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Peter Ridd vs The Dishonourables

A powerful bureaucracy bullies, berates, isolates, and intimidates a lone critic.

By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | April 24, 2019

The Peter Ridd court ruling, released last week, is a re-telling of David and Goliath. This is a story about a bureaucratic in-group persecuting a dissenting voice. It’s also a story about widespread dishonourable conduct.

Ridd formerly ran the physics department, and managed James Cook University’s marine geophysical laboratory for 15 years. He was fired in May 2018, after alleging that Great Barrier Reef research affiliated with his university was misleading politicians and the public.

When Ridd first reached out to journalist Peter Michael at the Courier-Mail about his concerns, Michael didn’t protect his source by shielding Ridd’s identity. Instead, he betrayed Ridd by forwarding the full e-mail, accompanied by a few questions of his own, to one of the organizations being criticized – the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Biologist Terry Hughes was at that time, and continues to be, the person in charge at the ARC Centre. That entity’s website tells us “He has published so far 20 papers in Science and Nature. In scientific circles, therefore, he’s a golden boy. Getting published once in these prominent venues is an academic career boost.

This same biographical sketch begins by telling us:

In December 2016, Professor Terry Hughes was recognized by Nature as one of the “10 people who mattered this year” for his leadership in responding to the global coral bleaching event caused by climate change…Nature’s 10 dubbed him “Reef Sentinel”, for the global role he plays in applying multi-disciplinary science to securing reef sustainability.

Apparently reveling in the role of a brave sentinel sounding the alarm over climate change, Hughes presents this characterization of himself up front, at the top of the page.

Elsewhere, we learn that his current and recent research funding amounts to a staggering $31 million, with the vast bulk provided by Australian taxpayers. At many universities, professors share their research grants 50/50 with the administration. Hughes, therefore, is a source not only of international prestige for James Cook, but of significant funding.

According to the written judgment of Judge Salvatore Vasta, after receiving a forwarded copy of the detailed e-mail Ridd had sent to the journalist, Hughes declined to respond to the journalist’s questions. He made no attempt to address Ridd’s concerns, to explain why they were unfounded.

Like a child in a sandbox, he instead went running to the teacher. Before two hours had expired, he’d sent an e-mail to Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor Chris Cocklin (to whom both he and Ridd ultimately reported), saying he wished to file a complaint against Ridd.

From that point forward, it was unlikely Ridd would receive a fair hearing, despite the lofty language about impartiality and natural justice in that institution’s Code of Conduct.

University officials were in a clear conflict-of-interest. Their own fortunes were aligned with one side.

They didn’t dare investigate whether their star professor was misusing photographs or exaggerating his scientific conclusions. Such a finding could be humiliating for the university, whose reputation they themselves were supposed to be safeguarding.

Then there was the money angle. Anything that reflected negatively on Hughes could call into question his research grants past, present, and future. When a professor is bringing tens of millions of dollars onto campus, no administrator in their right mind wants to capsize that boat.

Last but not least, the powers-that-be at James Cook needed to worry about offending Hughes. The well-connected biologist might take his toys and go elsewhere.

Judge Vasta twice points to a double standard on the part of the administration. When Ridd did something, it was wrong. When others behaved similarly, it wasn’t even noticed. (See paragraphs 68-70 and 220-222 of the court judgment). In the judge’s words, the “hypocrisy is breathtaking,” and the “irony is even more spectacular.”

As a result of Hughes’ complaint, the university formally censured Ridd. He was found guilty of misconduct, including a failure to “uphold the integrity and good reputation of the University.”

The final sentence in his formal letter of censure urges him, in so many words, to get counseling – providing the telephone number of the university’s “free and confidential” service. The message couldn’t have been plainer. Ridd was the problem.

Three months later, Ridd made a guest appearance on Australian television. A book had just been published to which he’d contributed a chapter about the “extraordinary resilience of Great Barrier Reef corals.” In his view, corals are highly adaptable. They do well in water of various temperatures, and are therefore unlikely to be seriously harmed by climate change.

Ridd talked about the fact that most scientific research isn’t

properly checked, tested or replicated and this is a great shame because we really need to be able to trust our scientific institutions. And the fact is, I do not think we can anymore.

When an interviewer suggested some coral reef scientists were shamelessly “telling the government what they want to hear,” Ridd protested:

that’s possibly a bit harsh. I think that most of the scientists who are pushing out this stuff, they genuinely believe that there are problems with the reef. I just don’t think that they are very objective about the science they do. I think they’re emotionally attached to their subject, and you know you can’t blame them, the reef is a beautiful thing.

