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Dr Anthony Turton resigns from CSIR December 2, 2008

Posted by honestclimate in Discussions.
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Dr Anthony Turton resigns from CSIR

Professor William Alexander

Professor William Alexander

By Professor Will Alexander

Via E-mail, November 29, 2008

Response to last Saturday’s email.

Dear Prof ,
What a shocking business about Tony whom I know very well for many years. There is no more committed, loyal, knowledgeable, wise and dedicated professional than him. I am astonished.

In my long professional career (now approaching 60 years) this is the first time that I have witnessed a dispute that led to the resignation of a senior scientist from a well respected public institution. I find myself in a very awkward position. I still have strong loyalty and respect for the two principal organisations, but I have even stronger responsibilities to the poor and disadvantaged communities in South Africa. I also have strong views on academic freedom and scientific integrity.

I fully agree with Dr Turton’s views. I cannot agree that his actions were sufficient to lead to his reprimand and eventual resignation. My views are supported by the many adverse reactions reported in the media during the past week. In particular I believe that the CSIR’s image as an impartial body has been irretrievably tarnished by its own unnecessary and unjustifiable actions.

Dead fish in the Vaal River. (Beeld 29 November 2008)

Dead fish in the Vaal River. (Beeld 29 November 2008)

Family outing on the Vaal River (1941). WJRA second from right. Swimming in the river is no longer encouraged.

Family outing on the Vaal River (1941). WJRA second from right. Swimming in the river is no longer encouraged.

The most important aspect is that the CSIR and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry do not seem to appreciate the extreme importance and urgency of the present situation.

Now is not the time for more research. The causes and consequences of the rapidly deteriorating quality of the flow in our rivers have been known and addressed since the 1970s. They are well documented in the files of the two organisations as well as in conference and symposia proceedings.

There is nothing new to be learned. I was directly involved in the research at that time. The Department of Water Affairs’ Hydrological Research Institute at Roodeplaat Dam was my responsibility. We addressed this problem together with the CSIR and limnological researchers at several universities. Our research reports and the actions taken to minimise the consequences are detailed in the files of the two organisations.

We are now witnessing the consequences of the subsequent lack of action to address these issues. During the past few days the news media have produced many photographs (fortunately without the nauseous smells), of debris and dead fish in our rivers and dams. The reason for these occurrences is the onset of high summer temperatures, decreased river flows, and consequent high concentrations of pollutants.

This is only the beginning. When (not if) the regional droughts begin to bite, the conditions will deteriorate rapidly even further. Questions will be asked. They will include reasons for Dr Turton’s suspension and resignation.


Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) suspends Dr Anthony Turton November 25, 2008

Posted by honestclimate in Discussions.
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Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) suspends Dr Anthony Turton

Professor William Alexander

Professor William Alexander

By Professor Will Alexander

Via Email, November 22, 2008

Dear all,

Today is a sad day for science in South Africa. According to headlined articles in yesterday and today’s newspapers, Dr Anthony Turton, of the CSIR has been suspended and told to evacuate his office. This is because of a proposed presentation that he was due to make at a CSIR conference. The title of his presentation was to have been A clean South Africa.

I have not seen the draft presentation but I assume that it was on the same lines as his TV presentation in the 50-50 programme three weeks ago, in which he painted a bleak picture of the deteriorating quality of South Africa’s water supplies particularly in the Highveld region. The direct cause identified by the programme presenter was the failure of the smaller municipalities to treat sewage effluent, which was then discharged directly into the nearest river. Their actions were in turn the consequence of equipment failure and lack of technical staff.

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) was also held partially to blame because it is responsible for the health of our river systems. In my position as Manager of Scientific Services in DWAF prior to 1985, I was directly involved in early water resource management policy decisions. Even then it was appreciated that we could expect water quality problems by the end of the century due to increasing treated effluent discharges into our river systems.

It was also appreciated that conventional effluent treatment would not solve the problem. This was the motivation for the construction of large scale experimental works in Windhoek and Pretoria for producing potable water from sewage effluent. The CSIR was involved in this research.

It is clear that the CSIR’s suspension of Dr Turton and its instruction that he should leave his office and surrender his computer and Internet linkage was unnecessarily drastic. It is also a severe blow to the integrity of the CSIR.

I have no wish to create any further difficulties in this situation. I am more than willing to appear before any disciplinary committee appointed by the CSIR. I am one of the very few experienced and fully independent scientists in this field left in South Africa.

I have repeated my e-mail that I addressed to Dr Turton last night to his CSIR Internet address that will not reach him.

Please pass this on to anybody who has a constructive interest. I sincerely hope that I will be able to assist in the solution of this very difficult and emotional problem.

Kind regards,



Email sent to Dr Turton last night 21 November 2008

Dear Dr Turton,

South Africa’s water resources

I was very disturbed to read about the rejection of your presentation in this morning’s newspaper.

I have been directly involved in water resource development and research for the past 30 years. I also had strong links with the CSIR’s research bodies during that time. I have attached an old CV that describes some of these linkages.

I have no doubt whatsoever that South Africa is about to enter a critical period related to both quantity and quality of our water supplies. My rising concern in recent years is that the authorities do not seem to appreciate the almost insurmountable problems that lie ahead. Their solution requires advanced multi-disciplinary studies.

The last thing that we need is accusations of political motives when we bring them to the attention of the authorities.

If it will help in any way I am quite prepared to come across to the CSIR and discuss the issue with anybody in authority who has an interest. The discussions can be in confidence if they so wish.

Feel free to pass this on if you wish.

Kind regards,
WJR Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering,

University of Pretoria