Saturday, 3 February 2018


Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 1 February 2018

Marine scientist Peter Ridd has refused to accept a formal censure and gag order from James Cook University and expanded his Federal Court action to defend academic freedoms and free speech.

James Cook University professor Peter Ridd. Picture: Cameron Laird

A revised statement of claim alleges JCU trawled through private email conversations in a bid to bolster its misconduct case against him.

JCU had found Professor Ridd guilty of “serious misconduct”, ­including denigrating a co-worker, denigrating the university, breaching confidentiality, publishing information outside of the university and disregarding his obligations as an employee.

Professor Ridd has asked the Federal Court to overturn the university ruling and confirm his right not to be silenced.

In the revised statement of claim, Professor Ridd has dropped an earlier claim of conflict of interest against JCU vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, but has alleged other senior staff had been biased and had not acted fairly or in good faith.

Professor Ridd’s Federal Court action is seen as a test of academic freedom and free speech, and has been supported by the Institute of Public Affairs.

Professor Ridd said he would seek public donations to continue the fight against JCU. He first took court action in November in a bid to stop a JCU disciplinary process against him for comments he made to Sky News presenter Alan Jones.

The university said by expressing concerns about the quality of some reef science, Professor Ridd had not acted in a “collegiate” manner.

Professor Ridd told Sky News: “The basic problem is that we can no longer trust the scientific ­organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.”

He said a lot of the science was not 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 any more”.

A JCU spokesman said the university’s lawyers had invited Professor Ridd to discontinue his proceedings. “(He) has amended his proceedings. His decision to do so is a matter for him,” he said.

“The university intends to vigorously defend those proceedings (but) as these matters are before the courts, JCU will not comment further.”

Lawyers for JCU wrote to Professor Ridd on November 28 confirming the university had determined he had engaged in “serious misconduct” and issued him with a “final censure”.

“The disciplinary process and all information gathered and recorded in relation to the disciplinary process (including the allegations, letters, your client’s responses and the outcome of the disciplinary process) is confidential pursuant to clause 54.1.5 of the university enterprise agreement,” the JCU lawyers said.

Professor Ridd has subsequently published his concerns about the quality of reef science in a peer-reviewed journal. He said he was determined to speak freely about his treatment “even though it will go against explicit directions by JCU not to”.

“This is as much a case about free speech as it is about quality of science,” he said.

Full story

Please support Peter Ridd’s Legal Action Fund

His web page with all the details is here:

Peter Ridd: The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals, and Problems with Policy Science
Climate Change: The Facts 2017

The state of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is often used to show that we are facing an imminent crisis from climate change. It is photogenic, the water sparkles blue, the fish and corals are beautiful and delicate, and most who see it, particularly marine biologists, fall in love with it. It is abhorrent to even contemplate that it be destroyed, or damaged, by humanity.

The claimed imminent peril faced by the GBR has captured the public imagination. When Barack Obama was president of the United States and visited Australia he remarked that he wanted global action on climate change so maybe his daughters had a chance to see the Great Barrier Reef. A visiting architect to my university revealed that his daughter, on discussing the latest reef bleaching event at school, came home depressed that she would probably never be able to see the GBR. A majority of the world’s population seem to have been persuaded that it has no more than a few years left.

There is no doubt that every decade or so, abnormally high sea water temperature can cause corals to bleach (Marshall and Schuttenberg, 2006). This is when the coral expels the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) which live inside the individual coral polyp. The polyps are the animals, generally a few millimeters across, which make the calcium carbonate structure of the coral.

Thousands or even millions of polyps make up an individual coral. The symbiotic algae live inside the polyp and make energy from sunlight, which it shares with the polyp in exchange for a comfortable environment. However, when the water gets much hotter than normal, something goes wrong with the symbionts and they effectively become poisonous to the polyp. The polyp expels the symbionts and because the symbionts give the polyp its colour, the coral turns white. Without the symbionts, the polyp will run out of energy and will die within a few weeks or months unless it takes on more symbionts which float around naturally in the water surrounding the coral.

The ghastly white skeletons of bleached coral, and on a massive scale, make graphic and compelling images to demonstrate the perils of climate change. The fact that this only happens when the water gets much hotter than normal makes it a plausible hypothesis that coral bleaching is caused by anthropogenic climate change. It is also often claimed by scientists that mass bleaching has only occurred since the 1970s; that it is a recent phenomenon which did not occur a hundred years ago when the water temperature of the GBR was 0.5o C cooler (Hughes, 2016).

Despite this apparently plausible hypothesis, I argue in this chapter that there is perhaps no ecosystem on Earth better able to cope with rising temperatures. Irrespective of one’s views about the role of carbon dioxide, I will show that the GBR corals are masters of temperature adaptability, and able to cope with the modest warming that has occurred over the last century – and are also so-far unaffected by ocean acidification. There are, however, issues with how GBR science is reported, and a desperate need for some basic quality assurance.

Full paper


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