Ron Sandland recently wrote about the new phenomenon of 'big data' - weighing up the benefits and concerns. Terry Speed reflected on the same issue in a talk earlier this year inGothenburg, Sweeden noting that this is nothing new to statisticians. So what's all the fuss about? Here's another take on the 'big data' bandwagon.
Adelaide Coastal Waters Study - South Australia's illegitimate child. December 15, 2016
It's almost a decade since the completion of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study. Project Director, Prof. David Fox shares some insights into how the study and the final report were managed.
I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to work on some of Australia's largest multi-agency, multi-disciplinary environmental projects. Two that stand out (for different reasons) are the Port Phillip Bay Environmental Study (PPBES) undertaken by the CSIRO between 1992 and 1996 and the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study (ACWS) which was project-managed by CSIRO between 2001 and 2006. My role in the PPBES was two-fold: one as a Leader for a project to estimate Bay-wide nutrient pools and the other as a member of the scientific technical group. My role in the ACWS was as Study Director having responsibility for the management and delivery of the Study outcomes.
While the overall objectives of each study were different, there was a good deal of commonality in the science, strategy and approach. Indeed, a significant factor in the decision to award the project management role to CSIRO was the vast experience that the organisation and individual scientists had accumulated through the PPBES.
While understandable, it was regrettable that the SA Government effectively quarantined CSIRO from taking a more significant role in the delivery of the science. This was borne from a sense of paranoia and fear that CSIRO would monopolise the Study and marginalise the role of local universities and research agencies. I concede that at the time CSIRO's reputational image had taken a bit of a beating based on a widely-held perception that CSIRO threw its considerable weight around in the commercial environment (hence the introduction of the 'competitive neutrality' requirements in CSIRO's pricing for external work). But given the layers of government oversight and onerous reporting requirements imposed on CSIRO, this was hardly likely to have ever been a problem.
The ACWS Final Report was delivered to the Client (the SA Government) late in 2007. It was not officially released until the afternoon of Friday February 22 2008 - coincidentally on the eve of the 'Clipsal 500' car race in Adelaide which meant that minimal publicity for the Study and its findings was assured.
Given the significance of the collaborative research effort and the importance of the Study's findings and recommendations, it was profoundly disappointing that, having brought the Study into existence, the government treated it like an 'unplanned pregnancy'. The ACWS had become South Australia's illegitimate child!
I was sufficiently concerned with the treatment of the final report that I wrote to Minister Gail Gago. A receipted copy of my email to Minister Gago can be found here and her reply here. Questions have also been raised by members of parliament about the curious timing of the release of the ACWS Final report - see for example the questioning of Michelle Lensink and Mark Parnell. Finally, there remains an issue that has escaped everyone's attention. If you look at the front cover below you will see it's clearly marked as Volume 1. If you go to the web and search for Volume 2 you won't find it - it doesn't exist! I started work on Volume 2 (which was to provide more of the scientific and technical detail underpinning Volume 1) shortly after finishing the summary report (Volume 1). However, by this stage the Study was over, the Clipsal 500 had been run and the government presumably didn't want a second 'bastard' child! So, the incomplete draft sits on my computer and will no doubt never see the light of day.
Prof. David R. Fox (Director, Adelaide Coastal Waters Study 2001-2006)
Postscript:In keeping with the ACWS's low profile, a quiet 'close-out' function for the ACWS team was held at West Beach to mark the end of the study. A copy of my speech can be found here.