By Shane McLeod for The World Today
ABC News Online, Nov 2, 2009
An environmental economist at the CSIRO says he is being told not to publish a paper on climate change because it challenges Government policy.
But the CSIRO says it is not trying to censor the scientist and is still reviewing the case.
Fears are being expressed both inside and outside the agency that it is self-censoring to avoid controversy and to safeguard its funding.
Dr Clive Spash is an ecological economist who has worked for the CSIRO since 2006, specialising in the interactions between the environment and the economy.
In Dr Spash's paper, which he has not been allowed to publish, he argues that carbon trading - like the emissions trading scheme being promoted by the Federal Government - appears to be ineffective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
He says more direct measures such as a carbon tax or new infrastructure would be simpler and more effective.
His paper was submitted for publication in the UK journal New Political Economy earlier this year.
But in July the CSIRO wrote to the editors, telling them the paper was being withdrawn because it had not been approved through internal CSIRO processes.
Dr Spash told the Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics conference in Darwin last week that CSIRO managers "maintained they had the right to ban" the paper.
No comments on policy
The World Today understands Dr Spash has been told not to publish the paper because of political sensitivities.
But the CSIRO denies it is trying to censor Dr Spash.
A spokesman says there is a long-standing policy of not publishing papers and reports that comment on policy, be it Government or Opposition, or even that of a local council.
He says Dr Spash's paper is now being reviewed by the organisation's chief executive, Dr Megan Clark.
And she has put her views about public comments by scientists on the record as recently as last month in an interview on the ABC's Sunday Profile.
"I'm encouraging our scientists to speak to the public. We're training our scientists to do that and they have my personal backing," she said.
"With it comes responsibility to make sure that we adhere to one of the most fundamental values of the organisation, which is the integrity of our excellent science.
"That's what the Australian people trust us for and we absolutely must always respect that value and never cross the line into commenting on policies.
"Lots of people out there are prepared to do that. The Australian people trust us to talk about our science."
She says if the CSIRO suddenly became aware that an emissions trading scheme was not the right way to go, it would have no problems putting it in the public domain.
"Our modelling will be out in the public domain. Our science will be out in the public domain and we should have it out there," she said.
It is that distinction - between science and policy - that is at the centre of the dispute over Dr Spash's paper.
The president of the CSIRO staff association, Dr Michael Borgas, says scientists understand not to comment on policy, but he says the line is becoming blurred.
"They are certainly very aware of the opinions they give from the organisation as a CSIRO, as part of an arm of Government if you like, meant not to comment on policy decisions of either the Government or the Opposition," he said.
"The overlap between policy and science is getting extremely close in these issues, which come to an interesting point in history where much of the science is telling us that we do have to worry about the finiteness of things and that includes climate change.
"And that means working out how to manage things and deal with policies for a sustainable future."
He says some scientists worry that self-censorship is at play, where supervisors and managers want to avoid controversy at all costs.
Dr Spash is now waiting for a decision from the chief executive on whether he can publish the paper in his CSIRO role, or even in a private capacity.
In her interview last month, Dr Megan Clark suggested the public and private roles of scientists were inseparable.
The World Today's attempts this morning to contact Dr Spash have been unsuccessful.