A Parable From Down Under for U.S. Climate Scientists

Australian climate science is important not just for Australia, a country of 24 million people, but for the world. Australia is the most scientifically accomplished nation in the Southern Hemisphere, which has expanses of ocean and relatively little land.

In effect, this small country is keeping an eye on half the planet for the rest of us.

Much of the necessary work is done by scientists on the payroll of the country’s principal research agency, known as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. It was within that agency that last year’s controversy unfolded.

Budgets at the agency had been under pressure for years, much as scientific budgets have been in the United States. Then in 2015, a new boss, Larry R. Marshall, took over at the behest of the conservative government, controlled by a party known here, oddly, as the Liberals, and led now by Malcolm Turnbull. (Actual liberals join the Labor Party.)

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Though Dr. Marshall is Australian, he made his name as a scientific researcher and entrepreneur in the United States. He went back to Australia with the goal of sprinkling some Silicon Valley pixie dust on the agency, doing more to turn its fundamental research into jobs and start-up companies to benefit the economy.

Studying the agency’s costs, Dr. Marshall and his aides decided that too many people were working on basic questions about the climate. If he laid off scores of them, he reasoned, he would have money to reinvest in other priorities. Those would include looking for ways to reduce emissions, and to adapt to climate changes that could no…

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