He did, however, point out that scientists with whom he differs

will never debate. I’ve often tried, you know. Let’s have a debate of a couple of hours and thrash this out. But they never will.

Once again, Terry ‘crybaby’ Hughes complained to James Cook administrators, and once again the university declared that Ridd had violated the Code of Conduct. Its longstanding position that how Ridd was saying things was the problem would seem to be contradicted by many of its statements, including this one:

The University does not accept that academic freedom justifies your criticism of key stakeholders of the University…

Hughes had specifically complained that Ridd was threatening the institution’s relationships with other entities. Ergo, Ridd needed to be crushed.

Following that television appearance, James Cook initiated a relentless campaign of enforced secrecy. Ridd was repeatedly told he had “confidentiality obligations to the University,” that he was expected “to maintain the confidentiality of this matter,” and that certain actions of his were considered “a direct breach of confidentiality.”

“It is very important,” he was told, “that you comply.” Ridd was forbidden from discussing “these matters with the media or in any other public forum, including social media.” Moreover, during a three-week period in September 2017, the university insisted he wasn’t allowed to tell even his wife what was going on.

Administrators kept pointing to a clause in the employment contract to justify this secrecy. But Judge Vasta says that clause “is written for the benefit and protection of the employee.” It imposes an obligation on the university to keep personal information private. Employees, on the other hand, are at perfect liberty to discuss their own situation with whomever they choose.

In the judge’s words, the confidentiality obligations Ridd was repeatedly told to respect “do not exist.”

The overall picture, therefore, is of widespread dishonourable conduct. A powerful bureaucracy bullies and berates. It isolates and intimidates a lone critic who, in another universe, would have been receiving whistleblower protections.

The pettiness here is shocking. Ridd was forbidden from saying anything that “directly or indirectly trivializes…or parodies the University taking disciplinary action against you.” Administrators claim he disobeyed that order when he sent an email to a student with the subject line: “for your amusement.”

Worried that Ridd’s troubles might adversely affect a joint project, Fernando Pinheiro Andutta, an academic colleague who worked elsewhere, sent Ridd an e-mail wondering “if maybe you could avoid stirring the pot for a little bit.”

Ridd’s response included this sentence: “In any case I am not sure I have any influence on the outcome.” According to James Cook administrators, those words were proof he’d denigrated the university to a third party.

The judge characterizes further administrative allegations against Ridd as “totally bereft of logic,” “extremely peculiar,” having “no substance whatsoever,” and lacking “the slightest scintilla of evidence.”

While officials at James Cook University excelled at making Ridd’s life miserable, they collectively appear to have lost sight of the reason society spends enormous amounts of money on higher education.

A university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas. It’s supposed to be an arena where conflicting perspectives are examined and challenged. That process won’t always be pleasant for those involved, but the last thing administrators are supposed to do is prevent this from taking place. In the words of Judge Vasta:

Incredibly, the University has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom. In the search for truth, it is an unfortunate consequence that some people may feel denigrated, offended, hurt or upset.

April 24, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment

The Splendid Peter Ridd Court Judgment

James Cook University took 28 separate actions against Professor Ridd. Each of them, including his termination, has been declared unlawful.

By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | April 22, 2019

Few victories are as complete as the one achieved last week by Peter Ridd in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

A former head of the physics department at James Cook University, Ridd was fired after questioning the reliability of Great Barrier Reef research produced by some of his colleagues.

To quote the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” Whenever third parties attempt to replicate published research, they often get different answers altogether. Since government decisions can throw people out of work, disrupt families, and destroy communities, Ridd thinks it’s a bad idea to base government policy on research that hasn’t been double-checked.

This saga began in December 2015, after Ridd sent an e-mail to journalist Peter Michael of the Courier-Mail outlining his concerns about the misleading use of Great Barrier Reef photographs and other matters. His e-mail offered to condense his thoughts for publication, but also urged the newspaper to ask pointed questions of those in charge of two publicly funded organizations affiliated with his own university.

Some journalists go to jail to protect their sources. Peter Michael instead forwarded Ridd’s e-mail whole cloth to Terry Hughes, the director of one of those entities. Less than two hours after receiving it, Hughes informed a James Cook administrator that he wanted to “make a formal complaint” against Ridd for attacking his integrity.

There’s no indication that Hughes or anyone else at James Cook has ever addressed Ridd’s concerns. When the powers-that-be swung into action, silencing him was apparently the only thing on their mind.

