Monday, May 16, 2016

Shock and furious anger at the vandalism of CSIRO: Larry Marshall wants to tear it down before anyone can stop him

Sou | 1:24 AM Go to the first of 42 comments. Add a comment
The Australian Government is now in caretaker mode. After declaring an election is to be held on 2 July, the government will not be making any substantive decisions before the election, other than is absolutely necessary. All seats in both houses of Parliament are up for grabs in what is known here as a double dissolution. That sets the scene for who knows what. The current government is probably ahead slightly, but a lot can happen in the next 46 days.

While the government is not around to stop him, the newly appointed CEO of CSIRO is taking the opportunity to wreak havoc. He is ransacking and pillaging our most prestigious national scientific organisation, destroying decades of climate science. He is not tearing it apart to put back together. No. He is tearing it down. He is plundering our single biggest defense against climate change. Australia will soon be dependent on a very small number of remaining staff at CSIRO, plus the science carried out at Universities, and the Bureau of Meteorology. Larry Marshall is aiming to complete his destruction before the Federal election, while no-one in government can act to stop him. (They could, but by convention they probably won't.)

What this means is that Australians will no longer know nearly as much about what we have to adapt to as climate change continues. Nor will we know if, or by how much, any efforts to mitigate climate change are working. We will be flying blind. Our international partners will find long term commitments from Australia's CSIRO are not going to be honoured. Larry Marshall is not just leaving Australians in the lurch, he's leaving the world in the lurch.

You have probably read of the work of Dr John Church here at HotWhopper and elsewhere. Many of his sea level papers were prepared with his long-time colleague Dr Neil White, who retired last year.

Today Peter Hannam at the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Dr Church, a living treasure here in Australia, and one of the world's leading authorities on sea level change, got a phone call to tell him that he's out on his ear. He's got the sack. It was reported that he has a couple of weeks (while he's on a ship doing research) to justify his position. Right! As if his major contribution to science in Australia and the world isn't enough. As if it isn't enough of a reason that Australia, with most of its population living on or near the coast, is in desperate need of a very good understanding of sea level changes to come. As if it isn't enough that Australia is totally surrounded by sea, that our shipping infrastructure, on which exporters are almost completely dependent, needs to be able to plan properly for sea level rise.

All Australians must be in shock, turning to anger, that Larry Marshall is removing one of the key planks for national security as well as local planning. They must be incredibly ashamed that Dr Church has been treated in this shocking manner by a trumped up venture capitalist who is so clearly out of his depth that he is wrecking our leading R&D organisation.

The shock waves are not just reverberating around Australia. Scientists around the world are aghast at the destruction.

Larry Marshall's appointment was enough of a shock. He has neither the experience nor attributes necessary to head up an organisation of the size, scope and purpose of CSIRO. He was a minor player in the venture capital market in California before he was given this role by someone in the government here. Maybe he's just carrying out the bidding of the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who thinks climate change is "crap". He is certainly out of his depth, alienating staff and everyone else in the nation. (I've seen this before where an inexperienced incompetent is appointed to an important role and fails quite spectacularly. It can take decades to undo the mess, if it can be undone.)

Update: for an OMG moment, check out this ghastly PowerPoint mess by Larry Marshall. It will help you understand what I mean when I say he is not up to the job of managing one of the most prestigious national R&D organisations in the world, Australia's CSIRO. (H/t John Mashey, a Silicon Valley veteran himself.)

I will have more to say on this act of vandalism and what other climate knowledge built up by CSIRO scientists Larry Marshall is determined to destroy. Shortly.

Just some of the Twitter reaction

Here is how some political leaders, climate scientists and others from around the world reacted to the news of the appalling disrespect shown to Dr Church, and Larry Marshall's disemboweling of CSIRO's climate science.

References and further reading


Sou said...

