Science rallies round Salinger

jim_salinger.jpg The scientific community in New Zealand and around the world has been buzzing with the news of Jim Salinger’s dismissal by NIWA, and messages of support have been flooding in. This morning’s NZ Herald quotes former colleagues bemused by NIWA’s action:

Former Niwa scientist Andy Reisinger, who now works at Victoria University, said the decision to sack someone of Dr Salinger’s standing for breaking media protocol was “incomprehensible”. “I’m not sure how that can be justified.”

Others are concerned at the increasing bureaucratisation of the research institutes:

Dr Dave Lowe, who left his job as a principal atmospheric scientist at Niwa about 18 months ago, said one reason for his departure was a lack of freedom “to get on with the job”.

“These big Crown research institutions have become dominated by managers. They tend to forget that the bread and butter for the company … comes from its top scientists and they include people like Jim Salinger.”

In this week’s NBR, Tom Frewen’s Media Watch column provides some interesting background on the revamping of NIWA (not available online):

…the board and chief executive then [2007] embarked on a programme of corporatisation, ratcheting up directors’ allowances and executive salaries to attract top talent. NIWA’s 2007-8 annual report reveals that the number of employees on $100,000 – $110,000 doubled from 24 to 51, while those on $110,000 – $120,000 tripled from ten to 30.

Frewen also quotes the new NIWA chief executive , John Morgan, from that same report:

Something we recognise is that the science sector is not too good at promoting itself. We need to better communicate our science. NIWA’s duty is to be experts and confidently present facts. This can be a challenge” Mr Morgan added ominously, “in a media environment where personal opinions and controversy often gain profile.”

Ominous words for Jim, Frewen concludes.

Meanwhile The Press this morning prints a letter of support for Salinger from expat New Zealand scientist professor Peter Lamb of the University of Ohio:

Dr Salinger has demonstrated a remarkable ability to communicate complex scientific information to the public. Few scientists are able to perform this role as well as he does.

Salinger’s also been getting support in Parliament, with Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons asking the hard questions:

John Key said in a speech in 2005 that he didn’t want NZ to keep exporting scientists and importing taxi drivers. This case won’t help him realise his dream.

See also: Nature News, and listen out for RNZ’s Mediawatch tomorrow (May 3).

6 thoughts on “Science rallies round Salinger”

  1. It sounds like management at NIWA have decided that they need to be the face of the organisation (no doubt for the greater good) and to achieve this noble goal those pesky scientists need to be put in their place.

    All just an ego trip for those in top management, something that inevitably leads to the downfall of organisations operating in a competitive environment.

  2. Good piece on mediawatch.
    But from listening to that, clearly Jim has a reputation for being a very good communicator.

    That they chose this underhand way to get rid of him still smells very bad. Who did NIWA want to be a spokesperson instead? Jim has 27 years of good solid science and good standing as a scientist both here and internationally.


  3. When I first met Jim in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s he had just completed his Doctorate and was working in Wellington for the then Met Service – we both lived in the Hutt Valley and would travel together on the unit to and from work. We had many discussions on climate and I can assure everyone that Jim was far from settled on Global Warming at that time. The Greenhouse Effect had been introduced into the Science Curriculum in NZ schools in the early 1970’s and as a science teacher, I was interested to hear how he was interpreting the then results of Global Temperatures.
    Even then Jim had a regular column in the Upper Hutt Leader – if his employers had not wanted him to be communicating with the media they should have been muzzling him then! But the fact is, he is an excellent communicator, and was enhancing the standing of his Service then by his contributions, as he was even to the time of his unseemly dismissal. NIWA management may feel that they have a case – but they are the ones seen around the world as the villians in this sad saga, and rightly so!

  4. John Lancashire, of the Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science, doesn’t mince his words.

    “We are exposed as an immature, bureaucratic and small-minded country who cannot manage creative people,” Lancashire said.

    Good on you for speaking the sad truth, John.

  5. From Callaghan’s letter:

    In sacking Dr Salinger, Niwa raises questions about the competence of its managers to run a science organisation, at least an organisation in which any respectable scientist would choose to work.


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