Universities are supposed to be places of rigorous inquiry and vigorous debate. Academic tenure is supposed to prevent exactly this situation: a professor being hounded from campus for expressing unfashionable views.

Ridd’s superiors insist his criticism of his colleagues wasn’t the problem. The way he criticized them was. In other words, their position is that bad manners is a firing offence.

Between April 2016 and May 2018, James Cook University took 28 separate actions against Ridd. Each of them, including his termination, was declared unlawful by Judge Salvatore Vasta last week (see the full list, three pages long, here).

Vasta determined that the university’s relationship with its staff is governed first and foremost by an employment contract ratified by Australia’s Fair Work Commission. That contract can’t be altered without the federal agency’s say-so, and was described by the judge as “the basis from which other [university] documents gain their power.”

Clause 14 of the contract is devoted to Intellectual Freedom, a concept Judge Vasta calls “the cornerstone upon which the University exists. If the cornerstone is removed, the building tumbles.”

Clause 14 clearly proclaims James Cook to be an institution of independent thought where professors have the right to participate in public debate. It says “ideas may be put forward and opinion expressed freely,” including  “unpopular or controversial views,” so long as the professors doing so don’t “harass, vilify, bully or intimidate those who disagree…”

Since Ridd hasn’t harassed, vilified, bullied, or intimidated anyone, the university has never claimed that Clause 14’s built-in limits apply.

Instead, those in charge have argued that a right recognized and affirmed by the Fair Work Commission isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. They say professors are only entitled to that right if they also abide by the university’s homegrown Code of Conduct, a rambling document that talks vaguely about “the collegial and academic spirit,” and instructs employees to “celebrate diversity.”

Ridd’s first Formal Censure said he’d violated the Code by failing to behave in a collegial manner and failing to respect the reputations of his colleagues (the only reputation actually mentioned in the Code is that of the university). It also claimed he’d gone to the media in a manner that “did not respect the rights of others.”

Judge Vasta observed that the university neglected to explain “exactly how this was not collegial or how the rights of others were not respected.” It just declared Ridd guilty of misconduct.

Using words such as “extraordinary” and “simply absurd,” the judge ruled that the Code of Conduct cannot be used as a mechanism to rob professors of something that has been guaranteed to them via the Fair Work Commission. In his words:

Clause 14 means that it is the right of Professor Ridd to say what he has said in any manner that he likes so long as he does not contravene the sanctions embedded in cl. 14. (my italics)

A few pages later, matters become crystal clear:

The termination of Professor Ridd’s employment was unlawful because it punished Professor Ridd for conduct that was protected by cl.14…

Case closed.

April 22, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Science and Pseudo-Science | | 1 Comment

Be Offensive and Be Damned: The Cases of Peter Ridd and Tim Anderson

By Binoy Kampmark | Dissident Voice | December 20, 2018

It has been an ordinary year for universities in Australia. While the National Tertiary Education Union pats itself on the back for supposedly advancing the rights and pay of academics, several face removal and castigation at the hands of university management. Consumerism and pay are the sort of quotidian matters that interest the NTEU. Less interesting is the realm of academic ideas and how they clash with the bureaucratic prisons that have been built into universities.

At James Cook University, Peter Ridd was sacked on “code of conduct” grounds applied with a delightful elasticity. He claimed that it was for holding views on climate change out of step with his colleagues, and attacking the credibility of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. (The pettiness of such institutions knows no bounds: Ridd’s knuckles were rapped, for instance, for satirising, trivialising or parodying the university.)

At the University of Sydney, Tim Anderson, a full time critic of Western interventions in the Middle East and acquitted for ordering the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing, has been suspended pending what would seem to be imminent sacking. Causing “offense” was what mattered.

A cardinal rule applies in this case: Be suspicious of those who use good behaviour as a criterion of policing, notably in an environment where bad behaviour and dangerous ideas should hold sway over meek bumbling and submissiveness. Be wary of the demands to be vanilla and beige – behind them lies administrative venality and the dictates of compliance.

Such rubbery provisions as being “civil” or not causing offense shield the weak, spineless and fraudulent and, most dangerously, create the very same intolerable workplace that managers are supposedly opposed to. Very importantly, such code of conduct regulations are designed to immunise management from questions about their behaviour and often daft directives, letting institutions grow flabby with corruption.  Inoculated, that class thrives in its toxicity.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of JCU, Iain Gordon, has drawn upon the usual stock nonsense defending the decision regarding Ridd. “The issue has never been about Peter’s right to make statements – it’s about how he has continually broken a code of conduct that we would expect all our staff to stick to, to create a safe, respectful professional workplace.” The thrust of this is simple: Never cause offense; be compliantly decent; be cripplingly dull and go back to your homes in your suburbs living a life unexamined. As an academic, you are merely delivering a service mandated by individuals several steps removed from the education process, not performing an ancient duty to educate mankind.

The code of conduct, the product of a corporatized imbecility, assumes the mantle of dogma in such disputes. “All staff members must comply with the Code of Conduct,” goes Gordon’s official statement in May, with its distinct politburo flavour of placing things beyond debate. “This is non-negotiable. It is a fundamental duty and obligation that forms part of their employment.” Ridd, explains Gordon, “sensationalised his comments to attract attention, has criticised and denigrated published work, and has demonstrated a lack of respect for his colleague and institutions in doing so. Academic rebuttal of his scientific views on the reef has been separately published.”

Anderson, having found himself at stages in the University of Sydney’s bad books, has also run the gauntlet of offensiveness. The specific conduct resulting in his suspension featured lecture materials shown to students suggesting the imposition of a swastika upon Israel’s flag. This was deemed “disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the university’s behavioural expectations”. Tut, tut, Anderson.

The Sydney University provost and acting vice-chancellor Stephen Garton followed the line taken at JCU towards Ridd with zombie-like predictability. “The university has, since its inception, supported and encouraged its staff to engage in public debate and it has always accepted that those views might be controversial.” But debate – and here, behavioural fetters were again to be imposed – had to be undertaken “in a civil manner.” Contrarianism should be expressed with a good measure of decency.

The letter of suspension from Garton to Anderson is one-dimensionally authoritarian. Principles of academic freedom were supported by the university, but only in “accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards”. But the all supreme, and trumping document, remained the Code of Conduct, capitalised by the bureaucrats as Mosaic Law. “The inclusion of the altered image of the Israeli flag in your Twitter Posts, Facebook Posts and teaching materials is disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the University’s behavioural expectations and requirements for all staff.”

Some heart can be taken from the protest last Friday on the part of 30 academics who signed an open letter objecting to the treatment meted out to Anderson, stating that academic freedom was “meaningless if it is suspended when its exercise is deemed offensive.” His suspension pending termination of his employment was “an unacceptable act of censorship and a body-blow to academic freedom at the University of Sydney”. Reaction to Ridd has been somewhat cooler.

The point with Anderson is that his views are deemed bad for university business, which tolerates no room for the offensive. This, in a place where the most varied, and, at points, tasteless views, should be expressed. But as universities have become shabby entrepreneurial endeavours which see students as obesely delicious milch cows for their existence, the idea is less important than the process.

As is so often the case of free speech, advocates of it always assume it doesn’t apply to others. It is only to be extolled as a mark on paper and university policy. But never, for instance, challenge inane university policy or the hacks who implement it. Never ridicule ideas that deserve it. Never mock the obscene nature of managerialism’s central principle: massaged incompetence and assured decline. University managers and the colourless suits aided by their ill-tutored human resources goon squads tend to hold sway over opinions, taking against anybody who questions certain aspects of their (non)performance.

The Ridd and Anderson cases, coming from separate parts of the academic spectrum, demonstrate the prevalence of toadyism on the part of those who wish to avoid questioning the rationale of a university’s management process. They also suggest an immemorial tendency of authority to savagely oppress those who ignore it; to manifest its existence through punishment. In truth, it is precisely in ignoring those officials long barnacled upon the research and teaching endeavours of the University and drawing revenue best spent on students and scholars that a grave sin is committed. Such officialdom should be ignored, treated as the bureaucratic irrelevance that it is. Time for sit-ins, occupations, boycotts and a retaking of the University.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at:

December 20, 2018 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Science and Pseudo-Science, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Leave a comment

Crying Wolf Over The Great Barrier Reef

By Dr Peter Ridd | The Global Warming Policy Forum | December 12, 2018

Scientists from James Cook University have just published a paper on the bleaching and death of corals on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and were surprised that the death rate was less than they expected because of the adaptability of corals to changing temperatures. It appears as though they exaggerated their original claims and are quietly backtracking. To misquote Oscar Wilde, to exaggerate once is a misfortune, to do it twice looks like carelessness, but to do it repeatedly looks like unforgivable systemic unreliability by some of our major science organisations.

It is a well-known phenomenon that corals can adapt very rapidly to high temperatures and that if you heat corals in one year, they tend to be less susceptible in future years to overheating. It is the reason why corals are one of the least likely species to be affected by climate change, irrespective of whether you believe the climate is changing by natural fluctuations or from human influence.

