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Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

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    AMU/The History of Science

    Although not the first, Australia has one of the leading agencies for scientific research, education, and advancement. In the nineteenth century Australia developed agriculture and industry as a new nation among the world’s nations. However, after World War I, Australia found a need for more organization to the scientific research of industry that was previously done by the states. In 1926 Australia established the Advisory Council of Science and Industry; a government research council to promote scientific research in support of industry (Schedvin, 1987). Twenty three years later the government established legislation that changed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and separated it from the government establishing it as a corporate organization.

    The new organization would have the tasks of performing research to assist and further the development of Australian industry, community, education, and government (Canberra, 2012). However, the new organization, now called the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) would still be directed and legislated by the government. The CSIRO’s tasks and direction were also broadened to allow scientific research covering almost any aspect of science that improves society. This very generalized authority gives the organization the ability to expand into any field of science, performing research to not only develop products, but to advance science, and improve the overall quality of life to not just Australian citizens but around the world. Since then, the CSIRO has created advancements in science and industry, and solved problems that have improved Australia’s industry and made scientific advancements affecting the entire world for the better.

    A Brief History of the CSIRO

    The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) was derived from the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, which was formed in 1916 in an effort “to initiate and conduct scientific research to assist in the development of the primary and secondary industries of Australia” (CSIRO Australia, 2018, history page). The original council was a department of the government created to advise the government on matters of science and industry to assist in the progress and maintenance of Australia’s farming, mining and manufacturing industries. The advisory council later became the Institute of Science and Industry, and then in 1949 was given its current name of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Although their basic mission has never really changed, it was at this time that legislation was passed broadening the responsibilities and establishing the tasks, goals and limitations of what would now be its own organization. Since its inception, the CSIRO has expanded into every possible field of science and industry.

    Prior to the establishment of the CSIRO, the CSIR ingeniously blended “the political dictate of co-operative federalism with the seemingly irreconcilable ethos of the scientific autonomy” (Schedvin, 1987, page 25). Representatives from all states were selected based upon their work in the scientific community and then placed on a committee where they would be responsible for directing the CSIRO in various areas of research. This would prevent the organization from concentrating all of its efforts towards one scientific aspect, and would instead not only keep the organization diverse in its research, but would allow scientists to openly propose ideas that may be contrary to the government’s ideas. Well, at least that’s how it all started.

    Eventually, due to the ongoing need for technology development for the purpose of the military during World War II, the council lost much of its advisory role and the institution itself was simply a technology generator in support of the war efforts. After World War II, the current Prime Minister, John Dedman, sought the CSIRO to become “an integral unit of industrial society” (Schedvin, 1987, page 323). The current committee was full of aging members that didn’t favor towards change. They needed to be replaced with a younger generation who could lead the council and the CSIRO into a new era of growth and development. So gradually, one by one, the council members were all replaced, and the CSIRO started to flourish again.

    Significance

    The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has become a huge significance to the government and citizens of Australia. The CSIRO is responsible for multiple publications in all areas of science, from farming and industry, to climatology and astronomy, and even sexual health and cancer research. In its early years, the CSIR started out by assisting in the research and advisement of pests, diseases, fuels, food, building materials, and land resources. However, during the war, the council became advisories for the military and their efforts. It wasn’t until after its reorganization and the introduction of new legislation declaring new responsibilities for the, now, CSIRO that the council became its own organization and delved into a much broader spectrum of science.

    The CSIRO is now involved in just about every aspect of the scientific community, producing major publications advising on all areas of industry, developing solutions that will benefit people around the world, providing science education institutions and state of the art laboratories, and not only researching current technologies, but reaching into future innovations (CSIRO Australia, 2018). The CSIRO would be the equivalent of taking the research and developments part of all of America’s regulatory agencies (Food & Drug Administration, Department of Environment, Department of Agriculture, NASA, etc), and combining them into one organization.

