L'affaire Peter Ridd, part 2

22059024423_45af8a32bd_o[Update 2019/09: Peter Ridd awarded $1.2m in unfair dismissal case against James Cook University.]

[No time to post right now but it looks like there is a part 3: the University appealed, and today the University won in the Federal Court.]

[And perhaps part 4:  the High Court in the case of James Cook University (JCU) v Peter Ridd, which has given Dr Peter Ridd special leave to bring on his final appeal.]

So the puzzle posed in part 1 is resolved: it turns out that Peter Ridd is a Good Colonial whose academic freedom has been trampled on2. The Graun has the story. Unsurprisingly the Forces of Darkness are happy1. The Graun doesn't go into the full gory quotes from the man in a wig, contenting themselves with the university has ‘played the man and not the ball’; but there's more, much much more (including the immeadiately following Incredibly, the University has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom which for some inexplicable reason the Graun doesn't consider noteworthy). Let's begin with the main message:
The Court rules that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful. 
No bones thrown to the university at all. And there are some good words on intellectual freedom:
the mission of these institutions must undoubtedly be the search for knowledge which leads to a quest for truth. In reality, intellectual freedom is the cornerstone of this core mission of all institutions of higher learning. This is so because it allows ideas to conflict with each other; to battle and test each other. It is within this “battle” that the strengths and weaknesses of ideas are found out. In this process, there comes “learning”. And with learning comes discovery. 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.
Later on we discover that The hypocrisy [of the university] is breathtaking. And During the course of the trial, I repeatedly asked Counsel for the University to tell me what the conflict of interest actually was. Try as he might, Counsel was unable to do so. Yet he would not concede that this finding was not justified. So in some ways this is a great victory over the faceless bureaucrats. Let's hope some of them are sacked for this.


1. And selling it as a huge victory for climate skeptics everywhere, which of course it isn't; indeed it has little to do with climate directly, though it is connected to impacts.

2. I think this is essentially the correct verdict. I still don't quite care for the company he keeps, but that's a different matter.


Paris in October


Anonymous said...

Judge Vasta's words are fine enough, but I don't see how they apply to Ridd, who specifically attacked colleagues without using critical analysis. He merely asserted stuff. Is that what academic freedom strives for?
I think the decision will be appealed, not only because of Vasta's speechifying..

I still don't quite care for the company he keeps, but that's a different matter.
Indeed, he consorts with a well-known cabal of useful idiots and Murdoch's hired hands. Not exactly the company who are going to test his assertions about academic rigor or freedom. You never know with those types, one week 'critical analysis' is an elitist oppressive construct, the next it's the most important thing in the world.

Anonymous said...

Judge Sal Vasta is an affair in himself:
From a famous / notorious dynasty with deep connections to the state Liberal Party.

Anonymous said...

"Some have thought that this trial was about freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. Media reports have considered that this trial was about silencing persons with controversial or unpopular views,” Vasta said in his judgement. “Rather, this trial was purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an enterprise agreement.”

William M. Connolley said...

You don't seem terribly interested in freedom of speech, or intellectual freedom, Oh Anon, and I fault you for that. You also seem comfortable with bureaucracies squelching dissent, and I fault you for that, too.

As for worst - well, I am not familiar with your judicial system. But a 1.5% overturn rate doesn't seem terrible.

Anonymous said...

It’s not that I am disinterested, just more concerned with this being portrayed as something it is not. This was always a simple contract dispute relating to their code of conduct. The whole academic freedom/squashing dissent thing made for good press by our Murdoch dominated media but it misrepresents what was actually in dispute.

William M. Connolley said...

I disagree with you. This feels to me far more like squashing dissent. Further - as I noted on the first post - it isn't at all clear that PR is wrong on his fundamental point. It is I think regrettable that people have failed to engage with that.

