will provide additional flood mitigation benefits”, putting the cart before

    the horse.
    on page 143 in the Table of Key Actions number 40 is “investigate such issues as ground conditions and flooding risk” with regard to siting desalination plants, and number 50 is ” Review the

    operation of the Brisbane River system to (first!) optimise the water supply yield and balance flood storage and water supply storage volume requirements” in the section about increasing capacity.

    152 pages of “The Strategy”, less than ten occurrences of the word “flood”. Then in 2011, the rains came. 2+ billion dollars in direct damages, ~ $40 billion in indirect costs to the economy. A big

    chunk came because the “grownups” decided that ensuring 100% storage capacity available for home gardening, recreation, etc instead of drawing down a$$et Wivenhoe for additional flood

    protection cushion was a wise policy decision. Surprise, surprise.

    Flint, Michigan voted to join a regional water authority to build a new pipeline to Lake Huron to become operational in 2017 ; this automatically terminated their long term contract with Detroit to

    supply properly treated water at low bulk rates. Detroit offered to supply water in the interim at higher rates, to be negotiated. The state appointed an “emergency manager, formerly an emergency

    financial manager, is an official appointed by the governor to take control of a local government under a financial emergency. A manager temporarily supplants the governing body, chief executive

    officer, or chief administrative officer of the local government and has the authority to remove any of the unit’s elected officials should they refuse to provide any information or assistance. Managers

    have complete control over the local unit with the ability to reduce pay, outsource work, reorganize departments and modify employee contracts” –

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_emergency_in_Michigan
    This “grownup” appointee decided that continuing to purchase water from Detroit until the new pipiline was completed was too expensive, hired an engineering firm that proposed getting water from

    the (highly polluted) Flint river; contracts were awarded, upgrades were done to the water plant, “grownups” at Michigan Department of Environmental Quality signed off on the plans & permits,

    treated Flint river water started flowing, jubilation ensued. Non of the “grownups” noticed the lack of legally required corrosion controls in the treatment process.
    Because of high levels of coliforms and organics from agricultural runoff upstream, high levels of chlorination(to treat the coliforms) caused too high levels of Total Trihalomethanes(TTHM). Flint

    started adding ferric chloride as a coagulant to remove organics, which corrected the TTHM problem, but resulted in high chloride ion levels, making the water corrosive. GM, which employs ~7000

    people in Flint, down from ~70,000 in the eighties, noticed that the chloride levels were corroding their crankshafts being produced at the engine plant, and got permission, at a $400,000 annual cost

    to the city of Flint in lost water revenue, to switch back to Detroit water. GM gets about $2 billion from Michigan in a cash rebate; the exact amount is a trade secret. Lee Anne Walters, who noticed

    health changes in her children, and black sludge in her water, got denial, accusations, and a general runaround from the gummint, state and local “grownups”. After she had he son retested at an

    independent clinic two weeks after the local health dept clinic reported lead levels of 2 micrograms/decileter blood in her son, and the new test showed 6 ug/dl, she contacted an EPA scientist,

    Miguel Del Toral . He tested the water multiple times over several days, and found lead levels grossly over the limits for lead in drinking water, including one sample which classified as toxic waste.

    The copper levels exceeded the upper detection level of the test equipment. The “grownup” lawyer and Del Toral’s boss, EPA’s Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman sent his report to the legal

    department, and they spent a “grownup” 4 months before acting. MDEQ’s “grownup” spokesman Brad Wurfel called Del Toral a “rogue employee”. Ken Sikkema, a former state senator and co

    chair of the Flint Water Advisory Task Force said “Flint residents were exposed to toxic levels of lead in their water primarily due to a regulatory culture of passive technical compliance that is simply

    insufficient to the task of public protection, We also believe that the dismissive and disrespectful tone of much of the MDEQ’s response to public concerns is unacceptable.” The “grownup” head of

    MDEQ, Dan Wyant, along with Hedman and Wurfel have resigned – no doubt for “grownup” reasons.

    I can’t help but notice that Howard puts policy ahead of engineering, and regards pointy headed science as unnecessary. Very “grownup”.

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  13. Marco: You have no evidence the weather will change much with AGW. What we do know is that weather has been a bugger in the past and we are generally under-prepared for it. So at a minimum, lets get to that standard at least.