    The CSIRO is looked upon for guidance on all aspects of science and industry. However, it does not work in total autonomy; it is still highly regulated and directed by the government, both local and federal. Although the CSIRO scientists have the freedom to pursue any area of science in which to develop improvement or research solutions to problems, the scientists hold a primary responsibility to the Prime Minister and the government of Australia (Canberra, 2012). Any research performed must be rooted in a cause dictated to the CSIRO by the government or its representatives. However, because the purpose of the CSIRO is for the improvement of society as a whole, the roots of their research are often in the best interest of the people of Australia, and ultimately, the world. Much of the research and developments brought out by the CSIRO have gone beyond the Australian borders to improve the quality of life to people in general, and to the sustainment of the human race as a whole.

    Resources

    If you want a basis of who the CSIRO is, and what they do, their website is definitely the place to go. It’s easy to navigate and find basic information about the organization and what they do. The CSIRO website is very informative as to its mission and current tasks and resources of information that they produce. The ‘About’ section of the website provides a synopsis of what they do, their mission, and a very basic about of historical information. However the site seems to concentrate more on its accomplishments than an explanation of how they came to be where they are today. For that, I went to outside publications that detail the actual history of the CSIRO, from the beginning. The website touches on every single program and aspect of the CSIRO and what they do today. However it only touches on these topics and again, is delinquent in any detail regarding any information. Majority of the CSIRO’s detailed information can be found in their ‘Publications’ section which gives links to resources of any publication they have put out regarding research performed by the CSIRO. To look at current topics and issues facing the CSIRO today, I go to their ‘News’ section of the website. The “news’ section provides any recent articles put out by the CSIRO. Unfortunately it does only include articles put out by their organization and not all articles related to the organization.

    Today’s CSIRO Issues

    Although the CSIRO has many projects on their board through hundreds of subject areas, one of the biggest issues that the CSIRO is addressing today is public trust in business. Public trust is a huge concern in some businesses, such as mining. The mining industry has a particular task at hand, to produce whatever resource they are trying to produce, but in order to do their business they need to occupy and perform mining operations in areas that may be populated. Mining has been known for a long time to disrupt the eco system in areas, so people are always concerned when they see a mining company moving in. However, these companies are usually so much bigger than the populations of the communities that the people feel they don’t have any voice.

    The CSIRO is researching this issue and has developed a service called Reflexivity. Reflexivity is a service that “allows community members to be heard by the resource companies that work alongside them”, says Kieren Moffat, CSIRO research scientist and Reflexivity founder, who goes on to explain that “The data analyses what the concerns are, what is acceptable and why people act the way that they do.” (Louis, 2018). The Reflexivity project was designed around the issue involving mining projects in communities that felt helpless to speak against them. However the project expanded into all areas of business where public trust is a concern for business development.

    This project is really the core of what the CSIRO is about; taking a problem that affects a large portion of the population, performing research to analyze the problem and then developing possible solutions. The reflexivity project not only helps the business understand the community, but also helps the community understand the business by putting out factual information about what the company in concern is doing, going to do, and what research they’ve done to address concerns of the community. Many times someone will start a protest and get a petition signed by a major portion of a concerned population, but the petition may not contain all the facts, or may also contain completely false information to further the petitioner’s cause. The Reflexivity project allows for the intake and dissemination of factual information from both sides, from a trusted agency that has no vested interest in profit.

    Government Sponsorship

    The CSIRO was originally created and designed as a government entity in support of government interests, so much of their funding in the beginning came from the government. However, after establishing themselves in the Australian community and with Australia’s industry, they started to acquire funds from other sources. This wasn’t a bad thing to the government because they could use this as a gauge of how involved and integrated the CSIRO is in industry. More money from outside sources equals greater trust and strength in relationships. Declines in funding would show a loss of trust or weakness in relationships. Sponsorship by the government is crucial for the CSIRO because of their mission and purpose. The CSIRO acts upon orders given by the government but its purpose is to the people through the betterment of science and industry. However, the CSIRO sits on a balance between private and federal. Although they are regulated by the federal government and that is where they receive their direction from, they are designated as their own separate organization, since 1949. So the CSIRO runs much like any other corporate organization, however they still answer to the Prime Minister and his/her representatives.

