When global warming campaigners misled people about the status of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Dr. Peter Ridd of James Cook University spoke up.

He engaged in such over-the-top conduct as sharing pictures of areas of the reef that had been deemed dead, but were in fact experiencing “spectacular coral growth,” and postulating that the coral had died and regrown following natural cyclones in ways it has for ages past.

Temporary coral bleaching, not an indictment of human civilization and its CO2 emissions?  Heresy!Australian scientist's free speech victory 1

What was Dr. Ridd’s reward for raising important scientific questions and attempting to correct the record about the reef?

He was censured, censored, and sacked.

Think of the chilling impact the university’s effort to destroy a scientist’s career for speaking out had, not only on Dr. Ridd, but on all researchers at James Cook or any place of learning.  The message was clear: “Shut up, toe the party line, or out you go.”  How many researchers labor in silence, escape to other work, or mouth what their intellect tells them is rank PC dogma from fear of being treated like Peter Ridd?

If unvetted academic groupthink is what you want, this is how you get it.

Unlike so many of his colleagues, Dr. Ridd fought back and won.  Resoundingly.

Read the judge’s full decision at CFACT.org.  You’ll find it very interesting and highly instructive.  It’s a good read.

Here’s a sample:

At its core, intellectual freedom mandates that academics should express their opinions openly and honestly, while inviting scrutiny and debate about those ideas. Unless opinions are expressed in this way, the growth and expression of ideas will be stifled and new realms of thinking will cease to be explored. That will lead to intellectual and social stagnation and a uniformity of thought which is an anathema to the concept of higher learning and social progress.

Intellectual freedom allows academics to challenge the status quo and encourage critical analysis.

During the last 160 years, arguably the two most prominent scientists/academics to challenge the status quo have been Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. The ideas brought forth by both of these men were extremely controversial and offended several of their academic peers as well as many others in the greater society. That is how it should be and without intellectual freedom, the world would have been denied the benefit of ground-breaking thought and intellectual risk taking of the sort that encourages innovation and other scholastic enquiries.

Judge Salvatore Vasta ultimately rooted his opinion not in general principles of academic freedom, but rather in James Cook University’s specific policy guaranteeing academic freedom to its employees.  Judge Vasta found that the university violated Dr. Ridd’s specifically codified academic rights 28 times and ruled each and every violation to have been unlawful.

CFACT’s close friend JoAnne Nova summed it up well:

Brilliant. There is still some free speech in Australia, as long as you are willing to risk your career, 12 months out of action and a huge legal case. Peter Ridd wins on all counts.

Presumably James Cook will have to reinstate him, and he is now free to talk about the failure of replication in science and how our institutions may not be trusted. How many taxpayer dollars were fritzed defending the indefendable? Will Ridd get compensation? Will JCU staff get punished or sacked for what their war against science?

Thanks to Peter for fighting on when so many would have given up.

Dr. Peter Ridd’s resounding legal victory is brilliant indeed.  He stands completely vindicated.  James Cook University slouches in shame.

Author

  • Craig Rucker is a co-founder of CFACT and currently serves as its president.