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University Professor Sacked for Telling-the-Truth

Peter Ridd as a first year undergraduate science student at James Cook University back in 1978 – forty years ago.
By Jennifer Marohasy | May 19, 2018

BACK in 2016, when I asked Peter Ridd if he would write a chapter for the book I was editing I could not possibly have envisaged it could contribute to the end of his thirty-year career as a university professor.

Considering that Peter enrolled at James Cook University as an undergraduate back in 1978, he has been associated with that one university for forty years.

Since Peter was fired on 2 May 2018, the university has attempted to remove all trace of this association: scrubbing him completely from their website.

But facts don’t cease to exist because they are removed from a website. The university has never challenged the veracity of Peter’s legitimate claims about the quality of much of the reef science: science on which billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded research is being squandered. These issues are not going away.

Just yesterday (Friday 18 May), Peter lodged papers in the Federal Court. He is going to fight for his job back! […]

Peter deliberately choose to frame the book chapter about the replication crisis that is sweeping through science.

In this chapter – The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Coral and Problems with Policy Science – Peter details the major problems with quality assurance when it comes to claims of the imminent demise of the reef.

Policy science concerning the Great Barrier Reef is almost never checked. Over the next few years, Australian governments will spend more than a billion dollars on the Great Barrier Reef; the costs to industry could far exceed this. Yet the keystone research papers have not been subject to proper scrutiny. Instead, there is a total reliance on the demonstrably inadequate peer-review process.

Ex-professor Peter Ridd has also published extensively in the scientific literature on the Great Barrier Reef, including issues with the methodology used to measure calcification rates. In the book he explains:

Like trees, which produce rings as they grow, corals set down a clearly identifiable layer of calcium carbonate skeleton each year, as they grow. The thicknesses and density of the layers can be used to infer calcification rates and are, effectively, a measure of the growth rate. Dr Glenn De’ath and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Marine Science used cores from more than 300 corals, some of which were hundreds of years old, to measure the changes in calcification during the last few hundred years. They claimed there was a precipitous decline in calcification since 1990, as shown in Figure 1.2.

The LHS chart suggests a problem with coral growth rates – but the real problem is with the methodology. When corals of equivalent age are sampled, there has been no decline in growth rates at the Great Barrier Reef – as shown in the RHS chart.

However, I have two issues with their analysis. I published my concerns, and an alternative analysis, in the journal Marine Geology (Ridd et al. 2013). First, there were instrumental errors with the measurements of the coral layers. This was especially the case for the last layer at the surface of the coral, which was often measured as being much smaller than the reality. This forced an apparent drop in the average calcification for the corals that were collected in the early 2000s – falsely implying a recent calcification drop. Second, an ‘age effect’ was not acknowledged. When these two errors are accounted for, the drop in calcification rates disappear, as shown in Figure 1.2.

The problem with the ‘age effect’, mentioned above, arose because in the study De’ath and colleagues included data from corals sampled during two distinct periods and with a different focus; I will refer to these as two campaigns. The first campaign occurred mostly in the 1980s and focused on very large coral specimens, sometimes many metres across. The second campaign occurred in the early 2000s due to the increased interest in the effects of CO2. However, presumably due to cost cutting measures, instead of focusing on the original huge coral colonies, the second campaign measured smaller colonies, many just a few tens of centimetres in diameter.

In summary, the first campaign focused on large old corals, while, in contrast, the second campaign focused on small young corals. The two datasets were then spliced together, and wholly unjustifiable assumptions were implicitly made, but not stated – in particular that there is no age effect on coral growth…

Dr Juan D’Olivo Cordero from the University of Western Australia collected an entirely different dataset of coral cores from the Great Barrier Reef to determine calcification rates. This study determined that there has been a 10% increase in calcification rates since the 1940s for offshore and mid-shelf reefs, which is the location of about 99% of all the coral on the Great Barrier Reef. However, these researchers also measured a 5% decline in calcification rates of inshore corals – the approximately 1% of corals that live very close to the coast. Overall, there was an increase for most of the Great Barrier Reef, and a decrease for a small fraction of the Great Barrier Reef.

While it would seem reasonable to conclude that the results of the study by D’Olivo et al. would be reported as good news for the Great Barrier Reef, their article in the journal Coral Reefs concluded:

Our new findings nevertheless continue to raise concerns, with the inner-shelf reefs continuing to show long-term declines in calcification consistent with increased disturbance from land-based effects. In contrast, the more ‘pristine’ mid- and outer-shelf reefs appear to be undergoing a transition from increasing to decreasing rates of calcification, possibly reflecting the effects of CO2-driven climate change.

Imaginatively, this shift from ‘increasing’ to ‘decreasing’ seems to be based on an insignificant fall in the calcification rate in some of the mid-shelf reefs in the last two years of the 65-year dataset.

Why did the authors concentrate on this when their data shows that the reef is growing about 10% faster than it did in the 1940s?

James Cook university could have used the chapter as an opportunity to start a much-needed discussion about policy, funding and the critical importance of the scientific method. Instead, Peter was first censored by the University – and now he has been fired.