I've added an update to the article. For an OMG moment, check out this ghastly PowerPoint mess by Larry Marshall. It will help you understand what I mean when I say he is not up to the job of managing one of the most prestigious national R&D organisations in the world, Australia's CSIRO. (H/t John Mashey)

Dan Andrews said...

You were not kidding about that ppt disaster. Seriously, it looks like something you'd put together for students to show them how NOT to do a ppt presentation as more of a spoof. After everyone laughed you'd load the other ppt presentation that had more realistic mistakes. Eg too many words, font too small, etc the usual rather than Marshall's over-the-top "satire".

numerobis said...

It's a completely normal presentation for the startup world (and it's been mangled in translation; clearly there's animations). Someone who went through it a couple times imparts knowledge upon the youngsters, and slaps together some slides at the last minute.

Usually in that presentation, there's a line about always hiring a graphic designer so your prezo looks good.

Sou said...

Yes, it's a pdf of the PowerPoint presentation so the animations don't appear. It's not just the visuals that are ghastly, the slides include Larry's "experience". Not at all suitable for the head of a large, prestigious, multi-faceted national R&D institution. I cannot imagine how (or if) Larry Marshall made the short list. (He might not have. Some politician might have dragged him up out of the long list.)

Magma said...

Will the Australian Labor Party make this a campaign issue? From outside the country it seems that this may constitute a soft underbelly of the Liberal coalition vulnerable to attack if Australians are worried about their climate, environment and potential for increased natural disasters (the now-familiar assemblage of floods, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes/cyclones, reef bleaching and wildfires). As well, what are their feelings about the gutting of what is one of the few (sorry, Ozzies) research bodies well known outside the country?

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats will be able (or will try) to leverage the Republican abuse of science into votes this November. Even if the effect is not large, relatively small shifts can make substantial differences in close races. In Canada, the governing Conservatives were saddled with a similar (but milder) image and it may have been one of the factors contributing to their defeat late last year.

Magma said...

That is literally the worst PowerPoint presentation I've seen in 15+ years of viewing and making them.

The content is bad enough, inane and cliched pap, but the layout, formatting and presentation are indescribably worse. (Perhaps Marshall had an assistant who really, really hated him?)

Sou said...

The leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, pushed climate change in a big way in his speech the day the election was announced. (First time I've watched TV in months. I was out visiting.) Whether that will carry through the campaign I don't know. The point is that the rate Larry Marshall is working, CSIRO will be gutted before the election. Those that haven't been shafted will have left of their own accord. There won't be much left and it will be too late to do anything to stop him. At least that's the risk.

If Labor gets in, one of their first jobs should be to sack the CSIRO Board and the CEO and bring in people who know how to run a major R&D institution. Whether a Labor (or LNP) government would see it that way, I don't know.

metzomagic said...

That ppt presentation is so... 1996.

Anonymous said...

Sou, you are correct. According to my information, he was nowhere near the shortlist but hand-picked by MacFarlane and leap-frogged over competent candidates. I don't know how public this knowledge is but it has certainly been known (and talked about) within CSIRO for a while.

Sou said...

Thanks, Anonymous. You've confirmed whispers that I'd heard, too. (It is hard to imagine any competent headhunter recommending him. Impossible to imagine really.)

numerobis said...

Sou: it may not have been clear, but I was rolling my eyes.

The founders who have successful exits often "learn" that they are total geniuses who know better than anyone else. This is not universal, and the really smart ones don't draw that lesson from their success. But it's common. It's not unrelated to the emeritus physicist stereotype.

John Mashey said...

Regarding the PPT, some issues are obvious.
Others are less so. Examine p.2 and think about the history. What does that tell you?

Ramiro said...

Government caretaker mode doesn't only apply to Parliament, but also government owned businesses and government agencies (of which CSIRO is one).

So the damage he can do at this time is limited, although there is still plenty that can be done even during caretaker mode.

Sou said...

It should be limited, though it's not clear that the Minister responsible for CSIRO, Christopher Pyne, understands that.

