June 16th 2018

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COVER STORY Reflections on the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx

EDITORIAL Significance of report into shooting down of MH17

CANBERRA OBSERVED Lee Rhiannon: too Bolshie or not Bolshie enough?

POLITICS Wading further through the Greens party bilge

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

POLITICS Greens promise to keep Australia legally stoned and welfare dependent

ENVIRONMENT Scientist sacked for challenging claims of demise of Great Barrier Reef

REDEFINITION OF MARRIAGE Humpty Dumpty has his way with words

CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY Tradition, Christianity and the law in contemporary Australia

EDUCATION Ladybird, ladybird: adventures in literacy

OFFICE LAUNCH NCC Sydney: a new chapter in a continuing story

ASIAN AFFAIRS Indonesia takes religious syncretism to the nth degree

WA RALLY FOR LIFE 3300 crosses in Perth poignant reminders of abortions

HUMOUR News snippets

PHILOSOPHY Bendigo initiative

MUSIC Gain is loss: Where is there left to discover?

CINEMA 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unsurpassed 50 years on

BOOK REVIEW The house that could not stand

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first official war historian


EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

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Scientist sacked for challenging claims of demise of Great Barrier Reef

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 16, 2018

Professor Peter Ridd, a marine scientist who has worked on the Great Barrier Reef for 40 years, has been dismissed by James Cook University (JCU) for publicly questioning the research into the health of the reef. He has commenced action in the Federal Court to overturn his sacking.

Professor Peter Ridd

Professor Ridd was Professor of Physics at JCU, and had worked extensively on the Great Barrier Reef, particularly in the area of marine sedimentation, an important issue relating to the health of the reef.

His dismissal comes five years after Professor Bob Carter, an Adjunct Professor at JCU, lost his post because of his public criticism of the science of global warming. Professor Carter had a distinguished academic career, having been professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University from 1981 to 1998, an adjunct research professor at the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University from 1998 to 2005, and a visiting research professor in geology and geophysics at the University of Adelaide from 2001 to 2005.

For years, Professor Ridd has disputed claims that the Great Barrier Reef is dying, based on his own observations and research. When challenged on Sky TV as to why the “consensus” view at James Cook University differed from his own, he said: “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.

“A lot of this stuff is coming out, the science is coming out 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.”

Professor Ridd has pointed out that the problems are not specific to JCU.

He says science is in the midst of a “replication crisis” in which high-powered replication studies are finding flaws in around 50 per cent of recently published important research. He further believes that much of the science claiming damage to the reef has serious flaws, and that there is insufficient quality control of the science for the public to have confidence in its scientific institutions.

JCU began disciplinary action against him last year.


Professor Ridd faced a “serious misconduct” charge for being “non-collegial” for making comments questioning the reliability of science coming from some prestigious organisations at the university. He pointed out that he was exercising his professional judgement and would continue to speak out.

He was found guilty of serious misconduct, and ordered not to speak about any contentious matters, including the university’s actions against him.

The university later laid further charges against him, alleging that he had breached his terms of employment by speaking out. It even went through his emails (including some to his wife) to find evidence of “misconduct”.

Professor Ridd has challenged the language frequently used to describe the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, particularly the “tipping point” argument that the reef has been pushed to the edge of an ecological cliff and a very small push could tip it over the edge. It implies that the reef is a very unstable system that could easily flip to a different state.

He has also challenged the claim that the reef faces a “death by a thousand cuts”, which claims that the reef is affec­ted by many stressors, each by itself not being very important or even measurable, but taken together the effect is deadly.

He said: “There is a presumption that the [reef] ecosystem is a very unstable system which is highly sensitive to small perturbations; however the scientific evidence for this proposition is weak.”

Professor Ridd said there are many reef systems around the world which are far more ‘stressed’ than the Great Barrier Reef. “For example, the reefs of the Caribbean lie adjacent to a population of around 50 million people, and support a large fishery.

“In contrast the Great Barrier Reef has a population of 0.5 million living adjacent to it, there is no herbivorous fishery, total fishing pressure is minimal, and most coral reefs are distant from the coast and rarely visited.”

He also believes that the reef has remarkable resilience to temperature changes and argues that the threat from coral bleaching is overstated.

“Bleaching is akin to bushfires on land – it looks terrible after it happens, but the reefs grow back in time and [the bleaching] is likely a necessary part of the life (and death) of many corals on the [reef]. The proposition that bleaching is a modern phenomenon that never occurred before the 1980s is also unsupported.”

Professor Ridd has also had his public lecture presentations vetted by the university, and been given instructions not to make certain comments or use particular PowerPoint slides.

He feels that his ability to do his job as an academic has been severely compromised and he will continue with legal action to draw attention to the quality assurance problems in science and the obligation of universities in general to foster genuine debate.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm