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Australia Earth Government The Almighty Buck Science

Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs: "The Science is Settled." 568

An anonymous reader writes: With an ax rather than a scalpel, Australia's federal science agency last week chopped off its climate research arm in a decision that has stunned scientists and left employees dispirited. Why? Because the science is settled, there is no need for more basic research, the government says. No doubt many will experience a case of schadenfreude as they see those who have long claimed "the science is settled" face the inevitable and logical consequence of that stance.
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Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs: "The Science is Settled."

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  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:29PM (#51470075) Homepage

    Sure, we know the answer is "The world is getting hotter and it's all our fault" - but there are still a heck of a lot of questions that need to be answered. "How Fast?" and "Will the extra CO2 help crops or weeds grow faster?" and "What can we do about it?" and "Will such-and-such course of action have enough effect to avoid such-and-such consequences?"

    We need those guys even more than we did before the original question was answered.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We need those guys even more than we did before the original question was answered.

      Climate scientists aren't qualified to answer most of those questions; you need to hire economists and agronomists.

      • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:35PM (#51470143) Homepage

        but there are still a heck of a lot of questions that need to be answered. "How Fast?" and "Will the extra CO2 help crops or weeds grow faster?" and "What can we do about it?" and "Will such-and-such course of action have enough effect to avoid such-and-such consequences?" We need those guys even more than we did before the original question was answered.

        Climate scientists aren't qualified to answer most of those questions; you need to hire economists and agronomists.

        Many of these questions are going to need to start with climate models, to answer things like "what will be the effect at different latitudes, what will be the effect on precipitation, what will be the effect on storms"

        • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:44PM (#51470263)

          "what will be the effect at different latitudes, what will be the effect on precipitation, what will be the effect on storms"

          We know already. Just read the headlines we see all the time. Its all going to be catastrophically bad, everywhere, for everyone. Cold snaps will be colder. Dry places will be dryer. Wet places will be wetter. Floods will be bigger. Hot places will be hotter. Shorelines will be underwater. Extinctions will be accelerated. Heck, even earthquakes will be quakier.

        • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @02:04PM (#51471277)
          The climate models developed thus far have generally been worthless in terms of prediction after more than a few years. We've got a long way to go with climate science before we can create models that are useful for the types of situations you're describing.

          Now we obviously still need to do some funding to reach that point, but if you're country has other needs you can let other countries subsidize all of that learning for you.
        • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @03:39PM (#51472383) Journal

          It would help if any of the climate models demonstrated some degree of predictive ability. The difference between model projections and reality have grown to ridiculous proportions.

          • Hush you. Such gibberish makes you sound like A DENIER! Read the headline - the science is settled.
          • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @04:56PM (#51473041) Homepage

            It would help if any of the climate models demonstrated some degree of predictive ability. The difference between model projections and reality have grown to ridiculous proportions.

            Let's look at that. The very first numerical greenhouse effect model was Manabe and Wetherald 1967-- That's the classic, the model from which pretty much all current climate models stem. Since the paper was submitted in 1966, that's 50 years ago-- definitely long enough to see how well the prediction worked. They predicted that the climate sensitivity to CO2 (assuming constant relative humidity) was 2.3C. Comparing that to the actual carbon dioxide, for the rise from 320 ppm to 400 ppm (here [noaa.gov]) using the Arrhenius relation, we get 0.74C for the temperature rise from 1966 to 2015. The measured temperature rise (here [columbia.edu]) is 0.7C, with the error bars in the figure 0.1C.

            Looks like not merely a good prediction, but an outstandingly accurate prediction.

            For comparison, the current IPCC 5th Assessment report [www.ipcc.ch] estimate of sensitivity is that it is the range 1.5C to 4.5C with "high confidence", so Manabe and Wetherald's value of 2.3 is still is the range of current estimates.

      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:53PM (#51470423) Journal

        And economists and agronomists are going to be able to continue to develop climate models?

        It's amazing, no matter how the wheel turns, people still have this desire to shoot the messenger.

      • Or agronomists and a magic 8-ball...I'm only half joking.

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @02:22PM (#51471527) Journal

        you need to hire economists

        Absolutely not. Economists are not scientists. They are data-free advocates for a world-view. They're the last people you want around any discussion of solutions to a problem.

        Better to have parapsychologists than economists. At least the parapsychologists have a little bit of rigor in their discipline.

      • Climate scientists aren't qualified to answer most of those questions; you need to hire economists and agronomists.