Corals have a unique way of dealing with changing temperature by changing the microscopic plants that live inside them. These microscopic plants called zooxanthellae give the coral energy from the sun by photosynthesis in exchange for a comfortable home inside the coral. But when the water gets hot, these little plants become effectively poisonous to the coral and the coral throws out the plants turning the coral white – it bleaches. But most of the time the coral will recover from the bleaching. And here’s their trick- they take in new zooxanthellae, that floats around in the water quite naturally, and can select different species of zooxanthellae to be better suited to hot weather. Most other organisms have to change their genetic makeup to deal with temperature changes, something that can take many generations. But corals can do it in a few weeks by just changing the plants that live inside them. They have learnt a thing or two in a couple of hundred years of evolution.

The problem here is that the world has been completely mislead by scientists about the affect of bleaching and rarely mention the spectacular regrowth that occurs. For example, the 2016 bleaching event supposedly killed either 95%, 50% or 30% of the reef depending upon which headline and scientist you want to believe. But the scientists only looked at very shallow water coral – less than 2 meters below the surface which is only a small fraction of all the coral, but by far the most susceptible to getting hot in the tropical sun. A recent study found that the deep water coral (down to over 40 m) got far less bleaching as one would expect. I estimate that less than 8% of the GBR coral actually died. That might still sound like a lot, but considering that there was a 250% INCREASE in coral between 2011 and 2016 for the entire Southern Zone of the GBR, an 8% decrease is nothing to worry about. Coral recovers fast.

But this is just the tip of the exaggeration iceberg. Some very eminent scientists claim that bleaching never happened before the 1980’s and is entirely a man-made phenomenon. This was always a ridiculous proposition. A recent study of 400-year-old corals has found that bleaching has always occurred and is no more common now than in the past. Scientist have also claimed that there has been a 15% reduction in the growth rate of corals. However, some colleagues and I demonstrated that there were serious errors in their work and that if anything there has been a slight increase in coral growth rate over the last 100 years. This is what one would expect in a gently warming climate. Corals grow up to twice as fast in the hotter water of Papua New Guinea and the northern GBR than in the southern GBR. I could go on with many more examples.

This unreliability of the science is now a widely accepted scandal in many other areas of study and now has a name. “The Replication Crisis”. When checks are made to replicate or confirm scientific results, it is regularly found that around half has flaws. This is an incredible and scandalous situation and it is not just me saying this – it is the editors of eminent journals and many science institutions.  A great deal of effort is now going into fixing this problem especially in the Biomedical Sciences where the problem was first recognised.

But not for GBR science. The science institutions deny there is a problem and fail to correct erroneous work. When Piers Larcombe and I wrote an article to a scientific journal suggesting we needed a little extra checking of GBR science, the response from many very eminent scientists was that there was no need. Everything is fine. I am not sure if this is blind optimism or wilful negligence, but why would anybody object to a little more checking? It would only cost a few million dollars, just a tiny fraction of what the governments will be spending on the reef.

But the truth will out eventually. The scare stories about the GBR started in the 1960’s when scientist first started work on the reef. They have been crying wolf ever since. But the data keeps coming in and, yes, sometimes a great deal of coral dies in a spectacular manner with accompanying media fanfare. It is like a bushfire on land, it looks terrible at first, but it quietly and rapidly grows back ready for the scientists to peddle their story all over again.

Dr Ridd was, until fired this year, a Physicist at the James Cook University Marine Geophysical Laboratory.

December 12, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

Can Universities Lawfully Bully Academics into Silence?

By Jennifer Marohasy | June 19, 2018

Dr Peter Ridd has taken James Cook University to court protesting his sacking for what he says is, primarily, speaking-out about the lack of quality assurance in Great Barrier Reef science.

Dr Ridd spoke out initially about there being no quality assurance of Great Barrier Reef science – science that is arguably misused to secure billions of dollars of tax-payer funding. When the University tried to stop Dr Ridd doing this, Dr Ridd spoke out against University management – making all the documentation public including on his new website.

I would really like the court case to be about academic freedom and the science – to lay bare the evidence. But when I went to the first day of the hearing of an application in the Federal Circuit Court last Monday (11th June – the hearing continued on 12 June 2018) for an order for reinstatement of Dr Ridd’s employment pending determination at trial, it quickly became evident that there would be no testing of the actual scientific evidence relied upon by Dr Ridd to claim that scientific institutions like AIMS and ARC Centre “can no longer be trusted” and “spin their story”.

