The National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has fired climate scientist Jim Salinger for “unauthorised dealings” with the media. Salinger has been one of New Zealand’s leading climate scientists since the 1970s, and his sacking has shocked many in the scientific community. The Dominion Post reports:
The Crown agency’s long-serving principal scientist was dismissed earlier this week, reportedly for trying to help TVNZ’s weatherman Jim Hickey with some “climate-related inquiries” and for doing an interview with Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme without permission.
He said he received a letter in March from management summoning him to a disciplinary meeting for an interview he did with TVNZ in February commenting on Auckland’s hottest day. The interview had not been approved and was labelled “serious misconduct”. He was also reprimanded for talking to TVNZ about glaciers for which he thought he had permission.
I covered the offending glacier story here: it was an excellent piece of journalism, reflecting well on both TV NZ and the NIWA staff working on the survey. Salinger was also one of the five NZ scientists who complained last year about being on Heartland’s list of people whose work didn’t support global warming: a move which gained Jim a lot of support in the NZ media — hardly surprising when for years he’s been one of the main “go to” men for a quotable opinion on climate and weather issues.
NIWA have not commented on the dismissal, and they are unlikely to in the short term given that an employment court case is in the offing. Whatever the ins and outs of employment law, the Crown-owned research institute is going to have to work hard to avoid the suspicion that — in an echo of attempts by the Bush administration to muzzle Jim Hansen — management fired Salinger because he was refusing to be gagged.
The Green Party has already called on NIWA’s shareholding ministers, Wayne Mapp and Bill English, to ask the CRI’s board to investigate the sacking, but Mapp has refused according to the DomPost:
Dr Mapp said he would not intervene. “The matter is an employment dispute, which must be handled by the chief executive and the board,” he said.
I think Mapp has this wrong. Salinger’s dismissal raises questions of free speech and academic freedom, and if the government is to avoid suspicions of censoring inconvenient truths — at a time when cranks are being given time to spout nonsense before the ETS Review committee — then it needs to act swiftly to reaffirm that New Zealand scientists are not being muzzled. The international reputation of our science could be at stake.
See also: Stuff, Herald on Sunday, and for a critical take on the burgeoning role of bureaucrats in NZ science, an opinion piece by Doug Edmeades in Australasian Science this week (via the Science Media Centre).