        Economists aren't really useful for anything except propaganda, because you can always find one who'll tell you what you want to hear, no matter how stupid. The combination of nigh impossibility to isolate variables and high economic stakes makes the whole field a bad joke.

    • by bytesex ( 112972 )

      When you hire a consultant to tell you what's wrong with your organization, it's bad practice to hire the same people to do the cleaning up; it creates a perverse incentive.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Yes, but none of that is "basic science". Presumably, they'd be keeping the specialists. Or these scientists will simply need to apply for a new specialist job that will be opening up.

      Hard to say what this means, but if all they're doing is cutting the scientists who are trying to prove that it is real, then yeah, they're redundant.

      When you've won the war, you send the soldiers home. Keeping a standing army like that has a tendency to cause people to find uses for it and make work.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        When at least some portion of General Relativity was confirmed by the 1919 eclipse, did that mean all the cosmologists could go home, their work done?

      • by JoeRobe ( 207552 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @02:34PM (#51471671) Homepage

        I work in the field, and I don't know any climate scientist out there whose sole job is to prove it's real - the measurements have been out for years empirically showing that the global warming is real. But "real" is a low-level, qualitative conclusion. Right now it's all about understanding and quantifying the causes and consequences, given the empirical data we have and the models we choose to employ.

        The models generally agree on certain things (like warming), but there is a huge amount of variation between them in other ways. If anyone doubts that, I invite them to take a look at the abstracts from the most recent Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), or even better, attend it. There's no "right" model, and certainly no "right" + plug-and-play model. IMHO I don't see that happening for a very long time.

    • Exactly. Just because a theory has been confirmed in a "larger picture" fashion hardly means there's no work left to do. It's not like cosmology is finished because General Relativity has been largely confirmed, or Proto-Indo-European studies is finished just because we know a large number of languages descended from a common ancestral tongue about 5,000 years ago.

      • This was certainly my reaction as well, but to be fair, I have no idea how many scientists they had to begin with. There is probably some optimal number of scientists, and I would guess we are probably under that number, but I honestly don't know what that number is.
    • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @01:42PM (#51471013) Homepage
      Did you even RTFA? That is exactly what they will do. Switch the staff from the "Is the climate warming?" question to "What can we do about it? How can we mitigate the effects?"

      From TFA:

      Marshall wrote in the memo that climate change is now settled science, and basic research is no longer needed.

      “The question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with,” he wrote.

      CSIRO would now focus on a path where “climate and industry can be partners, now we must walk that path to prove our science.”

    • I agree, but we need more than that - climate engineers who can figure out how to modify the system to prevent the worst effects. I think it's great that among the general population the narrative is to reduce emissions and environmental destruction, but nothing about the nature of humans convinces me that we won't eventually end up having to use engineered solutions to the problem.

      Just look at the US elections. Every four years I see a bunch of politicians turn up in some coal town and spout on about how c

  • I'm surprised that /. would like to the definition of schadenfreude. It seems like every slashdotter is WELL acquainted with that principle.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:42PM (#51470233)

    Anyone that tells you the science is settled is not a scientist.... they are a politician wanting to shutdown inquiry on an issue and install dogma in its place.

    Science is not dogma, and if someone who is a scientist tells you that "The science is settled"; that is really just their personal opinion on the topic, And it should be taken to assume that the research results they produce might be accidentally (or maliciously) biased to reflect results consistent to the bit of science they would claim to be "settled".

    • by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:53PM (#51470427) Homepage
      Here are some things science is settled on:

      The earth being round.
      The earth orbiting the sun.
      Space time can be curved.


      Science IS settled on a lot of issues. AGW is a new one, but something we can do something about (well, 10 years ago).
      • Here are some things science is settled on: The earth being round. The earth orbiting the sun. Space time can be curved. Science IS settled on a lot of issues. AGW is a new one, but something we can do something about (well, 10 years ago).

        It's the year 2016, and the Flat Earth Society still exists...as in humans who still believe the Earth is flat, in the face of the ISS orbiting above us, and pictures from our Moon.

        It's hard to call things "settled" around humans. We tend to be a rather ignorant lot.

        More proof you say? Well, there is this "new one" we call religion...

        • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

          You'll never get 100 percent on any subject. If that's your standard nothing will ever be settled.

    • by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @01:11PM (#51470643)
      We evolved from apes. The science is settled. The Earth goes around the Sun. The science is settled. Anthropogenic Warming is happening. The science is settled.

      The scientific method means any theory can be overturned in principle. But in practice we know some won't be. Anyone telling you the science isn't settled on Evolution because nothing is ever settled in science is being just as disingenuous as you are.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cbeaudry ( 706335 )

        And you equating evolution and the Earths orbit with climate science, as it pertains to how "settled" those sciences are, is disingenuous.