Yesterday (19th June), Judge Jarrett gave his reasons for making orders declining to reinstate Dr Ridd but allowing him to amend his primary application to include a claim for the university taking “adverse action” against him for exercising a workplace right (i.e. his intellectual/academic freedom pursuant to the enterprise agreement). On hearing the reasons I was concerned to discover that it may all come down to poorly worded clauses in an enterprise agreement. In particular, was Dr Ridd allowed to exercise his academic freedoms free of the constraint of the university’s ‘aspirational’ (according to His Honour) code of conduct, and was he permitted to say anything publicly about what many ordinary Australians would consider a straight-forward case of the university bullying him into silence?

On the first day of the preliminary hearing Barrister Ben Kidston for the applicant (Dr Ridd) argued eloquently about how the case was about ‘academic freedom’. He went-on for over an hour moving from the big picture to the detail with respect to specific clauses in a code of conduct and the enterprise agreement, and back again. All the while His Honour and the audience listened intently – no one interrupted. Again yesterday, His Honour cited the poorly worded specific clause which the university has been relying on to silence Dr Ridd, and observed that it was open to two interpretations.

His Honour didn’t mention the Union. The National Tertiary Education Union has an interest in the enterprise agreement and like Dr Ridd, they say that the relevant clause in the agreement shouldn’t be used to silence the employee but rather, amongst other things, that the obligation of confidentiality only applies to the University’s management of the disciplinary process. Any other interpretation means that university academics would be obliged to suffer any disciplinary action by the University (legitimate or otherwise) in silence – they would never be able to publicly defend themselves in the court of public opinion, court proceedings being the only practical option. One wonders if the Union realises the implications to its members.

Yesterday, when His Honour gave his reasons for declining the application by Dr Ridd for an injunction – for his temporary reinstatement as a Professor at James Cook University pending the trial – he didn’t deal with many of the arguments advanced for Dr Ridd e.g. the effect of the clause of the enterprise agreement which states that the code of conduct is not to “detract” from the intellectual freedoms, the interaction of the express right to disagree with the University‘s decisions and processes pursuant to his intellectual freedom and the purported obligation to keep disciplinary proceedings again him confidential, whether a conflict of interest, apprehended bias or actual bias, exists by reason of the university’s commercial relationship with AIMS, GBRMPA and ARC and the effect that this has on the obligation to afford Dr Ridd procedural fairness and natural justice in the determination of the disciplinary complaint (which concerned comments he made about those bodies).

That is not intended to be critical of His Honour. His Honour took a broad brush approach and did not descend into the detail of the arguments and the evidence, as all His Honour was required to do was to ascertain whether Dr Ridd had a prima facie case, and not to decide the case itself.

Yesterday, His Honour found that Dr Ridd had an arguable prima facie case in relation to the alleged breach of the enterprise agreement by JCU and that it took adverse action against him, but that the balance of convenience did not favour his reinstatement pending trial primarily because:
1. an award of damages would be an adequate remedy if Dr Ridd was successful at trial; and
2. the university paid Dr Ridd the equivalent of six month’s pay upon his termination – so he was not presently without income to support himself and (it seems) that a trial would likely occur before the expiration of that six month period; and
3. Dr Ridd had previously turned down an offer of an undertaking by the university to suspend the disciplinary proceedings pending determination of the proceeding. It is important to note that that undertaking would have required Dr Ridd to remain silent about the disciplinary proceedings that had been taken against him by the university.

Of course, in making this determination the Judge was entirely ignoring (as he was entitled to) the very nature of Dr Ridd – a man of integrity who will not be silenced even if costs him his job, his career and results in vicious bullying.

When Christopher Murdoch QC for the respondent (JCU) argued on the first day of the hearing he explained that the University’s core issue was the breaking of confidentiality, in particular Dr Ridd was not allowed to tell anyone that he had been censured. Never mind that he had been censured for daring to speak out against a culture where scientific integrity is perhaps sacrificed for profit.

So, when I blogged about this issue of Peter Ridd being censured and the need for everyone to contribute to his GoFundMe Campaign back in May, I very deliberately emphasised the importance of being able to speak out. The most important thing, I wrote, is to not be silenced.

I was also thinking of the famous Edmund Burke quote: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Dr Ridd has done something. First, he detailed the scientific facts as an expert on these issues including in the scientific literature. For example, there is his article published in Marine Geology (Volume 346, pages 392-399) in which he explains that the only reason Glenn De’ath found an apparent decline in coral calcification rates was because he didn’t consider the age effect on coral growth. This is just one of many instances when Dr Ridd has detailed how scientists make spurious claims based on a flawed methodology. More recently Dr Ridd has explained the consequences of this in plain English on television.

