Statistical Solutions to Environmental Problems

News & Updates

Australian COVID-19 Analysis
April 5, 2020 
State-by-state predictions.

Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission slams CSIRO
January 30, 2019 
Commissioner of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission, Bret Walker SC, has released his report into the Murray Darling Basin Authority. CSIRO's lack of interaction with the Royal Commission has drawn heavy criticism.

Revised Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality Released!
After 5.5 years, the "Revised method for deriving Australian and New Zealand water quality guideline values for toxicants" has finally been released.

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.

Vale Brian White
21 October, 2016 
One of the country's best mathematics educators recently passed away.

Time to shut down tabloid journals and Academic Doping
19 August, 2016 
The academic and research communities are being swamped under a tsunami of junk journal invitations promising rapid publication in their "prestigious" publications.

Ten Simple Rules
June 21, 2016 

Statistics may be everywhere, but they aren't always understood, calculated, or communicated effectively. After a suggestion from the ASA, a group of leading statisticians penned "Ten Simple Rules for Effective Statistical Practice"  to help researchers avoid pitfalls of misrepresenting data or formulating hypotheses based on faulty statistical reasoning.

Joe Gani on CSIRO
June 10, 2016 
Professor Joe Gani was a distinguished mathematical statistician and was Chief of CSIRO's Division of Mathematics and Statistics between 1974 and 1981. In a 2008 interview he reflected upon his CSIRO years. What's extraordinary is how very little has changed with respect to CSIRO's penchant for change!

As we've long been advocating - it's time this endless, unproductive cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction ceased (or at least had a longer return period).

If you think all the current rhetoric about CSIRO needing to become more relevant, more commercially focused and 'customer' driven is new, reflect for a moment on Professor Gani's experience more than 40 years ago.

Climate Science on the Skids
May 30 2016 
CSIRO CEO, Dr. Larry Marshall makes another extraordinary claim.

New paper published
May 25, 2016 
Professors David Fox (Environmetrics Australia / University of Melbourne) and Wayne Landis (Western Washington University) respond to renewed calls to retain the NOEC in ecotoxicology.

Larry Marshall - Same dog, different leg action
April 11, 2016 
Although CSIRO has a new CEO in Larry Marshall, the 'innovation' rhetoric and restructuring is not. You'd think that with the passage of 10 years, the organisation (indeed any organisation) would be reaping the benifits of structural change. Regrettably, CSIRO never got off the slash and burn treadmill.

CSIRO suffers the bends after Deep Dive
April 08, 2016 
CSIRO in the spot-light again - for all the wrong reasons (again)

Hey Larry - it's not either / or
February 12, 2016 
CSIRO's boss, Larry Marshall takes the axe to climate research

Statisticians and (eco)Toxicologists Unite!
January 5, 2016 
As debates about the legitimacy of NOECs and NOELs continue unabated, we believe it's well and truly time to establish a sub-discipline of Statistical (eco)toxicology.

Revised ANZECC Guidelines officially released!
22 December, 2015 
It's been a long process, but the Revised ANZECC Water Quality Guidelines for Toxicants has been officially released.


SETAC Australasia - Nelson NZ
27 August, 2015 
"Toxicant guideline values for the protection of aquatic ecosystems -  an improved derivation method and overview of priority toxicants."

Rick van Dam, Graeme Batley, Michael Warne Jenny Stauber, David Fox, Chris Hickey,  John Chapman

Is data scientist sexiest job of the century?
19 April, 2015 
A few years ago, The Harvard Business Review hailed the burgeoning role

of data scientist  "The sexiest job of the 21st century" . With big
data technology driving the change, how does the new role stack up?

Social 'Science' - Science No More!
18 March, 2015 
This is not a bad dream - the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology has banned the use of statistical inference!

CSIRO and the Gutting of Wisdom
21 December, 2014 
Read Bridie Smith's story about the impact of funding cuts to the CSIRO.