Framing this as a "simple contract dispute" is disingenuous. There is a fundamental conflict between freedom of speech, and freedom from being offended. The university chose to come down firmly on the side of freedom from being offended, and that is a bad tendency in US campuses as well, and I think that is a bad direction to go. Freedom of speech is too important to be subservient to freedom from offence. And also, decisions on that balance shouldn't be taken in darkness, as the university's decisions were, by people who very likely had a partial interest in the case.

Anonymous said...

I should point out that there are so far two anons. This anon [sorry, too lazy to log in via Googs] posted the first two comments.
I am not comfortable with bureaucracies squelching dissent. I am not sure that that is the best way to frame what's happened here.
So, we don't believe JCU bureaucratic response justifications re sacking Ridd? Don't we need to drill a bit deeper before talking principles?
And I think you should go through his 'Extraordinary Resilience, etc. ' piece to see whether he has cited references dispassionately, and dealt fairly with colleagues real views when he asserts they came down in the last shower..

Anonymous said...

Other Anon back here.

In general, there may be a conflict between freedom of speech and freedom from being offended but in this case the university has to fall back on what is in the employment agreement. There is no point having rules and not enforcing them.

As an employee of the university he agreed to a code of conduct and is expected to follow that code.
It is not up to him to decide if his actions breach the code. Others get an opinion.
They have a right to make a formal complaint.
The university has a duty of care to investigate all such complaints.
There is a contractually defined process for doing so, which may result in an unfavourable outcome.
Ignoring the outcome and persisting with previous behaviour has contractually defined consequences.

I don’t think it matters whether his fundamental point is correct or not, he is contractually obliged to make his point in a way that is consistent with the code of conduct. I personally think he could have made his point in a more constructive manner.

I agree with you regarding the potential conflict of interest by the university. They certainly seemed quite zealous. Maybe that is why they lost.

William M. Connolley said...

> Don't we need to drill a bit deeper before talking principles?

In general - and indeed in this case - no. Quite the reverse. You want your principles straight before you get to the specifics.

> whether he has cited references dispassionately, and dealt fairly with colleagues real views

Again, no. If your version of free speech is "free speech, as long as you cite references in a way in which I approve of, and dealt with colleagues in a way I approve of" then you're not actually in favour of free speech. Not only are the qualifications unreasonable even if fairly and justly judged, they are so obviously subjective that anyone having to self-censor on the grounds that some bureaucrat would judge them on those criteria would be unreasonably censored.

> there may be a conflict

No. There *is* a conflict. There's no maybe about it.

> has to fall back on what is in the employment agreement

No. There are multiple rules in play, and they conflict. One rule is the contract. The other is intellectual freedom, and freedom of speech. The university wants to fall back on the rules that favour it's point, but there is no obvious reason why those rules should prevail. And, as the judge points out, there are excellent reasons why those rules should not. As an aside, I think it is arguable that he hasn't even broken the contract, but for me that's not an important point.

Anonymous said...

Anon one...hi
>Again, no. If your version of free speech is "free speech, as long as you cite references in a way in which I approve of, and dealt with colleagues in a way I approve of" then you're not actually in favour of free speech.
No my version of free speech involves citing references in a way every party can accept...and if a party does not, they are free to point out why by staying on point.There seems to be an agreement about approved ways to deal with colleagues at JCU. How surprising.

What do people want? To protect the rights of someone to misrepresent and denigrate them?

Ridd's stuff is all out in the open. It is important to actually look at it.
Ridd's [journal-] published claims about deficient work were responded to formally, something he apparently forgets to mention when convenient.
Seems concern about good faith interaction is important to JCU here.
JCU decided that Ridd's freedom to act in a way that suited him didn't always suit them.
>The university wants to fall back on the rules that favour it's point, but there is no obvious reason why those rules should prevail.
In this case JCU have been arguing for something collegial from Ridd, and claim that he didn't offer it.

Anonymous said...

>There are multiple rules in play

As per the quote from the judge in the 3rd comment, only the contract was in play.

Tom said...

Well, I'll leave your better brains to go on about the principles--FWIW, I think WMC has the better of it.

On the specifics, as with other (not all) issues relating to the climate conversation, it appears that Ridd has *some* right on his side.