I'm not sure whether Larry Marshall considers that he's just implementing something he has a mandate to do or whether he will hold back like the CEO of CSIRO should do. The fact that John Church got the call on Thursday, while the government was in caretaker mode, indicates that Larry Marshall is plowing ahead regardless.

This article indicates that Labor and Greens (and others) think that Larry Marshall should stop ransacking the CSIRO until there is an external review, and hints that it shouldn't do anything while the government is in caretaker mode:

The Herald has argued that the cuts should be put on hold pending an external review. That's also the position of Labor and the Greens. As the drawn-out discussions leak into what could soon be caretaker mode ahead of a July election, it appears the most responsible course.

It may be that what has been set in motion can't be undone. It's hard to imagine that CSIRO will succeed in attracting and retaining world-class climate scientists when the low value it seems to place on their work has been so publicly aired. The Herald understands at least one senior climate scientist in academia has been receiving CVs from CSIRO staff who don't expect to get the axe but have no interest in being part of a downward spiral of climate science at CSIRO that many now expect.

PG said...

A glimmer of light

Kevin O'Neill said...

"The Herald understands at least one senior climate scientist in academia has been receiving CVs from CSIRO staff who don't expect to get the axe but have no interest in being part of a downward spiral of climate science at CSIRO that many now expect.

This really becomes a vicious circle. I.e., the beatings will continue until morale improves. Having worked in similar situations in the private sector, when downsizing seems neverending -- even when you believe your position is safe -- it's simply not an enjoyable work atmosphere. No one that I know wants to work someplace where people are constantly being let go, oftentimes not deserving of it, with no real rationale, and a constant reminder that your workplace is on a downward spiral. Plus, it's always better to move on when the choice is yours instead of waiting until you're unemployed.

EliRabett said...

Somebunny needs to do a political ad about Chainsaw Larry and the death of the Great Barrier Reef.

PhilScadden said...

Perhaps time for some heat on the Labour party to promise just that. Something like: "Labour, if elected, will immediately reverse the damage done to our venerable science institutions and remove those whose response to unfavourable news has been to shoot the messenger". You need more than hand-wringing out of Labour.

PG said...

Eli, Peter Sinclair perhaps?
Let's crowd source campaign ads starring David Attenborough, with comments from the world's great scientists as well as economists, (Stieglitz, Sachs and Krugman) and maybe the odd Leonardo DiCaprio to boot.

It can be done. I'll pass this suggestion on to Get-Up.

Bernard J. said...

My experience of John Church is that he is a man of integrity, what my old undergrad lecturers would have called "a scholar and a gentleman". With John's international renown and regard he won't be particularly disadvantaged by Marshall's attempt to gut Australian oceanography by jettisoning John - there will be plenty of groups around the world happy to snap him up.

The issue is that people such as John Church are the keystones of Australian climatology and oceanography, and the conservative political movement and corporate interests in Australia are not-so-slowly but very surely dismantling Australia's ability to participate in expanding the world's understanding of what the use of fossil fuels is doing to the planet. The is a profoundly disturbing abuse of political power, and in my view is as perniciously corrupt as any of the other forms of political misbehaviour that seem to be appearing all to frequently in the news these days.

On related matters, it's been reported today that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has tipped 400 ppm at Cape Grim.

Bernard J. said...

Now that would be an ad worth watching.

PG said...

Sou can I add to the References and Further Reading List this from the NYT Editorial Board?http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/04/opinion/australia-turns-its-back-on-climate-science.html?

Bernard J. said...

"When measurements began in 1976, carbon dioxide levels were slightly more than 300 parts per million."

Those were the days...

MWS said...

Minor point Phil - it's the Australian LABOR Party, and has been so since 1912. Australians usually spell "Labour" when not referring to the ALP.

Sou said...

Oh, thanks Numerobis, I wondered :)

adelady said...

Oh my giddy aunt.

