Science Jobs Agency
Staff from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation facility in Hobart, Australia, demonstrated on 26 June over funding cuts.
Joining together in vociferous chants of defiance, nearly a thousand scientists at Australia’s premier science agency protested across the country last week as it began to shed jobs in response to deep funding cuts.
The measures, announced in May’s budget, include a 16% cut in funds — a reduction of Aus$115 million (US$108 million) — for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) over the next four years. The budget, which is pending passage by the Australian Senate, also includes closures and slashed funds at other scientific organizations. The move is one in a series of steps enacted by the new government, elected last September, that have heavily targeted climate and environmental science.
The CSIRO must now decide where the budget cuts will fall. But heads of divisions — from radio science to agriculture and health — are struggling to make the required cuts while safeguarding core priorities. The first of its employees to go are 28 researchers and 3 support staff at the organization’s Marine and Atmospheric Research division in Hobart and Aspendale.
The losses underscore concerns in the scientific community that the government does not support environmental and climate science. Michael Borgas, an air-quality scientist and acting secretary for the CSIRO’s staff association, says that one budget measure specifically targets climate science. It includes an Aus$20-million cut, about 69%, to the Australian Climate Change Science Program, of which the CSIRO was a major beneficiary. “Since the budget, there’s been real fear for the future of our world-class climate, marine and atmospheric research, ” says Borgas. “Unfortunately, those fears appear to be justified.”
Overall, 420 of the CSIRO’s 5, 500 workers could lose their jobs by June 2015, according to a memo sent to staff on 14 May — the day after the budget announcement — by agency chief Megan Clark. This comes on top of 300 jobs already cut last year. By the end of the four-year process, the agency could have 1, 000 fewer staff than it had in 2013, and roughly 70% of those losses would be science positions.
Research at two of the four radio observatories run by the CSIRO will be hit. Lewis Ball, head of the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science programme, confirms that the Mopra radio telescope, 450 kilometres northwest of Sydney, will close unless alternative funding can be found. “I still do not have a confirmed budget for 2014–15, but the tea leaves aren’t looking at all positive, ” he says.
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