SA scientific integrity in danger

2010-03-16 21:48

Johannesburg - There was a danger that national scientific facilities could fall victim to a form of totalitarian control, the Royal Society of SA warned on Tuesday.

Its president, John Skinner, made the statement after the director of the SA Astronomical Observatory, Phil Charles, was cleared of charges that he shared secret information with colleagues on decisions the National Research Foundation (NRF) had made.

"The action taken against professor Charles has disturbed the international scientific community and placed a grave question mark against South Africa's international scientific reputation," Skinner said in a statement.

"In broader perspective, we would like to raise our concern that our national scientific facilities may become subject to a form of totalitarian control."

Skinner suggested that an "open and public enquiry" be held into the decision to bring charges against Charles.

"Unless such a process takes place, we fear that the international scientific community will lose confidence in entering into collaborative agreements with the South African scientific establishment," he said.

Skinner expressed concern over the fact that the NRF acted against him despite a request by the minister of science and technology not to do so.

"The major charge he faced was that he had shared 'secret information' with colleagues regarding decisions the NRF had taken in connection with the future of astronomical facilities in South Africa.

"However, this was information that these very colleagues should have been given by the NRF, and indeed, because they are stakeholders, they should also have been party to the process that led to these decisions."