When I first blogged on this back in February, Peter needed to raise A$95,000 to fight the censure.

This was achieved through an extraordinary effort, backed by Anthony Watts, Joanne Nova, John Roskam and so many others.

To be clear, the university is not questioning the veracity of what ex-professor Ridd has written, but rather his right to say this publicly. In particular, the university is claiming that he has not been collegial and continues to speak-out even after he was told to desist.

New allegations have been built on the original misconduct charges that I detailed back in February. The core issue continues to be Peter’s right to keep talking – including so that he can defend himself.

In particular, the university objects to the original GoFundMe campaign (that Peter has just reopened) because it breaches claimed confidentiality provisions in Peter’s employment agreement. The university claims that Peter Ridd was not allowed to talk about their action against him. Peter disputes this.

Of course, if Peter had gone along with all of this, he would have been unable to raise funds to get legal advice – to defend himself! All of the documentation is now being made public – all of this information, and more can be found at Peter’s new website.

May 18, 2018 - Posted by | Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Science and Pseudo-Science | ,

10 Comments »

  1. Turns out he’s an apologist for industries that are dumping a lot of effluent into the marine environment, including sugar, coal mining and ranching. The academic-freedom stuff is a distraction.

    Comment by traducteur | May 19, 2018 | Reply

    • Whatever his imperfections, the question remains centered on the fact that he did falsify the Great Barrier Reef claims.

      What would be more wrong, apologizing for dumping effluent into the marine environment or falsely justifying the anti-carbon crusade?

      I know which would cause more harm to humanity.

      Comment by aletho | May 19, 2018 | Reply

  2. Yes, and think of the employment, the foreign-exchange earnings, the value of the shares, all that sort of thing. Compared with such important factors as that, surely a little environmental damage is a light price to pay!

    If Prof. Ridd is right in asserting that the work of other scientists has been flawed, all honour to him. But I suggest his own work should be scrutinized very closely, because it is what we call in French intéressé, i.e. he has an axe to grind.

    Comment by traducteur | May 19, 2018 | Reply

    • I compare the environmental harm from carbon fuels to that of the nuclear powered future that the AGW crusaders seek to realize. No comparison. One effect is temporary, one is not.

      All academics and institutions can be smeared with ad hominem attacks regarding “foreign-exchange earnings, the value of the shares, all that sort of thing.” But, unless we decide that Pol Pot was right after all, we must deal with their imperfection.

      The fact remains that catastrophic global warming is proving to be a fraud and these substitute claims against the use of carbon fuels are also fraudulent.

      Comment by aletho | May 19, 2018 | Reply

  3. The counter to incorrect research is better research, not firing. Academic freedom requires the right to be incorrect. Science is a process of reducing the amount of incorrect information – never about having the full complete truth. Entire Political Science departments are staffed with apologists for corporate and US/Israeli imperial interests. Scientists do not get fired for protecting such interests. They only get fired for challenging them. Look at the researchers who looked at data surrounding the WTC collapses that took place on 9/11. Those who support the fiction that planes can cause buildings to collapse and pulverize concrete are fine. Those who question are tossed like Prof. Stephen Jones. Or look at those who question the claims of the multi-billion dollar vaccine industry such as Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Or look at the sacking of foremost researcher Arpad Pusztai for finding health risks with GMO foods.

    The remedy to corrupt bought research is better research including exposing the funding sources of such researchers, not putting a chill on academic freedom by firing those who get the “wrong” answer.

    Comment by 4justice | May 19, 2018 | Reply

    • Sorry, the 9/11 research is Prof. Steven Jones, not Stephan Jones.

      Comment by 4justice | May 21, 2018 | Reply

  4. Scientists do not get fired for protecting such interests. They only get fired for challenging them

    Evidently JCU has been taken over by those awful environmentalists. But, you know, Prof. Ridd’s ordeal is not so inconsistent really: there’s a lot of grant money available for GBR studies.

    Comment by traducteur | May 19, 2018 | Reply

    • “Evidently JCU has been taken over”

      Nothing new there.

      Every institution has strings to the Military Industrial Complex and has promoted the anti-carbon paradigm since the pentagon made it plain that that’s what is expected of them.

      Nuclear technology is the principal interest of the MIC and the US DoE has been funding the anti-carbon paradigm since 1973 after Wall Street and private industry refused to expose themselves to further risk of nuclear plant cost explosions.

      See: https://alethonews.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/searching-for-the-catastrophe-signal-the-origins-of-the-intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change/

      Read the book.

      There is nothing “environmental” about the anti-carbon agenda. It’s all about militarism.

      Comment by aletho | May 19, 2018 | Reply

    • One wonders what impresses you in the New Yorker piece put out by non-scientist propagandists?

      I suppose that this could be the one agenda that they pursue that serves humanity, but if you honestly assess Mckibben’s positions it’s eugenics, the mass cull. Not for me.

      Comment by aletho | June 2, 2018 | Reply


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