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Science Under Attack

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Jack Davenport points out that conservatives spend more effort fighting climate science than climate change itself.

lutruwita/Tasmania has punched well above its weight in the sciences – with world class facilities and leading industry minds seeking out solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Yet science is under attack in lutruwita/Tasmania. Worse still, it is under attack from those in power who should be its greatest defenders. Around the world we have seen a disturbing rise in the spread of disinformation – including active harassment and intimidation of researchers.

In 2020, a group of UTAS researchers withdrew a paper on the relationship between logging and bushfire risk, after acknowledging flaws in the data. Withdrawing papers is a critical and appropriate part of maintaining integrity of research.

Researchers need to be able to acknowledge mistakes to ensure that further research is not based on faulty premises. Despite this, both Liberal and Labor parties engaged in politically-motivated attacks on the researchers, wrongly claiming the withdrawn paper invalidated the science of the relationship between logging and bushfire risk. As the head researcher highlighted, the withdrawn paper did not diminish the weight of existing research already present, some of it going back decades.

Demands that the researchers themselves be investigated were subsequently led from the logging industry and supported by their enablers in the Liberal and Labor parties. The Australian Senate shamefully passed a resolution condemning the researchers. The message was clear: the Right will use the levers of government to punish those that step out of line, irrespective of the facts.

A sign of the pressure facing the researchers was that UTAS consented to the political demands, effectively throwing its own researchers (and reputation) to the wolves. Sadly, it is because of decades of excessive risk management – the cornerstone of neoliberalism – that a university succumbed so easily.

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Eventually, the researchers were cleared of any wrongdoing. Despite this, no apology was given from either the Liberals or Labor. Indeed, the logging industry claimed the investigation – labelled a ‘witch-hunt’ by the chief researcher – as victory. Without a shred of evidence, the reputation of climate research had taken a severe blow.

Jumping on a single error to call into question all evidence is typical amongst climate deniers. This is highly damaging to research, and the power of science to identify solutions. Overt assaults on scientific integrity are all too common, but it is the more covert, subtle, undermining that is also a problem.

In 2020, the Gutwein government announced a grant program for projects researching ways to mitigate climate change, resulting in $750,000 being issued.

A high figure? Hardly, when one considers that the same Liberal government gave a whopping $6.8 million research grant to the pokies industry. Just think about that; our government values gambling nine times more than climate action.

This makes an absurdity of the claim that Tasmania is a leader in climate change action. For sure, there might be some fancy talk of a Climate Change Act, but there is one particularly significant problem. The Tasmanian Liberal government continues to ignore and disregard science relating to native forest logging. Until this changes, the Climate Change Act will remain just that; an act, a piece of theatre designed to gaslight the state into thinking some action is taking place.

The point of attacking science is to get the ‘right facts’ instead of the facts right. There is power in science, and ethical research underpins this. People have the power to compel change. Affecting the pressure at the ballot box is the surest way of forcing change.

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The Liberal and Labor parties seem too heavily enmeshed in vested interests to fully embrace change independently. It is why I left the Labor Party and joined the Greens, opting to coerce the political mainstream through external action, rather than beat my head on the table by trying to change from within.

We have the power to compel politicians to protect science, to nurture it, celebrate it, and learn from it. We all have a responsibility to protect those scientists and researchers who are compelled by acts of compassion to promote human wellbeing and safety. As for the UTAS researchers – both the Labor and Liberal parties should apologise to the researchers, for their initial attacks and the industrial harassment that led to an investigation.

Furthermore, they should apologise to the wider Tasmanian scientific community for the damage done. This was an orchestrated effort to undermine climate science, and the damage from this one episode could echo for years.

This election offers an active opportunity to stand up for science, and to protect those guardians of rational progress; truth, fact and ethically-based evidence. Vote to protect science.

Jack Davenport is a social worker in child safety, and a person passionate about social justice and climate action. He is committed to a fairer and climate-ready future for Tasmania, and is proud to be the Greens lead candidate in Bass.


Source: Tasmanian Times

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