Top New Zealand climate scientist sacked by NIWA

Dr Jim Salinger, a long time prominent NZ climate researcher was suddenly sacked by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) on 23 April 09 because of repeatedly giving interviews to the media – a self appointed task he was warned to stop- Nature records the event.
A minute or so in Google will turn up lots of media stories where Dr Salinger is quoted.
Here is one where he was not quoted.
Scorcher day put mercury at record levels

We expect our scientists to be able to get on with their research without political interference but I suppose that nowhere is it written on tablets of stone that the deal includes unlimited scope for giving media interviews. It would be a long job to go through all the articles that Dr Salinger contributed to and try to balance that with a look at meteorological events that he did NOT comment on. Given the usual blocks, obstacles and secrecy surrounding met data, I will not be rushing to attempt the task.
It must be a rare event for a pro-IPCC scientist to be sacked in this way.
Full Nature article below here.

Published online 28 April 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.410

News
Climate scientist fired for talking to media

Sacking follows string of warnings from New Zealand institute.

Stephen Pincock

A prominent New Zealand climate scientist has been fired by a
government-funded research institute, allegedly for talking to the media
without authorization.

Jim Salinger says that he was given little more than three hours to
clear his desk at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric
Research (NIWA) in Auckland on 23 April, after being dismissed for
giving interviews to local television and radio reporters about issues
such as high temperatures, flooding and snowlines.

Salinger was a lead author on the chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment report that dealt with the effects
of climate change in Australia and New Zealand1. He was a principal
scientist at NIWA, where he had worked for more than 25 years. “It was
very shocking,” he told Nature of his dismissal. “I was talking about my
publicly funded science.”

NIWA has a contract with New Zealand’s state broadcaster to provide
climate-related updates. As part of that deal, Salinger has spoken
regularly to reporters in the past, and says superiors praised him for
doing so. But some months ago managers told him they wanted him to have
a lower profile. “They wanted me to step back and give other people an
opportunity too,” he says. Although he was still allowed to talk to the
media, he was told to get permission first.
Chain of command

Salinger says that on the whole he complied with that request, but in
February gave a live radio interview about a record high temperature in
the city of Auckland without first seeking permission. It was late in
the day and there was nobody else available to do the interview, he
says. “This was too important a day not so say something, so I went
ahead and did it.”

That interview earned Salinger a verbal warning from superiors. In March
he offered to take a television reporter and camera operator on a flight
to monitor summer snowlines. He says he was given the go-ahead by the
institute’s communications manager, but was later told he should have
gained permission from someone higher in the NIWA hierarchy.

Earlier this month, Salinger was on holiday when he called a television
weather reporter to tell him that rivers were flooding in the region of
New Zealand that he was visiting. His message was repeated on air,
complete with his name and affiliation as the source. That seems to have
been the final straw. Last Thursday, Salinger received a letter from his
regional manager, Ken Becker, telling him that his contract was being
terminated immediately.

Salinger immediately began contacting colleagues. “Everybody’s shocked
and gobsmacked, I’ve had tremendous support from scientific staff within
NIWA and scientific colleagues elsewhere,” he says.

A spokeswoman for NIWA declined to comment on the case, other than to
confirm that Salinger no longer works there. Salinger has retained an
employment lawyer and plans to make a claim of unfair dismissal.
Climate change

The controversial sacking comes as NIWA’s CEO, John Morgan, is focussing
on rebranding the institution. Morgan has overseen the institute’s move
into high-profile new premises in central Auckland in February, along
with implementing a major website overhaul, according to Jacqueline
Rowarth, Director of Massey Agriculture at Massey University, Palmerston
North, New Zealand.

Rowarth believes that this trend may be a key reason behind Salinger’s
dismissal. “Nobody said Jim wasn’t doing good research,” she told
Nature. “What NIWA appears to be doing is updating its image. This isn’t
about scientific freedom.”

“I think that NIWA hasn’t handled the problem well,” she adds, “but for
Jim to contact the media [when he had already been warned] was foolish.
There are faults on both sides.”

Kevin Hennessy, an Australian climatologist who was one of Salinger’s
coordinating lead authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change chapter, says he was surprised NIWA had acted so precipitously
against a well-regarded scientist. “It’s all a bit strange, because Jim
has a good reputation,” he says. “For him to be sacked for talking to
the media seems a bit strong. It really is going too far.”
· References

1. Hennessy, K. et
al. in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds
Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J. &
Hanson, C. E.) Ch. 11, 507–540 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

2 thoughts on “Top New Zealand climate scientist sacked by NIWA”

  1. As a Kiwi and a Skeptic (with a capital ‘S’) I was appalled by this sacking. Irrespective of his view (which I totally disagree with) Salinger is a widely respected scientist, who obviously genuinely holds his view. Most skeptics with a scientific bent or appreciation have been stunned by this sacking. Quite appalling really. There has been no jubilation amongst the ranks of the skeptics, who see it for what it is – an appalling gaff on the part of NIWA.
    No rational person can surely approve of the idea of sacking a scientist in this manner.

  2. I agree with much of what you say Pete but quite a few people in NIWA must have gone along with this, I can not imagine anyone would have been enthusiastic – and I am sure they would check out as rational people.
    In the BoM Dr Salinger might have been accumulating Brownie points for his actions.
    I would like to see NIWA put out an analysis of what he was saying that annoyed them.
    I also note that for over a decade there has been pressure on sceptical scientists generally to conform to IPCC litanies.
    Dr Salinger can still access the media – I can not see how NIWA can have silenced him and I understand he is at Auckland University so will still have a lot of access to facilities.
    I look forward to some ongoing controversy from over the ditch.

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