NIWA curbs talk about the weather

Sounds like that Barmy Banana bloke – or one of the Fijian strongman’s henchmen – has taken over our National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The result is the muzzling of NIWA scientists, most obviously manifest in the sacking of well known climate scientist Jim Salinger.

The story has been nudged along by Green Party expressions of outrage, although – true to form – if the Greens have a hot flush, they turn up the heat to grab a more sizzling headline. They described Salinger as a Nobel Prize winner.

Bollocks. But more of that later.

Alf’s view was echoed by a retired bloke called Croz Walsh, who lives on the other side of the Tararuas in Horowhenua.

The two most unbelievable news items last week were, first, in Fiji, Cdre Bainimarama being invested with a Companion of the Order of Fiji for his “eminent achievement and merit of highest degree and service to Fiji and to humanity at large” Fiji? Possibly.Only history will tell. Humanity? Huh! Most of humanity doesn’t even know Fiji exists!

And secondly, in New Zealand, Jim Salinger’s dismissal from Niwa. Salinger is NZ’s internationally renowned top climate change scientist. What was he sacked for? Talking to the media about glaciers (sic!) without permission. And we criticize Fiji!!!

Brian Ellis, commenting from Nicosia in Cyprus, similarly said:

As an engineer and scientist having worked on environmental matters for decades, including climate change, I can only express my indignation at Dr Salinger’s dismissal. Science has a tradition of open publication and debate. This is how it is able to advance. Any stifling of scientific thought is counter-productive and reminiscent of Soviet-style censorship, although, even then, Soviet science was largely published internationally.

I wish Dr Salinger success in whatever action he chooses to take and, in particular, if he succeeds in eliminating all censorship of science and scientists in NZ.

The sacking was first aired last week, but some newspapers are catching up.

The Taranaki Daily News (reporting work done by The Press, a sister Fairfax publication) today tells us:

Sacked climate scientist Jim Salinger’s employers praised him for being the public “face of Niwa” only 18 months ago.

However, last week, Salinger was told by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) to pack his bags, apparently for doing what he was congratulated for – talking to the media.

Documents seen by The Press yesterday show the Crown research institute principal scientist was highly regarded by his employers as late as last year.

The Auckland climatologist, whose involvement with international climate-change research contributed to a Nobel prize and who is president of the World Meteorological Organisation’s commission for agricultural meteorology, is now considering legal action against what he considers to be unjustified dismissal.

The Press has dug up Salinger’s employment review for the year ended June 30, 2007.

The review was performed by climate and energy application group manager Darren King and records the congratulating of Salinger for his expertise, teamwork and communication abilities.

“Well-known by public as an expert on climate matters, has a very responsible and accountable attitude to his work,” one comment says. He also “has a high public profile as a climate expert and [is] the face of Niwa to the media”.

In a mid-year review in January last year a handwritten note acknowledges Salinger as the Niwa employee responsible for having “rebuilt relationship with TVNZ”.

Niwa is not helping our understanding of what happened. Spokeswoman Michele Hollis pulled the old trick of saying the institute won’t comment on an “employment matter”.

Hence we have only Salinger’s side of the story.

He is saying the atmosphere at Niwa had changed in the past six months or so, when he was told to “knuckle under, I’m the tall poppy, stand back from media stuff”.

He had since talked to television about an annual alpine snowline survey, to Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint about Auckland’s hottest day in more than 130 years, and called TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey two weeks ago from the West Coast to say the rivers were in flood.

“Maybe I did breach their policy over Radio New Zealand, but heavens, that’s not going to destroy Niwa.

“Everyone else was away; I knew I had breached it, but it was too important a day. Sure, they wanted me to step back and let others have an opportunity, but they weren’t there that day.”

Significantly, MetService spokesman Bob McDavitt said he was “shocked” but added: “I have been asked to say `no comment’.”

Whatever the background to the sacking, things have come to a pretty pass when the Greens can vent their outrage at something done by a state-owned agency, and Alf finds himself agreeing they have a point.

“NIWA’s actions will make all Government scientists nervous about their jobs,” said Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

“New Zealand is on a slippery slope when trying to provide Kiwis with a greater understanding of our climate is a sackable offence.

“Scientists should be able to assist the public and media with scientific problems – particularly around areas such as climate change – which concerns all of our futures.”

The Green Party expressed concern both for Salinger and New Zealand’s international reputation among the world scientific community if action is not taken to remedy this situation.

“The Minister for Crown Research Institute’s, Dr Wayne Mapp, needs to call in the board of NIWA and instruct them to get to the bottom of this messy matter,” said Ms Fitzsimons.

“An investigation is needed into how it came to be that one of NZ’s foremost scientists was frog-marched out of his job for what appears to be trivial and petty reasons.”

The Green media statement acknowledged that Salinger’s sacking was “an operational matter” (the employment of staff) – hence the Government cannot directly intervene.

But it reckoned Mapp could call in the Board of NIWA and instruct them to investigate the matter.

Trouble is, the Green statement is headed: Storms ahead for NIWA after Nobel Prize winner sacked.

News media have said only that he contributed to work resulting in someone winning a Nobel Prize. But (as someone has pointed out during the brouhaha) that could be like the Palestinian Liberation Organisation contributing to Yasser Arafata’s Peace Prize.

One Response to NIWA curbs talk about the weather

  1. […] – uncharacteristically – might have been a tad dismissive two days […]

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