One of Australia's most-awarded climate researchers, oceanographer Trevor McDougall, has been made redundant by the CSIRO, drawing a stinging letter of rebuke from top international scientists.
The four-page letter accuses CSIRO of ''relinquishing its responsibility'' to global climate science, ''taking definitive steps towards mediocrity'' and abandoning ''high-impact research''.
But the CSIRO has defended its decision, saying it must focus on science that delivers ''the greatest national benefit''.
CSIRO Staff Association president Michael Borgas said the redundancy of such an internationally regarded scientist sent a message that science ''is not a secure career in this country''. It suggested successful scientists were not valued or rewarded, and ''success has become an occupational hazard at CSIRO''.
While declining to comment specifically on Dr McDougall's redundancy, Australia's Chief Scientist, former Australian National University chancellor Professor Ian Chubb told The Canberra Times yesterday it was ''time for Australia to show the rest of the world we do value our scientists as highly regarded citizens and contributors to our future''.
Professor Chubb said that a national overhaul of potential science career paths was ''long overdue''. He also warned a report on the state of Australian science, being compiled by his office and due for publication early next year, ''is not likely to paint a pretty picture''.
Dr McDougall's redundancy comes less than six months after he received one of the world's most prestigious ocean sciences awards, the Prince Albert I Medal. Earlier this year Dr McDougall, a chief research scientist with CSIRO's marine and atmospheric research division in Hobart, became the first Australian to be awarded the medal.
The award honours the late Prince Albert 1 of Monaco's life-long interest in ocean sciences. His other awards include an Australian Academy of Science award for outstanding research and the Royal Society of Canada's Huntsman Award for excellence.
His redundancy has prompted a strongly worded protest letter from scientists at several global climate research agencies, including Germany's Max Planck Institute and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Princeton University.
The letter has been emailed to, among others, Federal Science Minister Chris Evans and CSIRO board members. ''Dismissing Dr McDougall has severely damaged the reputation of [CSIRO] in the national and international oceanographic and climate community ...'' it says.
''Dr McDougall's efforts are unique and pioneering, pushing the field ahead in a huge range of areas, both fundamental and applied. Without his efforts, a wide range of physical oceanographic theory, observations, analysis, and models would be decades behind where they are today.''
The chief of CSIRO's marine and atmospheric research division, Bruce Mapstone, said the agency supported and valued Dr McDougall's work. ''We are very pleased that Trevor will retain a link with the CSIRO as an honorary fellow and continue to work with his colleagues ... CSIRO works in areas of science that answer the big contemporary questions for Australia and the world. Our science mission means making decisions about areas to grow and areas to reduce so we remain focused on addressing those issues that ultimately result in the greatest national benefit,'' Dr Mapstone said.
The scientists protesting at Dr McDougall's redundancy said they hoped their letter would initiate a ''frank and honest'' reconsideration of the decision.
''Dr McDougall's dismissal is a mere example of what we perceive to be an unwise and short-sighted management culture that distances itself from the core science that is the main product of the organisation. All of the leading scientists we know are dismayed at Dr McDougall's dismissal, and believe it to be a dramatic example of a management culture gone profoundly wrong,'' the letter said.