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.
CSIRO suffers the bends after Deep Dive April 08, 2016
CSIRO in the spot-light again - for all the wrong reasons (again)
The Senate Select Committee into the Scrutiny of Government Budget Measures met again yesterday in Canberra. CSIRO Chief Executive, Larry Marshall was back in the hot-seat with Mr. Craig Roy (Deputy Cheif Executive) and CFO Ms Hazel Bennett by his side.
After reading 36 pages of the Hansard transcript, what emerges is a sad, yet familiar story of obfuscation, spin, and senior executives being economical with the truth.
We learn for example that 17 senior CSIRO officers used their private email accounts to conduct off-line discussions about CSIRO strategy - including the massively embarrassing missive from Andreas Schiller (aka "Andy Schiller") in which he suggested CSIRO stop doing "science for science sake". Little wonder they wanted such discussion carried out in private and off the CSIRO email system!
Then we get Larry's wonderfully lucid point of clarification in response to the Chair's questioning about the consultative process about cuts to divisions such as Land and Water: "Perhaps this will help: from a perspective we have an external revenue issue, which defines, if you like, the boundaries. We have a national capability issue, which, if you like, provides the foundation. And the processes of figuring out what we can do within the envelope and what we must do in terms of not jeopardising critical national capability are the deep process that involves basically everyone". WTF!! Clear as mud.
Later on Larry seeks to quantify the boundaries of his "envelope" by giving a totally dispassionate account of the impact on CSIRO's most valuable asset - its people: "I can say that in the last 20 years CSIRO has had around 180 redundancies on average every year. Again, I am not trying to minimise it. Losing anyone is very sad. But this process is 175 people over two financial years. It is slightly below the 20-year average. In the five-year average it is 220 people per year. It is not a major restructure, but it is a change". Sounds more like a commentary on a cricketing batting average than a scientific colleague looking out for his mates.
On the issue of Larry's appointment there was this revelation from Ms. Bennett: "it is a two-year contract with a three-year option. The date of the contract was 1 January, so, as Dr Marshall has said, the contract option would be exercisable on 1 January 2017". After further questioning from the Chair, Ms. Bennett confirmed that the CSIRO board is currently contemplating Larry's position. We can only hope that common sense prevails and that Larry packs up his bag of snake-oil and hot-foots it back to Silicon Valley where the jingoism of "customer", "client", "business model", and "markets" resonates with those focused on monetary returns. For us, we'd like to see CSIRO articulate a 20 year science plan and be given space, time and resources to pursue it without constant interference from political processes that pit scientist against scientist in a bitter fight to the death.