Is the CSIRO restricting open science?

That is the question asked in The Australian today [HT: Sinclair Davidson]. The case concerns an economic policy paper by Dr Clive Spash who has worked for the CSIRO’s sustainable ecosystems division since 2006.

The paper, by the CSIRO’s Clive Spash, argues the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is an ineffective way to cut emissions, and instead direct legislation or a tax on carbon is needed.

… But Dr Spash told the Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics conference that the CSIRO had since June tried to block its publication.

The paper has apparently been accepted for publication in New Political Economy (although there are claims the CSIRO is trying to block that publication).

But The Australian article raises lots of issues and does not seem to make sense. Looking at the Conference website, Spash is listed as a Professor with affiliation “Independent Research for the Environment (IRE)” and not the CSIRO. In addition, Spash maintains a website that lists dozens of publications since 2006 when Spash was employed by the CSIRO and points to a repository of papers by that division of the CSIRO. Finally, the paper under question appears to be about vested interests gaming public policy. The paper is not available but it does not appear to be empirical. In any case, it is hardly surprising that the a government organisation might worry about its employees speaking publicly about what appears to be, essentially, politics.

Thus, in contrast to the newspaper article, a brief examination shows that the CSIRO is hardly gagging research coming out in this area — indeed, the opposite with Spash able to maintain a considerable public presence.

4 thoughts on “Is the CSIRO restricting open science?”

  1. I saw Clive’s presentation in Darwin. CSIRO has only objected to publication of this particular paper. It’s a critical survey/review. Because CSIRO objected to the paper being published he presented it as his own independent research. He says that they want him all the same to not publish this paper as a private citizen. The World Bank etc. routinely has disclaimers on its articles but this he says was not agreed to. The matter was under review by the CSIRO CEO at the time of the conference according to Clive. If CSIRO doesn’t allow employees to comment on government or opposition policy then how can social scientists at CSIRO do policy evaluation. Some at the conference speculated that a clash of personalities lead to CSIRO actually trying to implement a policy they have on the books but usually ignore.


  2. If he is so keen to get the information out there, it is surprising that the paper is not on his website for download.

    “It is hardly surprising that the a government organisation might worry about its employees speaking publicly about .. politics.”  Many people would class universities as government organisations.


  3. I have to agree in that CSIRO staff should discuss policies in areas where science and innovation has a prominent role. But let’s not forget that CSIRO also has confidentiality rules in the many industry projects carried out for private companies. Scientists are not allowed to publish freely their research, nor their views. But this is policy in other Government organisations and private companies too. Note that CSIRO is NOT a big university and the environment is not the same than in a university.
    I think that CSIRO is at a cross roads between the many parties involved in funding science.  While science for the public good is part of CSIRO’s directives, so it is commercial R&D (CSIRO has to bring its own funding too, it is not fully subsidised by the Government).  CSIRO, just like any other organisation, does not want to upset those who fund it. Which is why it is hardly surprising that CSIRO is concerned about their staff publishing views that are contrary to their funding providers.


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