Is that the new Time Cube?

PhilScadden said...

No end to West Islanders wierdness...

PG said...

And again from today's New York Times.


Bernard J. said...

Phil, there was some rationale to the spelling change...


Whether the reasons are good ones is another matter!

Bernard J. said...

The latest shock and anger in the scientific community is over the conservative Australian federal government's corrupt leaning on UNESCO to remove all mention of Australia from a report on the dangers of climate change:


Imagine if the government had leaned on an international financial report to remove all mention of a significant Australian debt/finacial liability in order to change the behaviour of investors/lenders. That would be corruption, would it not? Why is this any different?

And doesn't it go to illustrate the degree to which these conservatives are in complete and abject denial of fundamental science? I seriously think that people who aspire to government should demonstrate that they first have competency in basic skills in objective fact analysis, logical thinking, and ethical integrity.

On each of these measures the current Australian government fails spectacularly.

Sou said...

More background on Larry Marshall spending thousands trying to do a Steve Jobs, with the real CSIRO calling his display "bizarre"!

PG said...

Kevin Trenberth
The little I know about [Marshall] makes it seem most inappropriate for him to lead CSIRO: sort of like the preposterous proposition of Donald Trump becoming president of the US.

Bert from Eltham said...

Yes that was a bizarre way of Larry Marshall to introduce his ideas for future directions of CSIRO.

I have met most of past Chiefs of CSIRO that were there in my time. All on appointment went to as many divisions as possible to get a broad idea of the current research programs and the people involved. They all were very good at listening.

Dr Malcolm Kenneth McIntosh when he visited our lab asked me what I was doing. So I gave him a quick explanation of the optic that had been designed by Melbourne Uni that focussed x-rays.
We were using it to improve the beam intensity of our crystallography setup. The actual gain in intensity was a factor of thirty! This meant we could get diffraction from 100 micron protein crystals.

His dry remark was 'very interesting I know some people in the defence industries that would like to be able to do that.'

Dr McIntosh unfortunately had no kidney function. Yet he worked tirelessly to keep the science of CSIRO at world's best.

Larry Marshall seems to think that making a quick quid is all that matters or is that fast buck. At best he has DK or at worst doing the bidding of his political masters.

Without blue sky research the so called entrepreneurs will have nothing in the future to base any business on. All the so called modern tech companies are using government and university based research results for their success.


Anonymous said...

ABC's "Background Briefing" released tapes of the infamous meeting between Marshall and CSIRO's Land and Water Division from a few weeks back this morning.


You hear the response of the Scintists throughout. From about 2:50 to 3:20 is rather saddening yet entertaining. The recordingds are part of a longer show. You can follow the links. Mostly good but I have a couple of quibbles. Anyway, 'enjoy' the listen..

R the Anon.

PG said...

Thanks Anonymous and thanks once again to that jewel in our crown Radio National.
Sou I request a new thread. The CEO of one of the finest scientific joints on the planet described his communication re the dismantling of climate research as my bad.

Larry what are you? A fucking 13 year old?

Bernard J. said...

Ah, I see I've been beaten to the mention of Background Briefing.

It mostly only confirms what a lot of us close to these scientists knew all along, but now it's explicit - the CEO of the CSIRO admits that he's executing the conservative Australian government's agenda. The same government that has just coerced UNESCO to delete all references to Australia from its report last week on the dangers of climate change...

This government is not one that should have control of a church fete, let alone a nation with some of the best scientists in the world. This political interference in science and its communication is a scandal of profound and disturbing significance, and it staggers me that there aren't more media outlets on the case.

Thank heaven for The Guardian and the ABC, is all I can say.

Bernard J. said...

Listening to Larry Marshall speak to the scientists (Extra audio" here) is completely cringe-worthy.

He clearly does not understand that the science is not in any way remotely "completed".

He clearly does not understand the need to have a detailed knowledge of how the world is responding to human emissions of fossil carbon.