Hello 2015. Goodby Linkedin
January 2, 2015 
Have you stopped to think about the actual value YOU derive from having a Linkedin account?

Statistical Janitorial Services
December 31, 2014 
We've written about BIG data before and while some reckon it's sexy, you better roll up your sleeves because you'll invariably need to do a lot of 'janitorial' (a.k.a. shit) work first!

The problems of very small n
December 4, 2014 
Professors Murray Aitkin and David Fox are invited speakers at the Australian Applied Statistics Conference (AASC) 2014.

BIG data is watching you
November 6, 2014 
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 in Gothenburg, 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.

New Method for Water Quality Guideline Calculations
Sep 15, 2014 
The ANZECC (2000) Guidelines are currently being reviewed.

The Explosive Growth of R
Sept 3, 2014 
Have no doubts - R reigns supreme!!

R - the Wikepedia of statistical software?
August 20, 2014 
The R computing environment is feature-rich, incredibly powerful, and best of all - free! But to what extent can we trust user-contributed packages?

Let there be light!
May 22, 2014 
New Industry Standard for managing seagrasses during dredging projects.

Statistical Accreditation
May 20, 2014 
Make sure you're dealing with someone who knows their stuff!

Job losses at CSIRO bigger than expected
May 15, 2014 
Confirmed in a message yesterday from CSIRO Chief Executive, Megan Clark:

Australian Science takes a hit
May 15, 2014 
Joe Hockey's budget has not been kind to science

Information-gap decision theory creates a gap in ecological applications and then fills it
May 14, 2014 
You may not of heard of Info Gap Decision Theory (IGDT) but don't worry, not many people have.

Probability Weighted Indicies for Improved Ecosystem Report Card Scoring
May 09, 2014 
A new way for calculating an environmental index is described in an upcoming paper "Probability Weighted Indices for improved ecosystem report card scoring" has been published in Environmetrics. Click here.

New Report on Ecosystem Report Cards
April 4, 2014 
'Report Cards' and their associated scoring techniques are widely used to convey a measure of overall ecosystem health to a wide audience. However, as with most things, developing, testing and validating these metrics is not straightforward.

Revision of Australian Water Quality Guidelines
March 27, 2014 
The long-awaited review of the ANZECC/ARMCANZ (2000) Water Quality Guidelines is now well under way!

Turbidity Monitoring clouded by dubious science
February 17, 2014 
Regulators and industry around the country are using a potentially flawed method to set environmental limits on water column turbidity.

Breaking down the team barrier
21 January, 2014 
New research suggests that team effectiveness may actually benefit from tension and hostility.

Mathematics of Planet Earth
May 30, 2013 
Local and international experts come together to discuss how mathematical and related scientific disciplines can be utilised to better understand the world around us.

Canadian Environmental Science and Regulation under threat
12 April 2013 
The Canadian Federal Government is making drastic reductions in the reach and capabilities of its environmental science departments.  Read Peter Wells's Marine Pollution Bulletin article.

High Impact
15 March 2013 
The peer-reviewed journal "Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management" (IEAM) lists Fox (2012) as one of its most accessed articles in 2012.

New Predictive Capability for Dredging projects
29 November 2012 
Environmetrics Australia has developed a unique water column turbidity and benthic light forecasting system.


Taking the Stick (yet again) to CSIRO
May 07, 2014 

Times are tough and about to get a lot tougher in the country's premier research agency.