        • Considering the Earth orbiting (roughly) the sun is something we can measure and use to refine and improve orbital models is a prime difference between it and climate science. Give the Earth a few more climate cycles that we can judge against the models we have developed and then maybe I'll put more stock into climate change predictions.

      • Your point would be so much better expressed if you understood the difference between having a common ancestor and evolving from.

        Here's a handy infographic to help
        http://www.iupui.edu/~mstd/a10... [iupui.edu]

        • Your point would be so much better expressed if you understood the difference between having a common ancestor and evolving from

          Well, you're both a little wrong. Humans ARE apes. Specifically, we belong to the taxonomic classification that includes all Great Apes. Strictly speaking non-human apes and human apes both descended from apes. And even if you use the common meaning the the word "ape" to mean only non-human apes, humans still descended from apes, just not the extant species of modern non-human apes. (If GP had said humans descended from monkeys, on the other hand, you'd have a valid point.)

      • We did NOT evolve from the great apes. We evolved from a common ancestor. Though we share much of our DNA with Chimpanzees and other great apes our lineage diverged from theirs a LONG time ago. They have evolved independently from us for that same amount of time. The common ancestor we share looks nothing like either humans or great apes (speculated to look much like a Lemur).

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      Anyone that tells you the science is settled is not a scientist....

      I agree.

      they are a politician wanting to shutdown inquiry on an issue and install dogma in its place.

      Or they are someone who, as somebody who is *not* a scientist, as you have noted above, does not believe that further scientific study in the area would add any further understanding of value, and so the money is, in their view, more wisely spent elsewhere. They could be entirely wrong in this view, but they have it nonetheless.

      Do not

      • Or they are someone who, as somebody who is *not* a scientist, as you have noted above, does not believe that further scientific study in the area would add any further understanding of value, and so the money is, in their view, more wisely spent elsewhere. They could be entirely wrong in this view, but they have it nonetheless.

        Or as a scientist examining different questions, they see bigger returns on money spent elsewhere.
        Or as an established scientist examining the question, they see further study by others as potentially conflicting with their own findings.
        Or as a scientist examining the question, they see no testable predictions (string theory anyone?) and therefore reject the field from characterization as a science. But in this simple case, a politician funded by big coal finds an organized group armed with inconvenient

  • by Diss Champ ( 934796 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:44PM (#51470269)

    Yes, I know you're not supposed to read the article. You find out all sorts of interesting things like the fact that noone was actually fired, they were re-assigned to other stuff. You also find out why some of the stuff they were doing was interesting.

    But the thing that caught my attention with shades of "we have to pass the bill before we know what it does" was that one of the reasons given not to transfer the people was that they were needed to figure out what the recent climate agreement actually meant.

    So apparently the climate agreement was so badly expressed that the several people who were not transferred away from basic climate research are not sufficient to figure out what it actually meant?
    Didn't Kerry block the language change that would have made it require anything?

    • Without looking at it, I doubt the agreement was so complicated as to require a major research effort to figure out what it means. It covers a complicated subject, and it may well require a major research effort to figure out what it implies, or the best way to meet treaty requirements, or something like that.

    • I also don't understand this:

      “The situation is very bad here,” the scientist said. “Eighty percent of our climate capability will be gone; it is clear that climate modeling will be cut completely.”

      So.. by laying people off, you are going to break your climate?

      Perhaps that has been the problem all along... we need to make more jobs to increase our climate capability!

  • ...Turnbull’s government has also emphasized science that can be easily commercialized...

    It seems to me that climate scientists would be a key part of any strategies, techniques, and technologies that are developed to either counteract or accommodate global warming. Future work in this area will be heavily commercialized, just as wind and solar power and electric vehicles are commercialized today. Sounds like Turnbull is thumbing his nose at a big economic opportunity. Not to mention that, in some sense, he seems to be selling out his fellow human beings for a bit of short-term political capita

    • Harper did the same thing in Canada by making our research focus on things that were more commercially viable rather than longer term science. Doing basic R&D is the proper way to grow the economy in the long term. But business wants help to put out new products in the near term and so that's what governments are doing. I haven't heard any announcements from the new Trudeau government reversing this business oriented stance though I haven't been looking at everything they've announced so I may have miss

  • Once again ignorance has decreed that all that needs to be known is already known, in a field. New knowledge must be heresy in that case. This is so stupid.
  • "Do you want fries with that?"

