CSIRO aims to “accelerate commercialism” in a new strategy as staff denounce scientific diversion

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Australia’s leading science agency, CSIRO, has unveiled a new “meaningful” work model to promote trade deals, in a move towards reliance on outside funding that a leading scientist says will be “crippling”.

Guardian Australia understands that the focus shift was done without informing the science minister, Ed Husic.

In a presentation on Oct. 14, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) told more than 200 senior officials that there was an opportunity to “make some significant fundamental changes,” according to a document provided to Guardian Australia.

Entitled “Proposed New Structures for Growth,” the plan states that although “significant progress” has been made in the past five years, there was “a growing need to operate seamlessly as” a single CSIRO in our research, relationships with customers and partners “.

Related: CSIRO abruptly eliminates the globally recognized climate forecasting program

It also highlighted “accelerating commercialization” as the main goal of CSIRO’s 2022-2023 strategy. Among the seven strategic priorities, for example, “science-led university partnerships” would shift to “impact-based university partnerships”.

“I almost fell out of my seat,” said a senior staff member, who added that the changes would amplify the demands to find so-called “mission-scale market interventions.”

The scientist, who requested anonymity, said the growth facility has “subjected the current addiction to commercial ties to steroids”, adding that “a lot of people don’t like the way it’s headed.”

“We just want to do science,” the person said. “It will paralyze us.”

Another senior researcher said the plan would consolidate requirements for basic research as well, such as critical observations for climate change, to secure 70% external funding. “Otherwise, I won’t let my managers through for approval.”

It is understood that the new Federal Minister of Industry and Science, Ed Husic, was not informed of the new structure. It follows the recent Guardian Australia revelation that CSIRO abruptly terminated a 10-year forecasting project that could help identify the next El Niño or La Nina without informing global partners and Husic’s concerns that CSIRO was “leasing its brand. “to major gas companies instead of helping much smaller local companies.

“CSIRO is an independent government agency,” a spokesperson for Husic said. “While he makes organizational decisions and enters into commercial agreements at a distance of conditions from the government, the minister is looking forward to being consulted on important changes.”

A CSIRO spokesperson said it “is currently working on its operational model for the growth team within CSIRO, which includes customer support, program delivery, partnerships, investment and commercialization.”

“The consultation with the staff is ongoing. Although not finalized, the model fully aligns with CSIRO’s business plan, “said the spokesperson.” Science and research are what CSIRO offers and we are committed to science that provides positive economic, environmental and social impact. “.

“The claim of a ‘business-over-science’ approach is incorrect,” they said, citing research ranging from Japanese encephalitis to wildfire behavior and radio astronomy as examples of public good science.

Related: The Minister of Science warns CSIRO against “renting” its brand to giant gas companies

A former CSIRO scientist who negotiated contracts said taxpayers often subsidized companies that had the means to do the work themselves. These include Telstra, Tassal, Rio Tinto, and Fortescue.

“You and I are funding a large chunk of projects with companies that can afford to pay their way, while smaller companies that really need government help can’t reach the threshold to get out of bed,” the former. – said the staff.

The implications, however, were not only for corporate well-being, but also for the diversion of science.

“Research questions are client-driven, which means the results are very skewed to the results the client wants, not driven by what’s good for the country, nor by what objectively advances science,” he said. stated the scientist.

“[T]They are almost invariably trade-in-trust, which means we can’t see the search results we’re paying for, ”they said.

The salmon industry offered an example, where companies of the time provided 60% of the funding and CSIRO 40%. “[The] salmon [industry] establish the terms of reference for the project, [they] retained the intellectual property, all the exhibits were unpublishable without the client[’s] “OK” as a commercial, “said the former staff member.

Work that could produce negative results was avoided, staff said.

“They would not research the question of whether salmon farming is sustainable in coastal ecosystems, where it might be found that it is not,” the person said. “[R]Additionally, they would look at how to minimize stock loss due to amoebic gill disease.

“The days of discovering wifi are over,” the person said, referring to one of CSIRO’s most famous inventions.

“Today it would not be discovered by curious scientists. It would only be found out if the customer had contracted it, in which case it would be owned and profitable for that customer, not the Australian people. “

The CSIRO spokesperson said this view did not give “proper recognition of the work done by CSIRO scientists who are making discoveries and working every day for the benefit of the nation.”

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