As I have argued (mostly with Jeff Harvey) on a number of other issues, the climate committed are claiming mortal threat to many parts of our environment which are in fact mostly impacted by things other than climate change--so far. The cartoon example is the polar bear, populations of which are growing robustly despite very real climate impacts on their environment. The biggest danger to whom is the other charismatic megafauna in the area shooting about 1,000 of them annually. Other examples abound.

Coral reefs do regenerate. Current threats to them are dominated by starfish, dynamite fishing and hands-on tourism. This should be obvious and the point should be able to be made without calling into question climate science. The oceans will warm further and this will have an impact on coral reefs, as with all sea life.

That the university feels it must consider itself a police force for climate purity is to me the real problem--that they are so casually willing to offer up academic freedom as a sacrifice to the cause is to me the real issue and perhaps the real tragedy. But then that's getting back to principles and stuff... so I'll shut up.

Everett F Sargent said...

Statement by James Cook University Provost Professor Chris Cocklin

It received little press last year when Dr Ridd was unsuccessful in his interim reinstatement application. Justice Jarrett of the Federal Circuit Court on 18 June 2018 found that Dr Ridd had a very weak case and made clear that he understood it was not what Dr Ridd was saying, but the manner of how he said it.

However, significantly, Justice Jarrett also outlined when refusing relief to Dr Ridd at the time, that the University was being taken to court, and had at all times acted reasonably.

While the University is considering its options on this matter, I would like to leave you with a quote from Justice Jarrett's decision last year which reflects the extent to which JCU has gone to attempt to be conciliatory and support proper interpretation and process, rather than publication of matters in the press. Dr Ridd refused these options, as reflected by the Judge in rejecting his interim reinstatement application:

The applicant would have maintained his employment; the University would have maintained what it saw as the integrity of its disciplinary processes, pending a determination about those issues from the Court. However, the applicant declined to enter into those undertakings and there was no alternative suggestion. The offer of the undertakings was repeated on 14 March, 2018 but, again, the applicant declined to give them.

Those matters are significant, in my view, because there was an opportunity for the applicant to avoid the very prejudice that he now says he is subjected by reason of the University’s conduct. He was given the opportunity, in a reasonable way in my view, to have the relevant matters adjudicated upon and, in the meantime, the status quo preserved."

If I were JCU I'/d appeal.

William M. Connolley said...

> Statement by James Cook University Provost...

I think that's gobbledegook, and he's in denial. I'd sack him.

Everett F Sargent said...


Changing judges in midstream is usually not a good idea.

If I were JCU I'd sack Ridd (again and again, ad infinitum, if necessary) and seek massive monitory damages.

Anonymous said...

>That the university feels it must consider itself a police force for climate purity is to me the real problem

They don’t. He was disciplined for breaching the code of conduct not his views on climate science. The field of study is immaterial.

The point being, if a young academic or post doc comes to Australia and feels he can vilify his colleagues, leak confidential information and generally run down his employer in the press because “academic freedom” they are going to find themselves in pretty much the same situation.

Academic freedom doesn’t give you freedom from your contract or freedom from consequences.

I suspect that JCU will be very tempted to appeal to reaffirm their code of conduct.

Andy Mitchell said...

I don't know enough about Ridd to know if this is an issue of intellectual freedom or fossil fuel industry funded misinformation.

Anonymous said...

If universities are about the free exchange of ideas why do people need educational qualifications to go to one?

thefordprefect said...

The most recent of Ridds publications. Only one seems to have been critical of others research and that is not published in mainstream scientific journals. I thought main stream scientific publications is where alternative theories should be published in order for others to criticize/agree. surely it is at this critical stage that theories are made or lost.
It seems to me that Ridd has used MSM to further his views and to denigrate other researchers. This gives them little chance of comeback. And it certainly would hurt reputations in the eyes of the public.
Number of items: 74.
Kenady, Selene L., Lowe, Kelsey M., Ridd, Peter V., and Ulm, Sean (2018) Creating volume estimates for buried shell deposits: a comparative experimental case study using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical resistivity under varying soil conditions. Archaeological Prospection, 21 (2). pp. 121-136.
Larcombe, Piers, and Ridd, Peter (2018) The need for a formalised system of Quality Control for environmental policy-science. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 126. pp. 449-461.

