Peter Ridd loses, we all lose

Peter Ridd loses, we all lose, by Jennifer Marohasy.

On 2 May 2018, Professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for serious misconduct. It all started when he called-out his colleague Terry Hughes for falsely claiming healthy inshore coral reefs were dead from climate change and deteriorating water quality.

Ignoring the first censure in April 2016, Professor Ridd went on television in August 2017 and explained in an interview with Alan Jones and Peta Credlin why so much said and written about the Great Barrier Reef, including by scientists at the Australian Institution of Marine Science, is ‘untrustworthy’. …

It is a fact that the Australian Institute of Marine Science refuses to release 15 years of coral growth data — because it contradicts the claims of high-profile activists that coral growth rates are in decline. They are not. But the false claims are central to their fundraising strategy. Never mind the truth. …

The first case:

The first finding handed down by Judge Salvatore Vasta back in April last year case concerned the photographs taken in 1994 that Terry Hughes used to falsely claim Acropora corals that were alive in 1890 are now all dead. Peter Ridd had photographs taken in 2015 showing live Acropora and the need for quality assurance of Hughes’ claims.

Judge Vasta found in favour of Peter Ridd and ordered that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful. …

The second case:

The University appealed, and today the University won in the Federal Court. In the judgement, Peter Ridd’s academic freedom is portrayed as his ‘personal opinion’. …

Academic freedom in Australia just died.

Universities should be understood by the judiciary as different from other workplaces because it is expected by the ordinary Australian that, on occasions, there will be vigorous debates on important and controversial issues. It is essential that academics can engage in these debates without fearing that the use of plain and colloquial English could end their careers.

Yet today, the university’s appeal was upheld on the basis Peter Ridd was un-collegial in stating plainly that his own university and the Australian Institute of Marine Science are ‘untrustworthy’ because of systemic deficiencies in their quality assurance processes. Further, it was mentioned that Peter Ridd did ‘satirise’ the university’s disciplinary processes in a personal email.

Today’s decision means that James Cook University, and other Australian universities, will continue to crush dissent and sack academics who campaign for the truth.

The truth is that coral reefs are resilient, and despite the fear-mongering, refuse to die.

I’ve seen a judge in another climate change case obviously and willfully misunderstand and put on a show, before coming to the pre-ordained decision to support the narrative. The wonder is that Peter Ridd won the first court case.