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Insider unloads on "chaos" in CSIRO.

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30 March 2005

For Immediate Release

Insider Unloads on "Chaos" in CSIRO

In July 2002 Dr Max Whitten, former Chief of CSIRO Entomology, published a scathing attack on CSIRO's leadership in Australasian Science. The magazine's ongoing coverage since then has raised further issues with CSIRO's executive, which has neither publicly outlined any errors published in Australasian Science nor sought any retractions. Nevertheless CSIRO severed contact with the magazine in April 2004.

After examining extensive documentation that backed reports by the magazine's Senior Correspondent, Dr Peter Pockley, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance has vigorously criticised CSIRO for "a serious breach of its public duties" and is pressing for an independent inquiry and publication of the findings (

Now the thrust of Australasian Science's unique investigations has been expanded and corroborated by a startling exposé from inside CSIRO's HQ in Canberra. From August 2004, Norman Abjørensen worked close to CSIRO's Chief Executive, Dr Geoff Garrett, and other executives. Dismayed by what he witnessed, he resigned in December more than enough time for the former national editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and News Director of SBS Radio to assess them.

Abjørensen begins his article by asking "whether Australia can afford the chaos already trailing in the wake of the embattled and publicly invisible Garrett, who takes obvious delight in jolting CSIRO audiences with his brutal change mantra: 'If it ain't broke, break it'." He says: "The transformation comes with a high price: a phased reduction in the public good research on which CSIRO has built its reputationŠ It is unclear what the future holds for several non-commercial arms

of the organisation."

Abjørensen describes a media strategy that aims to "punterise" media releases to make them "sexy" for the Prime Minister's favourite tabloid newspaper. Likewise media releases are rewritten by business managers to talk up deals

with corporate interests that are "seeking token involvement with CSIRO in order to use its name". There are even allegations that CSIRO staff were sent to a Senate Estimates hearing to "eyeball and intimidate" reporters who had written unfavourable articles.

According to Abjørensen: "Garrett appears to trust very few people, and this suspicion has spread throughout the organisation. People are careful about what they discuss, and with whom, as conversations are often reported back to managers." Rather than being an organisation built on cooperation and knowledge generation, the current regime has fostered "an environment where winks and nods prevail".

The magazine's editorial says Abjørensen's account "evokes images of Orwell's Ministry of TruthŠ This is simply not good enough for an organisation that the public turns to as a trustworthy authority on scientific fact."

Summaries and quotations of selected passages from the article and editorial are permissible for reporting or review provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as the source.

CONTACT Norman Abjørensen can be contacted on 0401 964 030.

For copies of the full article and editorial and permission to reproduce them (partially or completely) or the accompanying cartoons by Simon Kneebone, call the Editor, Guy Nolch (03 9500 0015) or Peter Pockley (02 9660 6363). A photo of Mr Abjørensen is available on request.


Guy Nolch Editor, Australasian Science Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO VIC 3145 Australia Phone 61-3-9500 0015 Fax 61-3-9500 0255 Web