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Disallowing Dissent: The Case of Peter Ridd

Professor Peter Ridd heads up the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University in Australia. He has over a hundred scientific papers to his name and has spent thirty years studying the Great Barrier Reef. But he wrote a chapter in the volume Climate Change: The Facts 2017 for a think tank, critiquing claims that the Great Barrier Reef is nearly dead due to global warming and other factors. When he talked about the article on television last August, his university went ballistic.

Ridd took his situation to the public, writing an op-ed for Fox News, “Science or silence? My battle to question doomsayers about the Great Barrier Reef.” He noted:

Rather than measured argument, I was hit with a charge of academic serious misconduct for not being “collegial.”

University authorities told me in August I was not allowed to mention the case or the charges to anybody — not even my wife.

Then things got worse. With assistance from the Institute of Public Affairs, I have been pushing back against the charges and the gag order — leading the university to search my official emails for examples of where I had mentioned the case to other scientists, old friends, past students and my wife.

I was then hit with 25 new allegations, mostly for just mentioning the case against me. The email search turned up nothing for which I feel ashamed. You can see for yourself.

We filed in court in November. At that point the university backed away from firing me. But university officials issued a “Final Censure” in my employment file and told me to be silent about the allegations, and not to repeat my comments about the unreliability of institutional research.

But they agreed that I could mention it to my wife, which was nice of them.

I would rather be fired than accept these conditions. We are still pursuing the matter in court.

The latest news is that Ridd made a GoFundMe campaign and raised over $100,000 for the lawsuit. That took…48 hours.

Want to know more? The emails, the original interview and more are available here.

This is a familiar type of story to anyone who follows the news about academic freedom, especially on the subject of evolution. Ridd’s story sounds uncannily like that of biologist Richard Sternberg. Or paleoentomologist Günter Bechly.

Listen to this from Ridd:

The conflicting realities of the Great Barrier Reef point to a deeper problem. In science, consensus is not the same thing as truth. But consensus has come to play a controlling role in many areas of modern science. And if you go against the consensus you can suffer unpleasant consequences.

Bechly came to a similar conclusion about his future in a dogmatic scientific community: “I decided that it did not make sense anymore to continue working in a hostile environment that makes productive research and collaboration with colleagues impossible.”

Behold, the polarization and politicization of science. It isn’t “Just the facts, ma’am” anymore.

Photo: Protestors for the Great Barrier Reef, by Takver from Australia [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.