Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How a Communications Saga Rocked CSIRO

CSIRO in bed with big tobacco, as characterised in Australasian Science, April 2004 and July 2004. The cartoon was condemned by Sandland as “a scurrilous piece of junk”, yet Staunton got a member of her staff to ask the Editor for the original artwork to hang in her office. Credit: Simon Kneebone

CSIRO in bed with big tobacco, as characterised in Australasian Science, April 2004 and July 2004. The cartoon was condemned by Sandland as “a scurrilous piece of junk”, yet Staunton got a member of her staff to ask the Editor for the original artwork to hang in her office. Credit: Simon Kneebone

By Peter Pockley

A "warts and all" account of CSIRO has sidestepped some of its most embarrassing failures. The first blog in a series published online this month outlines the documentary evidence behind CSIRO's appointment of a tobacco lobbyist as its Director of Communications, which led to a public black ban of Australasian Science.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

How the leadership of Australia’s premier research agency, CSIRO, decided to engage former senior tobacco lobbyist Donna Staunton in 2003 as a top executive to run its “communications” operation – first as a highly paid public relations consultant and, soon after, as Executive Director with membership of the Executive running CSIRO’s management – has been the subject of continuing conjecture within and outside CSIRO.

With documentary evidence, Australasian Science can now unravel the extraordinary story that continues to resonate as a case study in the relations between scientists in the broad and mainstream media. The issues at stake warrant revisiting following the recent publication of a book called Icon in Crisis: The Reinvention of CSIRO (UNSW Press).

In the book co-author Dr Ron Sandland, former Deputy Chief Executive of CSIRO but now retired, and co-author Graham Thompson (a retired senior manager) accuse Australasian Science of basic failures in due process between scientists and the media.

This has opened a proverbial “can of worms” infesting CSIRO at the time. The worms have new life with exposure of the real story through a close examination of the written record obtained from Freedom of Information requests and other sources.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

© Peter Pockley (scicomm@bigpond.net.au)