Ridd, Peter (2017) The extraordinary resilience of Great Barrier Reef corals, and problems with policy science. In: Marohasy, Jennifer, (ed.) Climate Change: the facts 2017. Connor Court Publishing, pp. 9-23.

Salamena, Gerry G., Martins, Flávio, and Ridd, Peter V. (2016) The density-driven circulation of the coastal hypersaline system of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 105 (1). pp. 277-285.
Waltham, Nathan, McKenna, Skye, York, Paul, Devlin, Michelle, Campbell, Sean, Rasheed, Michael, Da Silva, Eduardo, Petus, Caroline, and Ridd, Peter (2015) Port of Mackay and Hay Point Ambient Marine Water Quality Monitoring Program (July 2014 to July 2015). Report. TropWATER, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia.
Olsen, Alex, Han, Sunghyu, Calvert, Brendan, Ridd, Peter, and Kenny, Owen (2015) In situ leaf classification using histograms of oriented gradients. In: Proceedings of the lnternational Conference on Digital lmage Computing: techniques and applications. pp. 441-448. From: DICTA 2015: lnternational Conference on Digital lmage Computing: techniques and applications, 23-25 Nov 2015, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
Mao, Yadan, and Ridd, Peter V. (2015) Sea surface temperature as a tracer to estimate cross-shelf turbulent diffusivity and flushing time in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 120 (6). pp. 4487-4502.
Fisher, Rebecca, Stark, Clair, Ridd, Peter, and Jones, Ross (2015) Spatial patterns in water quality changes during dredging in tropical environments. PLoS ONE, 10 (12). e0143309. pp. 1-22.

thefordprefect said...

I have often wondered just how far free speech with regard to educators should be taken.

If an educator at a university were to fall foul of the f-lat e-arth brigade, Should his freedom of speech include educating students with his new found truth. There of course should be no problem saying what he likes outside of acedemia providing he does it as an individual making no reference to his university.

William M. Connolley said...

> f-lat e-arth brigade, Should his freedom of speech include educating students with his new found truth

FoS is what you do on your own time. When you're working for your employer, you're obliged to do your job (for example, FoS in the US constitution binds the govt, not private individuals). I don't have FoS to tell you about all the exciting Commercial In Confidence stuff I know. A teacher, or a lecturer, is obliged to teach / lecture to what they've been asked to do. Generally speaking, at uni/lect level, a sane uni will give a great deal of freedom to their lecturers, but has the right to reign them in.

But that's teaching. The Intellectual Freedom aspect - which is what the maninawig picks up on, not FoS - covers research, and public discussion, where the expectation is for far greater freedom.

thefordprefect said...

fom the court doc.
On 16 December 2015, Professor Ridd sent an email to Peter Michael, a journalist with News Limited.
31. In effect, this email suggested that the reports regarding degradation of the Great Barrier Reef by sediment were not reliable. Overall, the email was critical about the methodology used and the conclusions made. The email even suggested questions that Mr Michael might wish to pursue with the organisations responsible for those reports.
does this allow debate?
Professor Ridd then wrote an essay which was published in a book called “Climate Change - The Facts 2017”. This essay questioned the conclusions about the degradation and damage to the Great Barrier Reef. As a result of this chapter, Professor Ridd was invited to appear on the television show “Jones and Co” which was broadcast on Sky News channel.
does this allow debate?
On 24 August 2017, Professor Ridd was contacted by the HR manager for JCU who alleged that there was a prima facie case of serious misconduct committed by Professor Ridd. The HR manager directed that Professor Ridd maintain confidentiality.
39. Professor Ridd engaged solicitors to respond to the allegation.
wow - lawyers already!
the email to news ltd
Dear Peter, I wonder if you would be interested in some work we have done recently which indicates that GBRMPA is grossly misusing some scientific “data” to make the case that the Great barrier (sic) Reef is greatly damaged. It relates to the supposed decline of the Great Barrier Reef and some famous photographs … document explains how these pictures have been misused and that there is a wider issue of lack of quality assurance of much of this “public good” science. If it helps I can condense the document to something much more manageable (to op-ed length perhaps) but I thought I’d leave it quite long for the moment so that you can see the story in its entirety.
Ridd v James Cook University [2019] FCCA 997 Reasons for Judgment: Page 16
James Cook University, 1 James Cook Drive
does this allow debate? And written using his JCU credentials.
81. On 1 August 2017, Professor Ridd appeared on Sky News during the Alan Jones report known as “Jones and Co”. The following exchange took place (with my underlining):
was this balanced debating?
were those criticised given the right of reply?

