04 November 2009

Update on Clive Spash at CSIRO

Earlier this week I discussed the apparent censorship of a paper by an Australian government research agency, CSIRO, because the paper was critical of emissions trading. The ABC has an update (and if you go to the ABC site you can hear Spash speak in the radio interview):

The CSIRO is grappling with claims it is trying to censor the work of an economist who has criticised the policy at the centre of the Federal Government's response to climate change.

The researcher, Dr Clive Spash, has been told not to publish a journal article that questions the economic underpinnings of carbon trading versus other means of cutting greenhouse emissions.

Dr Spash is an ecological economist with the sustainable ecosystems division at the organisation.

He told ABC Radio's AM that he was headhunted to join the CSIRO but wonders if he has a future there if he cannot talk about the subject of his research.

The CSIRO says it has had a long-standing policy that its scientists and researchers do not talk about policy and Dr Spash says it is a policy he was well aware of.

"The big concern here for economists has been about efficiency," he said.

"Taking an emissions trading scheme approach is known to be the most efficient approach. My paper is criticising that."

Dr Spash says at first he was told by his supervisors that he should try to have the paper published in an international journal to boost its academic credibility.

He did that and the article was accepted for publication by the UK journal New Political Economy.

"After the article had been accepted for publication and I had informed the acting chief of the division, two weeks later he informed me that the article could not be published," he said.

Dr Spash offered to publish the paper under his own name, disclaiming his CSIRO affiliation but later he was told that was not an option.

The controversy surrounding his paper seems to be in part behind efforts within the organisation to clarify its policies for scientists speaking out.

The CSIRO's chief executive, Megan Clark, explained the philosophy in an interview with ABC radio last month.

"If one of our scientists is talking about their discipline area there's no division between an individual and the organisation," she said.

But that leaves researchers and scientists like Dr Clive Spash wondering what they are supposed to do.

He was recruited to the CSIRO in 2006 from Scotland. He says he was told that the organisation wanted him based in Canberra so he would be close to policymakers.

"I'm aware of the statements of policy," he said.

"The problem is the interpretation that's being given to them right now, they're not particularly clear. There's real issue here about people working in the socio-economic area.

"There's also economists, anthropologists, you know a range of different people in the social sciences working within CSIRO.

"It's not at all clear to me how these people are supposed to work and do their job while trying to meet these general guidance principles that have been interpreted at present to say that we're not allowed to comment on any government policy at any level of government, anywhere in the world."

The organisation says Megan Clark is reviewing the question of whether Dr Spash's paper can be published.

My view, as it was in the case of Jim Hansen and the Bush Administration is simple, let Clive Spash speak. If the current policies can be read as supporting the suppresion of his research, then by all means, fix the policies.