Aussie Scientists in a Political Pickle

Recently, Australia's leaders seem to have been second only to the Bush Administration in their denial of the consensus around climate science. Just in case anyone thought being a researcher in Australia was all toast and Vegemite (not that we've actually heard that anywhere), the Sydney Morning Herald paints a picture of Aussie scientists who look a bit like some of their beleaguered Yankee counterparts. From "California dreaming, to stop an environmental nightmare":

"Those of us who inherited this idea of Australia as a team player in the world have had to adjust over the last couple of years. We are no longer perceived as being supporters of the UN or the world scientific enterprise. To meet someone for the first time and have them badmouth Australia, whether justified or not, is not easy" (said Dr Tony Haymet, former chief of marine and atmospheric science at CSIRO, now at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography).

At CSIRO Haymet was responsible for reviewing the organisation's guidelines on scientists speaking out publicly, after several scientists said they had been gagged by the Government from speaking out about global warming issues.

As the director of Scripps, Haymet has found himself at the forefront of climate-change research, and at the forefront of a political debate that is being fostered by government, not stifled.

The article is worth reading for both the experiences of Australia's climate scientists and for Sydney's take on climate research in California.

"California has depoliticised the issue," says Haymet.

"The fatal mistake of the science community 15 or 20 years ago was we got wedged. We got drawn into a debate that was highly political and almost religious, and we weren't skilful enough to navigate our way to a place where we could patiently answer the questions on whether this effect was real. We got diverted and maybe we lost a decade in terms of response."

Sounds familiar enough. While we welcome Dr. Haymet to California, we lament that politicization of science should create brain drain in any nation. If there is a bright side the unprecedented droughts Australia is currently enduring, it may be their leadership's willingness to reassess climate change.


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