Marshall clearly does not understand that the changes being wrought on the planet are such that another couple of decades of business as usual, with an Australian scientific capacity devastated by his gutting, will see our nation put far further behind in its ability to adapt than if he'd left well enough alone, and behind to the point of dangerous inability to continue as we have.

He clearly does not understand that the best policy responses to climate change are already known: make the polluters pay and encourage switching to already-existing alternatives.

He clearly does not understand that putative technological gizmos that might attract patents will in this context give less overall bang for buck than a continuation of fundamental research - we need our eyes as open as possible to our (lack of) progress in implementing what are very straight-forward solutions.

He clearly does not understand that Australia ceded its renewable energy technology advantage under the Abbott and Howard conservative governments, and that we cannot catch up now with other countries who are years ahead in the "innovation" of such technology. Other countries will now be in far better positions that Australia to more efficiently develop new and improved technologies.

Marshall very clearly does not understand that there is no way to adapt to climate change if we have not done our absolute utmost to mitigate every 0.1 °C warming that can possibly be avoided.

Marshall is simply a guy who sells technological gee-whizzery dreams to politicians, and who does not care what devastation he leaves in his wake as long as it furthers his own ends.

It's telling that he thinks that the federal government is his "customer". No, the customers are the Australian public, and the future generations who want a sustainable planet, and the "deliverable" here is public good, not profit. These conservatives keep telling us that governments should not be in business, but when they can see a way to get public-good services diverted to doing the hard yards for profit-driven enterprises, don't they leap to siphon what they can from the trough...?

Marshall keeps on referring to "adaption". This is a clunky term not used by those experienced in adaptation science. That he persists in using it, even years after he should have grokked from the professionals that he's so insufficiently exposed to the field that he doesn't even know the basic terms, indicates his abject ignorance of the organisation and the fields of endeavour of which he has been given responsibility.

Marshall's not a scientists, he's a technician, and he's completely unqualified for the role that he's been given.

Marshall's placement of CEO of CSIRO, and his blunderbus destruction of the organisation, is a ham-fisted mess of political interference. In the near future it will be seen for what it is - a catastrophic destruction of Australia's ability to work effectively to mitigate damage to the planet, solely for the ideological benefit of a small number of well-off sociopaths.

Bert from Eltham said...

Thanks for that Bernard J. Your clear post has made my anger at the utter stupidity of what LM is doing to CSIRO go from nine to eleven.
I am even more angry than when I caught my nephew who I allowed to use my computer many years ago for games, about to press enter with the command line "del *.*". He claimed he did not know this was a bad thing to do.

He had the same stupid feigned innocent look that LM has. My nephew has turned out to be a complete sociopath.


Magma said...

If there was ever a case for immediate dismissal for cause... but then, Marshall didn't appoint himself, did he?

Hopefully the coming election will clear out some of the rot. Hopefully...

Susan Anderson said...

Can't help but draw a comparison to UK fracking etc. (that's a big etc., but it's late) while scrapping real clean energy, Cameron/Osborne/Rudd and the gang of fossil.

The English speaking part of the world has a lot to answer for.

Anonymous said...

Oh for goodness sake, Bert. Get him away from that windows rubbish... the correct way to stuff up is 'rm -r *'. Even whip in a 'sudo' if he wants to be a serious sociopath...

Also, nice summary, Bernard J. I think 'technologist' rather than 'technician' may be a better better descripion of LM, but I see where you are coming from.
R the Anon.

R the Anon

Bernard J. said...

I did consider "technologist", but that implied to much understanding of developmental processes. My impression of Marshall from his wafflings is that he has a grasp of the technical aspects of his field, but that he relies on pushing those around him to do the actual intellectual hard graft.

In reality he may well lie somewhere in between, but he certainly doesn't think scientifically, or logically, or holistically. Putting him in charge of the CSIRO is like putting a train driver in charge of a Formula 1 racing car.