[ASC-media] EXCLUSIVE: Insider Unloads on "Chaos" in CSIRO

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed Mar 30 08:02:40 EST 2005

30 March 2005      
For Immediate Release

EXCLUSIVE: Insider Unloads on "Chaos" in CSIRO

In July 2002 Dr Max Whitten, former Chief of CSIRO Entomology, published a
scathing attack on CSIRO's leadership in Australasian Science. The
magazine's ongoing coverage since then has raised further issues with
CSIRO's executive, which has neither publicly outlined any errors published
in Australasian Science nor sought any retractions. Nevertheless CSIRO
severed contact with the magazine in April 2004.
After examining extensive documentation that backed reports by the
magazine's Senior Correspondent, Dr Peter Pockley, the Media Entertainment &
Arts Alliance has vigorously criticised CSIRO for "a serious breach of its
public duties" and is pressing for an independent inquiry and publication of
the findings (www.alliance.org.au).
Now the thrust of Australasian Science's unique investigations has been
expanded and corroborated by a startling exposé from inside CSIRO's HQ in
Canberra. From August 2004, Norman Abjørensen worked close to CSIRO's Chief
Executive, Dr Geoff Garrett, and other executives. Dismayed by what he
witnessed, he resigned in December ­ more than enough time for the former
national editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and News Director of SBS Radio
to assess them. 
Abjørensen begins his article by asking "whether Australia can afford the
chaos already trailing in the wake of the embattled and publicly invisible
Garrett, who takes obvious delight in jolting CSIRO audiences with his
brutal change mantra: 'If it ain't broke, break it'." He says: "The
transformation comes with a high price: a phased reduction in the public
good research on which CSIRO has built its reputationŠ It is unclear what
the future holds for several non-commercial arms of the organisation."
Abjørensen describes a media strategy that aims to "punterise" media
releases to make them "sexy" for the Prime Minister's favourite tabloid
newspaper. Likewise media releases are rewritten by business managers to
talk up deals with corporate interests that are "seeking token involvement
with CSIRO in order to use its name". There are even allegations that CSIRO
staff were sent to a Senate Estimates hearing to "eyeball and intimidate"
reporters who had written unfavourable articles.

According to Abjørensen: "Garrett appears to trust very few people, and this
suspicion has spread throughout the organisation. People are careful about
what they discuss, and with whom, as conversations are often reported back
to managers." Rather than being an organisation built on cooperation and
knowledge generation, the current regime has fostered "an environment where
winks and nods prevail".

The magazine's editorial says Abjørensen's account "evokes images of
Orwell's Ministry of TruthŠ This is simply not good enough for an
organisation that the public turns to as a trustworthy authority on
scientific fact." 

Summaries and quotations of selected passages from the article and editorial
are permissible for reporting or review provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE
MAGAZINE is credited as the source.
Norman Abjørensen can be contacted on 0401 964 030.
For copies of the full article and editorial and permission to reproduce
them (partially or completely) or the accompanying cartoons by Simon
Kneebone, call the Editor, Guy Nolch (03 9500 0015) or Peter Pockley (02
9660 6363). A photo of Mr Abjørensen is available on request.

Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO
VIC 3145 Australia
Phone 61-3-9500 0015
Fax 61-3-9500 0255
Web www.control.com.au

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