    As far as GCM’s go, is there any citation of calibrated results that have made any verified regional predictions? No.

    What we do know is that low-lying areas are more at risk for SLR and we don’t need a model to tell us that. WRT a worrisome SLR magnitude, it depends on catastrophic failure in Greenland or Antarctica. Neither of these events can be predicted by models.

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  14. John Mashey: So, what you are saying is that the state of the art AGW consensus IPCC position as of today right now is equivalent to driving blind in Boonville during the 1997 El Nino? Like the Mike Hedges reference?

    I disagree completely because you are essentially taking the exact same position of the most ignorant commenters at the WUWT site. The state of the science is good enough and throwing more money at it, IMO, will not bring a quantum leap in understanding sufficient to impact policy decisions.

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  15. Brian Dodge: Naturally, I didn’t read your diatribe, but did pick up on your obsession with Flint. The Flint water was previously provided by adults who kept the corrosive aggression down to not leach lead from the old pipes. This is water treatment 101. The idiot water dilettantes who decided they could do it cheaper are to blame.

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  16. Marco: you make exactly my point, we need to adapt to the current known weather extremes as outlined by heavily weasel-worded USEPA page that had no links to actual sources supporting their rather bland assertions.

    That said, there is no evidence that the rather mild weather of the 20th and early 21st century is remarkable for the Holocene.
    Holocene Climate Change
    Extreme Holocene Storms During Cold Periods

    Perhaps your obvious lack of experience in hydrology has deprived you of appropriate perspective. What would the Anasazi do?

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  17. “The idiot water dilettantes who decided they could do it cheaper are to blame.”
    Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan; “grownup” policy maker, or idiot water dilettante? Tax Attorney
    Dan Wyant, MDEQ; “grownup” policy maker, or idiot water dilettante? Food Science
    Susan Hedman, EPA; “grownup” policy maker, or idiot water dilettante? Lawyer
    Brad Wurfel, MDEQ; “grownup” policy maker, or idiot water dilettante? Journalism
    Darnell Earley, Governor appointed Emergency Manager for Flint, MI; “grownup” policy maker, or idiot water dilettante? Master of Public Administration

    Of course, we already know you consider Miguel Del Toral and Marc Edwards eggheads who ought to have stepped aside to let the “grownups” handle it.
    When you order your priorities policy => economics => engineering => science, disasters happen; people die. At least in Michigan, the scientists intervened, and the worst that happened is a few excess deaths from Legionaires disease, and lead poisoning will result in a smal number of developmentally disable children – or, as their known in Lansing, future young Republicans.

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  18. Brian: Water operators (technicians), let alone engineers and scientists have known about the root causes of the problem that erupted in Flint for a long time.
    http://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/lead-and-copper-rule
    The science and engineering and implementation has been well established. Flint is the result of incompetence, greed and politics.

    That’s alright, I get it. You dream of a utopia run as a dictatorship by college professors.

    WRT AGW, the consensus science is settled… the first order of business is complete. Now it’s time for policy supported by engineering and economics. You are the one who made up priorities with science last. When you study a problem to the point of gilding the lily, people die from inaction.

    It’s time to figure out where to spend the LIMITED time, intellectual capital, manpower and money to fix it.

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  19. ps. My computer is telling me somebody is using this site to create unsafe locations. I had to fiddle a bit to get the real thing. This has happened several times in the past few days on this and the Cruz article.

    [Odd. I don’t see that (even when logged out). What’s the message? -W]

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  20. I get the same – it seems to be a scienceblogs issue (I had it on Greg Laden’s blog for some entries, too).

    The message is
    **********************
    There’s a problem with this website’s security certificate

    This might mean that someone’s trying to fool you or steal any info you send to the server. You should close this site immediately.

    Go to my homepage instead

    Continue to this webpage (not recommended)

    [Thanks. I got something similar just now from Chrome (https crossed out, and so on). However, I’m here now. I suspect the answer is some certificate failure; perhaps Sb hasn’t updated it’s cert. However#2, sometimes (like now) I can get here with no warning -W]

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  21. Just as a follow-up, it only happens with some stories (I use Edge, by the way), and it appears only if I try to get into that story by clicking on a comment. But even then I don’t always get this error message. It’s weird.

    [Same for me. One other Sber has seen it, but not recently -W]

    Like

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