William M. Connolley said...

> The email even suggested questions that Mr Michael might wish to pursue with the organisations responsible for those reports.

This I find weird: the university finds it somehow strange, unethical, or notable that PR suggested questions to ask. I find it entirely natural.

> does this allow debate?

Yes. it encourages debate. Not asking questions, as the university seems to desire, would suppress debate.

> lawyers already!

I think you're being silly. You're approached by HR with charges of serious misconduct, and you think he should not be allowed to talk to lawyers? Clearly you've never seen the hard face of HR / bureaucracy in action, which is happy for you, but some of us have and it is not pleasant. I entirely sympathise with him in this matter.

> was this balanced debating?

Your bar for FoS is too high. FoS imposes no particular requirement for "balance". I notice you have no interest in the balance of power between PR and the university apparatus arrayed against him.

Everett F Sargent said...

Terry Hughes should be PR's only boss once PR is given $10M (AU) and (almost) full reinstatement. His office would be a former janitor's closet (cut in half twice) in the basement of a currently shuttered building a few hundred km inland from the main JCU campus. Which is about as close as PR will ever get with respect to Dr. Hughes body of evidence/publicationss.

PR is in it only for the $$$ from duped deniers.

Dr. Hughes via Google Scholar

Latest publication
Global warming impairs stock–recruitment dynamics of corals
free copy here


"Changes in disturbance regimes due to climate change are increasingly challenging the capacity of ecosystems to absorb recurrent shocks and reassemble afterwards, escalating the risk of widespread ecological collapse of current ecosystems and the emergence of novel assemblages1,2,3. In marine systems, the production of larvae and recruitment of functionally important species are fundamental processes for rebuilding depleted adult populations, maintaining resilience and avoiding regime shifts in the face of rising environmental pressures4,5. Here we document a regional-scale shift in stock–recruitment relationships of corals along the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral reef system—following unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching events caused by global warming. As a consequence of mass mortality of adult brood stock in 2016 and 2017 owing to heat stress6, the amount of larval recruitment declined in 2018 by 89% compared to historical levels. For the first time, brooding pocilloporids replaced spawning acroporids as the dominant taxon in the depleted recruitment pool. The collapse in stock–recruitment relationships indicates that the low resistance of adult brood stocks to repeated episodes of coral bleaching is inexorably tied to an impaired capacity for recovery, which highlights the multifaceted processes that underlie the global decline of coral reefs. The extent to which the Great Barrier Reef will be able to recover from the collapse in stock–recruitment relationships remains uncertain, given the projected increased frequency of extreme climate events over the next two decades7."

Russell Seitz said...

Few things are sader than a no longer pristine reef. I've seen them demolished by hurricane surge and storm waves, and gradually degraded by shiploads of snorklers and runoff from too many close moored boats. iI doesnt take much imagination to agree these things can be compouned by hyperthermia, but as with other entanged stresses , it's easier to bemoan the combined results than deconvolute the components.

My problem with Ridd is both the company he keeps, including Coal Coast hucksters like Worrall, and the companies by which they are kept- Australian Climateball is PR blood sport at its gory best.