by Chris McCormack
- Peter Ridd is seeking leave to appeal to the High Court
- He systematically demolishes claims that the Great Barrier Reef is dying
- He says that our scientific institutions are untrustworthy
I recently interviewed Dr Peter Ridd via a live-stream NCC broadcast across Australia. In that interview Peter systematically demolished common claims that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is in poor health. He also highlighted the implications for freedom of speech when academic institutions quash any criticism of bad science.
Peter Ridd is a qualified physicist and has been working on the GBR for over 35 years. After working at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, studying oceanography in the 1980s, he became a post-doctoral fellow with James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville in 1988 and Professor of Physics at JCU.
Peter and his co-workers invented equipment to measure sediment on the GBR. He said that “because of systemic quality assurance problems at the institutions … a lot of the work coming out of these institutions was untrustworthy”.
WATCH NW INTERVIEW WITH PETER RIDD
RESEARCH JUST WRONG
He gave as an example of bad “research” the claim of a colleague that all the coral had died on Stone Island near Bowen. When Peter’s team visited the island, they found and photographed healthy coral. Peter said he could cite “literally dozens of these examples” where the science was wrong.
In May, 2018, Peter was sacked as Professor of Physics at JCU for misconduct pertaining to his criticism of the research emanating from JCU. He won an unfair dismissal case in the Federal Circuit Court, which found that JCU had erred in 25 ways. But JCU appealed and won. Peter is now seeking leave to appeal to the High Court.
Peter spoke of JCU’s draconian conduct, which included reading his personal emails, forbidding him from discussing the allegations against him with anyone, and demanding removal of material from presentations he planned to give. Essentially, this amounted to taking away his intellectual freedom.
Peter said JCU never alleged he breached the rules of academic freedom, which is not to intimidate, bully, harass or vilify; only that he had “broken this very nebulous code of conduct where you’ve got to be very collegial and respectful”.
Ten universities have recently tried to remove an intellectual freedom clause from their enterprise bargaining agreements. This would have a chilling effect upon intellectual freedom, for fear of triggering reprisals by institutions, Peter said.
BAD SCIENCE EQUALS BAD POLICY
Bad science on the state of the GBR has led to draconian Queensland laws that force farmers to provide an environmental impact statement costing up to $30,000 for simply wanting to change their type of crop. “[Farmers] need permission for everything, … tourists don’t think it’s worthwhile coming …” and it means “extra expenses on ports … Almost every industry in north Queensland is affected,” Peter said.
On pesticides, he said they reached only 3 per cent of the reef, a fact brought to light in the Senate inquiry conducted on July 27-28 (Identification of leading practices in ensuring evidence-based regulation of farm practices that impact water quality outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef). The levels of pesticide are extremely low, he added, for a very short period of time, affecting a tiny fraction of that 3 per cent of the reef.
Ten universities have recently tried to remove an intellectual freedom clause from their enterprise bargaining agreements. This would have a chilling effect upon intellectual freedom.
In relation to sediment from farm runoff, this does not affect 97 per cent of the GBR (which is outer reef). In the 3 per cent of inshore reef affected, resuspension by wind or waves is 100 times more important than sediment from river flows, Peter said.
As far as the crown of thorns starfish is concerned, it is native to our waters, Peter said. Coral reef cores showed evidence of starfish plagues thousands of years ago and that the GBR was possibly unique in that it was in great shape and had no introduced animal species present.
Peter said the amount of bleaching on the reef was about 8 per cent – not “the 93 per cent claimed … from one of our untrustworthy science organisations” – and that bleaching was “entirely natural and has been going on for eons”.
In relation to the claim that peer review of scientific work is evidence of its accuracy, Peter said that peer review simply involved a cursory appraisal of the work. He said that, in the few cases when research was actually replicated, about half of the work was shown to be wrong.
Peter expressed some sympathy for those in government who have to make policy, saying: “Our fundamental problem is that the scientific institutions are untrustworthy …. Most people are going to have to lose their faith in the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even the CSIRO, in some of the university researchers, … who are saying the reef is in trouble for all these bogus reasons ….
“A minister of the crown is going to have … difficulty in saying all these prestigious universities and institutions are wrong.”
Watch the interview with Peter Ridd here.