None of this has made him popular with his colleagues most of whom rely on perceptions of imminent catastrophe at the Great Barrier Reef for their relevance and certainly their funding. Dr Ridd has done what the average Australian would consider to be the right thing. Most importantly he has not remained silent – surely, he will be vindicated at the final trial when all the evidence is heard and all the arguments made and considered.


June 24, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | , | Leave a comment

Give it up James Cook University – Even The Guardian Sympathises with Climate Skeptic Peter Ridd

By Eric Worrall | Watts Up With That? | June 11, 2018

Dr. Willie Soon – the opportunity for James Cook University to salvage what is left of its academic reputation is closing fast.

Peter Ridd’s academic union is backing him, senior Australian politicians have spoken out against James Cook’s heavy handed actions, and now The Guardian is concerned about what Peter Ridd’s dismissal means for academic freedom.

Peter Ridd’s sacking pushes the limit of academic freedom

James Cook University may have damaged its reputation with a heavy-handed approach to the academic with minority views on climate change and the reef.

Gay Alcorn

Tue 5 Jun 2018 11.59 AEST

I hate to say it, but the sacking of professor Peter Ridd by James Cook University does raise issues of academic freedom. Not simple issues, and ones that can be refuted as the university is doing, but ones that matter nonetheless.

His trouble started in April 2016 when he received a “formal censure” for “misconduct”. It was a curious incident: the university had got hold of an email that Ridd sent to a journalist a few months before. In it, he urged the journalist to look into work Ridd had had done suggesting that photographs released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority indicating a big decline in reef health over time were misleading.

Ridd couldn’t help a dig: The photographs are “a dramatic example of how scientific organisations are quite happy to spin a story for their own purposes”. The authority, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – based at James Cook University –“should check their facts before they spin their story … my guess is that they will both wiggle and squirm because they actually know that these pictures are likely to be telling a misleading story – and they will smell a trap.”

This was enough for the university to censure Ridd on the grounds that he breached the code of conduct by “going to the media in your professional capacity in a way that was not collegial and did not respect the rights of others or uphold professional standards”. It was a warning. Ridd could make public comments but they “must be in a collegial manner that upholds the university and individuals’ respect”.

As a journalist, I find this uncomfortable. He had strong opinions, strongly put, in an area which he had professional interest and expertise. Foolishly, the journalist forwarded the entire email to an unnamed professor, who complained to the university.

James Cook University, for all its worries about its reputation, seems to have diminished its own. As the national tertiary education union’s Queensland secretary, Michael McNally put it a few days ago: “All management have done is to feed a right-wing media narrative that universities are conformist and actively suppress heterodox views on topics such as climate change.

For all the university’s sensitivity about its brand and reputation, you have to wonder if it has damaged its own standing with its strident calls for “collegiality” and its repeated insistence that Ridd stay mute.

The other way would be for academics not to complain about Ridd’s impolite turn of phrase, but to reject his arguments, loudly and with evidence. For Australia’s premier reef research institutions to keep doing good work, and keep explaining it to the public, and to treat Ridd as little more than a thorn in their side. And for the university to put up with their troublesome academic and to not be obsessed with process and its own self importance.

As this has dragged on, that was the way that was lost.

Read more:

James Cook University IS feeding a narrative that universities actively suppress non-conformist views on climate change. The mistreatment of Peter Ridd adds evidence to concerns that other scientists have also been punished for politically inconvenient views.

Frightening scientists into silence by threatening their livelihood every time they say something inconvenient is an attack on science.

I can think of countless advances which only occurred because courageous scientists stood against mainstream thought.

Lives have been saved because of academic courage – one of my heroes Aussie medical scientist Barry Marshall risked his own life to overturn decades of misdiagnosis and misery, by deliberately infecting himself with Helicobacter Pylori to prove ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection.

Peter Ridd’s contribution is no less important.

Farmers in Queensland are threatened with increasingly costly draconian restrictions on farming practices, which are justified as vital to protect the endangered Great Barrier Reef. It is likely some farm businesses won’t survive if those restrictions are tightened further. It is also likely that some farmers in this predicament won’t survive the stress of seeing their businesses destroyed.

If Peter Ridd is right, if the problems with the reef have been exaggerated, then some or even most of these draconian restrictions on farming practices are unnecessary. There is no doubt in my mind that if Peter Ridd is right, his courage will save lives, will contribute to the happiness and wellbeing of countless rural families.

