More than 160 of the world's top ocean and climate scientists have signed an angry letter of protest, condemning CSIRO's recent dismissal of globally respected oceanographer Trevor McDougall.
The international backlash has been sparked by CSIRO's decision to make Dr McDougall redundant, claiming his research is ''fundamental'' and the agency's research priority must be to ''answer the big contemporary questions for Australia and the world''.
The two-page letter, a revised version of an earlier letter reported by The Canberra Times, has been emailed to CSIRO board members, CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark and executive members of the Australian Academy of Science.
The list of signatories is a who's who of high achievers, including top names from elite research institutes - Scripps, Woods Hole, Max Planck and Britain's National Oceanography Centre - and universities in the United States, Japan, Canada, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Britain and Russia.
From top left: Professor Vittorio Canuto, Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato, Professor Ann Gargett, Professor Sarah Gille, Dr Stephen Griffies, Dr John Whitehead, Professor Barry Ruddick, Professor Mark Merrifield, Professor Toshio Yamagata.
Both CSIRO and the Australian Academy of Science declined to comment on the letter, which describes Dr McDougall's dismissal as an example of ''an unwise and short-sighted management culture'' at odds with science excellence.
''There is no doubt that Dr McDougall ranks very high indeed among world-class people,'' the letter said.
''This dismissal may have long-term adverse effects on the ability of CSIRO to recruit and retain the best and brightest young and mid-career scientists. We are thus dismayed by this action and believe it to be a dramatic example of a management culture gone profoundly wrong.''
One of Australia's top marine scientists, former CSIRO oceanography division chief Angus McEwan, has also warned the peak science agency's decision to end Dr McDougall's internationally award-winning research ''will undermine the basic building blocks of a future generation of science. He is an exceptional scientist, and CSIRO has indeed lost a science leader who was respected as a generous mentor,'' Dr McEwan said.
Retired CSIRO chief research scientist, mathematical geophysicist Art Raiche said the national science agency was jokingly known among young science graduates as ''an employer of last resort'', a pun on the Federal Government's equal opportunity ''employer of choice'' program.
Dr Raiche has called for CSIRO to be decentralised, and broken up into smaller, individually funded research agencies allied to universities, government departments and commercial industries.
''Scientists no longer have ownership of CSIRO, or have much input into the direction of the organisation. It is now run by managers, but not managers acting in an advisory capacity to senior scientists. Managers are making the decisions, and these are people who are fearful of independent thought and generally risk-averse,'' Dr Raiche said.
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 peer-nominated medal.
He was also one of Australia's Nobel Peace Prize winners in 2007, when the award was conferred on lead authors and contributors to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.
Signatories to the international letter told The Canberra Times the oceanographer is regarded as ''brilliant, amicable, idealistic and an iconoclast prepared to fight for his ideals''.
They described his work as having ''critical relevance'' to understanding the movement of ocean currents affecting the Earth's climate, including the influence of El Nino and La Nina events on extreme weather events.
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