Tony Abbott is to CSIRO what Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) is to Zambia. Back in 2010 Mwamba (a Kasama member of Parliament) went on radio to defend his beating of his wife arguing that he did so because he loved her. So Tony Abbott's whacking of CSIRO is obviously an act of supreme love. GBM's defense was that wife beating was normal and that he was not the first to do so. Taking the stick to CSIRO is also 'normal' and indeed Abbott is not the first to do so. So what is it about this and previous governments that compel them to stick the boot into one of Australia's most enduring and respected agencies? The 'Clever country' is a con; it's a throwaway by-line used by governments and their ministers to try to convince us that we're an intellectual powerhouse while simultaneously knee-capping its main instrument of delivery - the CSIRO as well as its incubator - the universities. In reality we are an intellectual powerhouse. It has been widely acknowledged that when it comes to science, Australia "punches above its weight".  But what's missing in the R&D equation is the "D" - we're really good at the "R" part, but for a variety of reasons (principally a former lack of confidence in our abilities and more recently a lack of political will) we struggle to unlock the full benefit from our discoveries, and things don't look like getting any better soon. That the present government has no minister of science yet places store in outdated concepts such as knighthoods speaks volumes about the value it places on one of mankind's most fundamental traits - the pursuit of knowledge.

In its infinite wisdom, the Abbott government is about to slash CSIRO's budget by something between $75M to $150M. Coincidentally, the CSIRO Executive has just announced a major overhaul of the organisation's structure that will see up to 300 jobs lost - or in Megan Clark management speak "I can confirm that we will not be able to offer around 270 to 300 roles".

So this brings us to one of Australia's favourite pastime's - restructuring. To be clear, we're not against change but the reasons for it have to be compelling. The CSIRO reform agenda outlined in the March 2014 Innovation Organisation Reform document reiterates CSIRO core values, documents critical success factors and stresses the importance of "wellbeing at work". In guarded language it notes the abject failure of the "matrix system" that was the legacy of the last restructure under Geoff Garrett.

As a former employee, I have a great fondness for CSIRO, and yes, mea culpa  I presided over a reorganisation of a Division's research portfolio which reduced duplication of effort but importantly resulted in zero job losses. However, the revised Divisional structure was stillborn. Shortly after all was bedded down, a new Chief was appointed and his first task - dismantle the new structure!

The obsession with CSIRO's structure and funding have an almost sunspot cyclic signature - except the recurrence time for CSIRO is probably somewhat less than 11 years. When I first joined the organisation in 1993 its organisational structure was based around Institutes and Divisions. For me, and I'm sure many (most?) other CSIRO scientists at the time, the Institute - Division system imparted a strong sense of 'belonging' - staff 'lived' in their disciplinary 'homes'. In 1996, Malcolm McIntosh assumed the role of Chief Executive and, as noted in CSIROpedia he "presided over a major organisational restructure" which saw the replacement of Institutes by a matrix-based structure that mapped divisional effort into industry-based 'sectors'. I recall at the time the enormous effort that went into the initial and subsequent 'mapping' exercises - only for it to be dismantled 5 years later when Geoff Garrett was appointed CEO after McIntosh's untimely demise. The differences between McIntosh and Garrett are many, but none more so than their respective management styles. McIntosh was like a 'silent partner' - you knew he was firmly in control, but didn't interfere in a scientists' working day. Garrett, on the other hand, was constantly in your face and gushed endlessly and effusively in the latest management speak. 'BHAGS' (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) was his cause celebre until he finally got the message that American junk terms didn't wash with Australian scientists (I believe he was also politely told to get off the table when he tried to emulate Robin Williams's performance in Dead Poets Society at a staff meeting). Interestingly BHAGS morphed into the present-day Flagships.

And so, here we are on the eve of another CEO's departure whose legacy will be the wholesale dismantling of CSIRO divisions and the start of another massive mapping exercise into new Future Flagships. It's clear that scrapping 11 divisions and creating 9 new Flagships will leave a number of senior CSIRO managers without a role. Indeed, the Chief of CSIRO's Computational Informatics division, Bronwyn Harch would appear to be the first casualty of this process - having elected to jump before being pushed.

These continue to be unsettling times for CSIRO and its staff. If I was to have my 'one day as CEO' at CSIRO I would take the organisation back to a time when it did really, really good science and was appreciated for it. For one day, scientists would get to enjoy doing what they worked so hard to do - science! Change is both necessary and inevitable, but the constant cycling through a process of destruction and reconstruction is debilitating and ultimately pathologically flawed.

                                                                                                                 Prof. David Fox