    Suddenly global warming is the least of their problems....

  • If it's settled that human-emitted carbon is warming up our climate that might mean fewer jobs for climatologists, but it will mean a lot more jobs for reactor builders and people who can assemble and pilot supertanker loads of iron dust.

  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @01:02PM (#51470549)

    With no "climate scientists", when every single prediction from the models come out wrong again, who will go back, adjust the models, and then retro-predict real life?

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Hollywood

    • by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @04:35PM (#51472839)

      Myth: The predictions/models are always wrong.

      Reality: Global surface temperature measurements fall within the range of IPCC projections. Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean.

      You seem to lack understanding of the relativeness or kinds of wrong.

      IE, you seem to equate "wrong" with anything less than 100% accuracy and precision.
      That's not how science works, particularly data driven science. A key concept here is the meanings of Precision and Accuracy, which are not the same thing:
      http://withfriendship.com/imag... [withfriendship.com]

      You can be completely wrong (or 'not even wrong'): "gravity is from unicorn farts!"
      You can be partly wrong but still on the right track: "we predicted of rise of 0.5, but found only 0.4"
      You can be right, but for the wrong reason: "we predicted a rise of 0.5 because unicorn farts, but it turned out to be from CO2"
      You can be totally right and have the perfect outcome.

      You appear to only recognize last possibility, and demand that anything else be discarded out of hand.
      But that isn't reality or proper scientific understanding.

      Posts such as yours are not insightful, nor does it show any actual understanding of what takes place, let alone is it all reflective of reality and what the scientists have actually been doing.

      I guess in summary what I mean is: you're an idiot.

      https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]
      https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]
      http://www.latimes.com/science... [latimes.com]
      http://climatenexus.org/debunk... [climatenexus.org]

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @01:04PM (#51470565)

    Seems the lessons of history must be learned over and over. Mixing up politics and science, religion and science or even politics and religion is generally always a bad idea. How soon we forget and each subsequent generation repeats the same mistakes..

    Well, at least we know what to expect..

    • The lesson to be learned is that it works well for the politicians and religious leaders. It also works well for the scientists who support those leaders.

      It is only bad for everyone else -- i.e., those don't matter. And very bad for the scientists who don't go along with the status quo.

  • So I guess there's no reason to spend any more money on microbiology or antibiotics research.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      Actually, that's what we need to be spending our money on and we don't seem to be doing that at all in the "climate science" area. The propaganda machine has been whining that the sky is falling. Once you embrace that, it's simply time to move on. You move on how to fix the problem or survive it.

      Chicken Little becomes irrelevant the moment that people start listening to him.

      There's some well regarded English figurehead of some sort that's basically been saying this for a long time now. "OK, we're fucked. No

  • All the propaganda outlets assure me that Gore-Bull Warming is all a conspiracy to keep those evul scientists rolling in dough. Well, all they have to do is start working for the other side.

  • Australians can spell "axe" properly.

  • I'll start acting like it's a crisis when the people who say it's a crisis start acting like it's a crisis.
  • So, when did Canada's former Prime Minister Stephen Harper move to Australia?

  • "Die Schadenfreude wird Dir im Hals stecken bleiben."

    Schadenfreude will get back at you.

    Is a term deeming the people that experience "Schadenfreude" to be susceptible for the upcomming or imminent threat to experience also a same of a kind situation from the opposite side.

    Because people that experience "Schadenfreude" tend not to concentrate on their own problems.

    (Example: A car driver laughs about the owner of a broken luxury car, and does not concentrate on the car driving in front of him, where the drive

  • by alexibu ( 1071218 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @05:20PM (#51473303)
    "Because the science is settled, there is no need for more basic research, the government says." Before enjoying your schedenfraude, realise that this has been organized by political forces who think 'climate change is crap' and have dismantled as many government agencies with responsibilities in this area as they can. Justifying these cuts with 'the science is settled' is disingenuous to a comic extreme.
  • by tgrigsby ( 164308 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @05:45PM (#51473607) Homepage Journal

    It isn't until you get to the last paragraph that TFA finally gives you the underlying cause of this astonishingly shortsighted and imminently disastrous decision:


    • “Climate science becomes secondary to business; business comes first ,” Spash said. “The interests of the corporate sector, of the mining and resource extraction industry, are primary in Australia.”

    So there you have it. The ability to make money trumps EVERYTHING. Kind of answers the question of why we never see aliens. If all intelligent species tend towards a capitalist society, they all end up committing environmental suicide.

It is much easier to suggest solutions when you know nothing about the problem.

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