    Scientific Innovation

    The CSIRO runs its organization through the ultimate balance of government, private, commercial, and education. Doing this creates a strong method of scientific innovation for several reasons. The CSIRO’s funding isn’t limited to only tax payer dollars and doesn’t suffer from government budget setbacks like a regular government agency can. This is because they still have a majority of their income coming from commercial partnerships in science and industry. Those partnerships, and the need for those partnerships, cause the organization to strive for positive relationships with the people they work with. Purely government agencies can, for the most part, run their part of the organization however they want and suffer little set back from public reaction. Even though the CSIRO depends on commercial and industrial relationships, they still have a need for government sponsorship and regulation in order to prevent from a total privatization of the organization that operates purely for profitable purposes and competition.

    The CSIRO’s purpose is for the betterment of Australia’s industry and mankind in general; if they were only concerned about profit margins, then that mission would be swayed in the direction that best meets its financial needs. Since the CSIRO’s policies and direction come from the government, this prevents financial motivation of the organization. The government sets legislation in place to give the CSIRO its primary purpose and direction. The various government representatives can also bring to the CSIRO important issues affecting their constituents for research and improvement. This allows for a well-rounded variety of research subjects for the CSIRO to tackle. Lastly we look at the educational factor. Part of the CSIRO’s mission is to not only encourage education in science and industry but to also develop it.

    The CSIRO ensures strong advancement in science and scientific innovation by providing assistance to educational institutions and the training of research scientists (Canberra, 2012). This is clearly stated in the guiding legislation as well as being in their best interest for the advancement of science and the CSIRO’s programs. So whereas many times there is an argument of which way and organization should go when it comes to scientific innovation, (government, private, commercial, educational, etc), the CSIRO has found a way to make all of those aspects an integral part of their success.

    Australia went from developing agriculture and industry as a new nation to being among the world’s top nations in research and development. Australia’s post war development of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and transition into the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) was painful but proved to be in the best interest of advancement for Australia. The new legislation gave a new generalized authority and partial separation from the government. The CSIRO was able to integrate several methods of scientific innovation through government, private, commercial, and educational, into one organization allowing them the ability to expand and solve simple to complex problems of industry, and further research and advancement of technology, medicine, and education for the country and even expanding their influence to other nations.

    References:

    1. CSIRO Australia (11/23/2018). Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Obtained from https://www.csiro.au/en/About. Accessed on 12/10/2018.
    2. Canberra (3/28/2012). Attorney‑General’s Department. Australian Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing. “Science and Industry Research Act 1949”. Federal Register of Legislation. Obtained from https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2012C00352. Accessed on 12/10/2018.
    3. Schedvin, C. (1987). Shaping science and industry: a history of Australia’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, 1926-49. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Obtained from https://www-fulcrum-org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/epubs/b2773v93v?locale=en#/6/2[xhtml00000001]!/4/1:0. Accessed on 12/12/2018.
    4.  White, L (6/17/2018). “CSIRO is tackling corporate trust issue, starting with mining”. Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media Limited. Obtained from https://www.smh.com.au/business/small-business/csiro-is-tackling-corporate-trust-issue-starting-with-mining-20180612-p4zl1h.html. Accessed on 12/18/2018.
    5. Lefroy, T & Porfirio, L.L. (5/8/2017). “Changing Fortunes: a Brief History of CSIRO Funding from Treasury and External Sources, 1926 to 2015”. Historical Records of Australian Science 28(1) 12 – 17. Obtained from https://doi.org/10.1071/HR16013. Accessed on 12/18/2018.
    6. Note to Professor: Although the APUS library provides many resources involving the CSIRO, most of them are regarding publications for research projects that the CSIRO has put out. The only single resource on APUS that regards the history or operation of the CSIRO is source #2.

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    Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. (2022, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/australian-commonwealth-scientific-and-industrial-research-organisation/

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