Peter Ridd deserves a fair hearing, not abuse, threat and censure.

June 14, 2018 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance, Science and Pseudo-Science | | 5 Comments

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

A new definition of academic misconduct

By Judith Curry | Climate Etc. | June 13, 2016

Ridd was punished by James Cook University for “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” The university even warned that if he does this again, he’ll be tried for serious misconduct.

The latest perversion in research ethics comes to us from James Cook University in Australia. The Australian has the scoop, but it is behind paywall. Michael Bastasch of the Daily Caller has an article on this University Censures Science Prof For Fact-Checking Global Warming Claim. Excerpts:

An Australian university recently censured marine scientist Paul Ridd for “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution,” because he questioned popular claims among environmentalists about coral reefs and global warming.

What was Ridd’s crime? He found out two of the world’s leading organizations studying coral reefs were using misleading photographs to make the case that global warming was causing a mass reef die-off. Ridd wasn’t rewarded for checking the facts and blowing the whistle on misleading science. Instead, James Cook University censured Ridd and threatened to fire him for questioning global warming orthodoxy.

Ridd’s not alone in criticizing some institutions and environmental groups for over-hyping the impacts global warming will have on coral reefs.

In fact, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s own chairman had to come out and dispel notions the reef was almost completely gone.

“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 percent of the reef is prac­tic­ally dead,” Reichelt said. “We’ve also seen reports that 35 percent, or even 50 percent, of the entire reef is now gone.”

“However, based on our ­combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 percent — and about 85 percent of that die-off has occurred in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometers north of Cairns,” he said. “Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.”

The group’s former chairman Ian McPhail even accused environmentalists of “exaggerating the impact of coral bleaching for political and financial gain.”

Despite the campaign to tamp down on reef alarmism, Ridd was punished by James Cook University for “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” The university even warned that if he does this again, he’ll be tried for serious misconduct.

JC reflections

I just love this statement: “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” Folks, we have a new definition of serious academic misconduct. Watch out, Michael Mann.

If this seems like a joke, it isn’t.  I was ostracized from the ‘community’ for criticizing my colleagues overconfidence and failure to adequately account for uncertainty (see the infamous article Climate Heretic Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues).  I thought that, in the midst of all the important issues at play in the climate debate, ‘turning on my colleagues’ was the least of them.

In my previous post Scientists and Motivated Reasoning, I identified a major ethical conflict for scientists between the microethics  of your conscience in adhering to the norms of science, versus the macroethics of your perceived duty to the public, which may be colored by your politics and values.

Also included in the discussion of microethics versus macro ethics is responsibility to your colleagues.  In my previous post, I wrote:

I am particularly concerned about microethical conflicts involving colleagues and scientific institutions that apparently justify self-serving irresponsible professional behavior, both by individuals and institutions. This seems much worse to me than politically motivated reasoning by members of the public. Personally, I have felt the need to break loose of the shackles of loyalty to colleagues and institutions if it comes at the expense of integrity in science and professional conduct.

Why even bother with loyalty/responsibility to colleagues – beyond giving them credit for their research?  Do I really have any responsibility to any and all scientists just because they are members of the same professional society?  I would say no, but upon further reflection I can see a tiny point here – it isn’t just a joke.

The importance of ‘collegiality’ among elite academic researchers seems to be perceived as more important than I have credited.  In Michael Polanyi’s Republic of Science, the self-coordination of scientists is of paramount importance.

Going back to my previous discussion on microethics versus macroethics, I wrote:

As a researcher, what kinds of responsibilities do you have to

  • your conscience (micro)

  • your colleagues (micro)

  • institutions (micro/macro)

  • the public (macro)

  • the environment (macro)

My previous post illustrated numerous ethical conflicts that can arise for researchers.  But when it comes to conflicts between your conscience and your colleagues, or the public and your colleagues, any perceived responsibility to your colleagues has to take a back seat.

But it seems that in academic science, responsibility to your colleagues and their opinions, their declarations of consensus, their reputations, is apparently regarded by many researchers as the paramount consideration, viz. the circling of the wagons that occurred in Climategate.

This concern about ‘responsibility’ to your colleagues seems only to extend to colleagues who happen to agree with you.

In Science on the Verge, and in postnormal science more generally, the importance of extended peer review is emphasized, which is very much needed to break down the clubby, exclusionary academic collegiality that is used as a club to marginalize dissenting voices.

The sickness of the clubby academic collegiality is absurdly highlighted by this latest episode from James Cook University.

June 14, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment