I have written a couple of times about Peter Ridd, here and here. Professor Ridd, a well-published academic whose fields of research include coastal oceanography, reef systems and peer review, has been for ten years the Head of the School of Physics at James Cook University (JCU). When he drew attention to what he saw as exaggerations in the way fellow academics at his university were describing the condition of the Great Barrier Reef he was ‘disciplined’ by JCU, told that he was being uncollegial, and that if he did it again he would be charged with serious misconduct. He subsequently wrote to me about this matter, and that email was seen by the University to be a further sign of misconduct. Professor Ridd decided that he had enough, and launched a legal suit against the University, claiming conflict of interest and bias. The conflict of interest might arise because the Vice-Chancellor of the University is also a director of the Australian Institute for Marine Science, some of whose work Professor Ridd had criticised. He has since withdrawn that part of his suit addressing possible bias on the part of the Vice-Chancellor of the University.

Professor Ridd has now been sacked. Not many professors in Australian universities have ever been fired, and sacking should require some extraordinary misbehaviour on the part of the professor. Professor Ridd is not accepting his sacking quietly, and has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars within a week through crowd-funding. There is going to be a court case.

This is a sad event in Australian higher education, for all sorts of reasons, and at its heart is the working of a new and most important engine in academe. In 1990 I gave an address in England, subsequently published in both the UK and Australia, deploring the extent to which research had become the be-all and end-all of appointment, promotion and honour in our universities. That trend has continued, despite the awards for good teaching, which did not exist when I gave that address.

The engine works this way. There is strong pressure on all academics to bring in research grant money for the department, the faculty and university. Those who do it well find their careers advancing quickly. To assist them there are media sections in universities whose job it is to frame the research work of academics in a way that will gain the attention of the media. Such media releases will come with as arresting a headline as the media section can devise. Buzzwords like ‘breakthrough’, ‘crucial’, ‘cutting edge’ and ‘revolution’ will be used. If possible, the staff members will appear on television, with the accompaniment of familiar stock images of laboratories and machines. The staff members will also be aware (or made aware) of the opportunity they have to advance their careers and names through writing another version of their published journal article for The Conversation, a website in which academics can write in more accessible language for an inquiring lay readership. Free from the requirements of journal house-rules, the staff members will be able to lard up their findings, call for urgency in funding and, where that is apposite, demand political attention. The output of the engine is heightened recognition of the name of the university, the academics and their area, and of course the likely prospect of more research money. All those in the engine-room think that they are just doing their jobs. The engine did not exist thirty years ago.

None of this is much of a problem in the more recondite areas of academic research, string theory in physics, for example, or advanced econometrics in the social sciences. But it is a problem, and a rapidly growing one, in areas of research where what is actually the case is contested vigorously by others. An eye has to be kept on the source of the money going to higher education research, which in our country is overwhelmingly the Australian Government. In 2014, not quite four billion dollars was available within the higher education system for research, all of it from the Commonwealth. In addition universities made another billion or thereabouts from consultancy and research for other funders. That is a lot of money. As the last Chairman of the Australian Research Grants Committee in 1987 I had a little over $30 million to parcel out. The engine has been most effective.

In the last forty years governments have become interested in universities’ finding academic support for what they are proposing or have in place. We are in an era of ‘policy-based evidence’. We are also in an era of a particular political correctness, where it is very difficult indeed to get funds for research if the purpose of the research seems antithetical to current government policy. ‘Curiosity-directed research’ now comes with some serious barriers. Nowhere is this situation clearer than in the case of research on the Great Barrier Reef, in which Professor Ridd has been involved. A bucket-load of money has been devoted to ‘the Reef’, and another half-billion was forecast in the recent Budget, some of which will doubtless go the James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Reef, as is frequently said, is an Australian ‘icon’. An icon is a religious object. Professor Ridd is a scientist, not a priest.

To have people like Professor Ridd decrying the hyperbole with which some research has been couched could imperil future grant money (notwithstanding the recent half-billion), and it would be understandable if academics within JCU have appealed to their Vice-Chancellor to shut Professor Ridd up. Something like this was presumably the reason the late Professor Bob Carter, an internationally distinguished geologist at JCU, was stripped of his adjunct status (which meant he could not use the University Library’s resources, a real penalty). Carter, like Ridd, was concerned to point to the errors of balance and rigour in research and publication on the reef.

There is no likely good outcome from this legal battle. Early on I wrote to the JCU Vice-Chancellor to suggest that she move to settle the issues quickly and away from the court. JCU’s reputation can only worsen as the trial continues, while Professor Ridd will spend his entire time raising money and defending his position. In the meantime his students and colleagues have lost a fine teacher and colleague.

And who is giving attention to the engine, let alone to the engine-room? So far, the major players have remained silent. The Minister, Simon Birmingham, has said nothing, Universities Australia likewise, the NTEU likewise (though it did come to the defence of another professor a few years ago, forced out on what a judge described as a sham redundancy claim). Sacking senior staff who have tried to point out that all is not right with the world is a singular matter, one which, if it passes without comment, can only lead other universities to try and get rid of their own ‘trouble-makers’ the same way. The ability of academics to speak up and out has been one of the universities’ great virtues for at least the last hundred years. They used to be proud of it, too. What is happening at JCU is deeply disturbing to those who value freedom of speech and justified criticism. As the Popper quote at the head of my website reminds us, we learn through disagreement.

[A shorter version of this essay was published in today’s The Australian, Wednesday 23rd May 2018]



Join the discussion 61 Comments

  • Neville Hughes says:

    Don, thank you. A great paper by an eminently qualified and highly experienced professional.

    • Ted Steele says:

      To Don Aitken

      I have distributed this to many of my colleagues who are still alive and aware of these facts as the ironies abound. Don Aitkin was in the “Purple Circle” with Ken McKinnon and Ian Chubb directly advising John Dawkins in the debasing and over turning of the Ethical and Academic base of Australian Universities ( late 1980s – early 1990s).

      I am pleased he is helping Peter Ridd. But during my battle over similar if not deeper issues about the entire corrupt “Dawkinized “ system at Wollongong University, that has led to the Ridd situation, he was completely silent – he said nothing. As you know it went on for 18 months to final resolution in the Federal Court .

      I am sorry but this one takes the cake.

      Ted Steele

      Edward J Steele PhD

      • Don Aitkin says:

        I don’t at all agree that my role in the Dawkins changes is correctly characterised as ‘advising John Dawkins in the debasing and over turning of the Ethical and Academic base of Australian Universities’. Indeed, I have no idea what you mean.

        At the time of your issue with the University of Wollongong I was a Vice-Chancellor myself, had no website, and did not write in newspapers about matters in other universities. I don’t think any other V-C at the time was any different. There are obvious rules and protocol about the extent to which you mind your own patch, and avoid trespassing on others. You may object to this, but that was the situation at the time.

        The NTEU did take up your case. So far it has done nothing of which I am aware in the JCU case.

    • Ted Steele says:

      I have distributed this to many of my colleagues who are still alive and aware of these facts as the ironies abound. Don Aitkin was in the “Purple Circle” with Ken McKinnon and Ian Chubb directly advising John Dawkins in the debasing and over turning of the Ethical and Academic base of Australian Universities ( late 1980s – early 1990s).

      I am pleased he is helping Peter Ridd. But during my battle over similar if not deeper issues about the entire corrupt “Dawkinized “ system at Wollongong University, that has led to the Ridd situation, he was completely silent – he said nothing. As you know it went on for 18 months to final resolution in the Federal Court .

      I am sorry but this one takes the cake.

      Ted Steele
      Edward J Steele PhD

    • Geoff Croker says:

      Its far worse than this. University bureaucracy has dramatically expanded to “manage” Commonwealth funding. The “pressure” to conform comes from their direct costs. The problem this causes with outcomes is predictable. The universities cannot take on projects that result in a solution that will reduce government funding. Projects that make profits long term but need to be seeded with academic input will have less of a chance of funding. Projects based on waffle eg feelings, keep the flow of funds coming from politicians. All that needs to happen is virtue signalling by the university to the media at the appropriate time in the hand out cycle.

      This new form a “corruption” is even usurping the problem of mates giving funding to mates.

      One of the consequences is that those with real projects do not seek Australian government funding. China is moving in on our IP.

    • Grahame McCulloch says:


      An interesting and reflective piece.

      Note an important correction – NTEU has not only recently called for Peter Ridd’s reinstatement but has also issued much earlier statements of support for him following the University’s prior decision to censure him for so-called misconduct based on a flimsy interpretation of the JCU Code of Conduct. Until recently the press have not picked up or reported this fact.

      There has been a number of cases pursued and/or supported by the Union on academic freedom and/or procedural fairness grounds over the last two decades – Ted Steele (Wollongong), Andrew Fraser (Macquarie), Judith Bessant (RMIT),
      Roz Ward (Latrobe) and now Ridd.

      The union’s support in the Steele, Fraser, Ward and Ridd matters attracted some hostility from sections of our membership and the press. The interesting point is that the intellectual and (sometimes political) perspectives of the academics involved have ranged (at least according to my assessment) from the right conservative to radical left poles, and typically criticism of the Uniob’s position has reflected the defined orientation of the individual critic or newspaper concerned.

      In my book this underlines that NTEU has adopted a principled defence of academic freedom – a necessary condition for a viable university – even at the cost of internal and external criticism.

      Grahame McCulloch
      General Secretary NTEU

  • Albert says:

    Most universities keep a percentage of grant money awarded to academics as so called administration costs. This “tax” sometimes get levied at several levels, Faculty, Department, Institute and Central Admin. No wonder the administrators might be alarmed if research grant money is threatened.

  • Michael Dunn says:

    Don: — What a useful and well-informed explanation of the general background to this controversy, especially for those of us who graduated long ago and know less about University funding. (On an inflation-adjusted basis, your $30 million research budget in 1987 might have got up to roughly $180 million today. As you say, nothing like approx. $4 billion.)

    As a former communications director for a government agency, your description of the interaction between the core staff and their media advisers is accurate. All budget-funded government agencies compete for money, and the media provides much of the ‘information’ that guides how politicians and senior public servants judge the effectiveness and value of their portfolio agencies.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks, Don. Timely and well said.

    “In the last forty years governments have become interested in universities’ finding academic support for what they are proposing or have in place.”

    Interesting that during those same forty years not only has Peter Ridd been connected with JCU and managed to resist their brainwashing policies throughout that time but they also coincide with all the other cli-sci malfeasance and manipulations that have proved to be a goldmine for the greater genus of groupthinkers world wide.

  • Thorfinn says:

    Well measured. Further,I say to the V.C and DVC at JCU ; uncollegial my spotty derrière!

  • PeterE says:

    A very disturbing case -another one.

  • Michael James says:

    The quotation in the title of your website appears to be from Popper, not Mencken. But I expect Mencken did have something humorous to say on the subject. Oscar Wilde did – ‘Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.’

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Michael, you are completely correct, and I’ll change the text accordingly. A lot has happened in the last two days, and I was too quick with what I wrote.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        In fact, I use a Mencken quote as a footer on those of my emails which have a signature block: “‘For every complex problem there is a solution that is neat, simple and wrong.’ H. L. Mencken”

  • JMO says:

    Ad a former JCU student I see this as evidence based academic malfeasance and feel ashamed this university has sacked the late Bob Carter and now Peter Ride. Thanks Don for your article in today’s OZ. I hope your representation, as a former VC, will put pressure on the right people to resolve this embarrassing situation.

  • JimboR says:

    “Not many professors in Australian universities have ever been fired, and sacking should require some extraordinary misbehaviour on the part of the professor. ”

    How about repeatedly breaching the Code of Conduct (a non-negotiable code for all employees at the University), even after several warnings? Shouldn’t that be extraordinary enough? Here’s the Code of Conduct: https://www.jcu.edu.au/policy/corporate-governance/code-of-conduct-university-council. Do you think he breached it?

    • spangled drongo says:

      You don’t think that JCU’s idea of “breaching” might be a little subjective, jimb?:

      “In a statement on Sunday JCU explained the sacking, saying it had no objection to Professor Ridd raising scientific research issues. “However, the university has objected to the manner in which he has done this. He has sensationalised his comments to attract attention, has criticised and denigrated published work, and has demonstrated a lack of respect for his colleagues and institutions in doing so,” deputy vice-chancellor Iain Gordon said in the statement.

      Commenting on the case, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said “researchers and universities should be willing to have their work stand up to scrutiny”.

      “Any university should be encouraging their researchers and students to ask questions, not shutting down debate,” he said.”

      The fact that they have been getting well publicised scientific criticism for years over their methods and conclusions indicates the Ridd solution to be a highly defensive and emotive reaction.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “How about repeatedly breaching the Code of Conduct (a non-negotiable code for all employees at the University)”

      How about JCU tell the truth, that he is being sacked for simply telling the truth, jimb?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Jimbo, any reading of that Code of Conduct would show that there is abundant room for argument about what individual elements mean. Professor Ridd could well say he had acted accordingly. The dispute would be about matters of detail. How much respect should he have shown, for example, to colleagues who plainly exceeded the findings of their research in writing for The Conversation and in speaking publicly? Reasonable people might disagree about all this, and no doubt that court will decide the matters.

      But you would fire a professor on these grounds? You must run an extraordinarily tight ship.

      The answer to your question about ‘extraordinary enough’ is ‘Good heavens, no!’

  • Chris Warren says:


    Once upon a time Universities were one dimensional ideological machines for the so-called Establishment, partiarchy, and God. Indigenous issues only emerged in the 1970’s. Before then students were expected to study St Augustine than our own industrial relations system. Any alternative thought was proscribed through either deliberate spoiling operations by ASIO or by behind-the-scenes selection criteria and other snide techniques.

    The vaunted “…ability of academics to speak up and out has been one of the universities’ great virtues for at least the last hundred years. They used to be proud of it, too” was a polluted stream from a old world ideological echo chamber,

    However tertiary institutions have opened up since the warm days (for some) from the 50’s and 60’s. New social theories, new social movements, new curricula and new participants have evolved more representative of many schisms in society and new pathways (or even demands) for the economy and science.

    This “new” reality is the engine that did not exist 30 or better, 40 years ago.

    Any defence of Ridd has to be associated with different considerations. Whether his breach of a condition was sufficient for dismissal, and whether the action of an employer was reasonable in light of the actions of every other employer in the nation, even the churches?

    Opportunists are trying to pile in all manner of other agendas which will not survive 10 seconds in a court of law.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Chris, my direct involvement in universities ran from 1954 to 2002, and of course I have kept an eye on things in the last sixteen year. Nothing that you say in your comment reminds me of any event, state or culture from that period.

      • Chris Warren says:


        So I suppose you did not notice the huge ferment that arose over the dispute as women demanded that they be included into University courses, the huge ferment as some tried to develop an alternative view of economics, the corralling of Manning-Clark in the ANU (ie froze his institutional career in ANU’s SGS) and the emergence of new journals such as “Aboriginal History” and fields of study such as Peace Studies etc.

        I am pretty sure if I went through course offerings from the 50’s and early 60’s I would not find courses on industrial relations but not so 40 years later. Has any one looked into this?

        These are all events and represent culture as tertiary education moved out of the state it was in during the 60’s to what it became, under Whitlam, and then in the 80’s and then into a new state with “education exports” etc in the 90’s, to what it has become today, a profit making commercialised entity scraped of many previous Departments such as Romance Languages and totally unable to provide staff with either job security or decent working conditions.

        I don’t know who to blame, but I would have a look at with Dawkins (unified national system) and Beazley (commercial internationalisation) as first movers in developing the new culture, and to what extent the National Board of Employment, Education and Training went along for the ride.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          What huge ferment? There were few women in tenured positions in universities in the 1950s. The first woman professor in NSW was Leonie Kramer (1960s), the first in Australia was Dorothy Hill (earlier). Women had not sought such positions in general.During the 1960s the proportion of women students went up and up. In the 1970s they started to be appointed as tutors and lecturers, in the 1980s as professors. The ‘ferment’ was about teaching courses in gender studies.

          There certainly was someone teaching industrial relations in Sydney in the 1960s.

          I don’t think you know much about the periods earlier to your own study in universities.

          • Chris Warren says:

            Don you answered your own question …

            “What huge ferment? ”

            “The ‘ferment’ was about teaching courses in gender studies.”

            Woman Studies s it happened.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            No huge ferment in any of these areas, just the usual claims and counter-claims as interests wanted to to have the curriculum expanded to fit their own agendas. It happens all the time. For example, no one taught political science, then it was included, despite those already in power saying it was being done by history, philosophy, law etc. Then it was sociology’s turn with much the same claims and counterclaims. Then accounting, then nursing, and so on. Women’s studies is just one of a bunch. Maybe there was a huge ferment among some women academics. One of my staff wanted to include what might gently be called a Marxian account of political economy. We won the war (the unit was approved) and lost the battle (we couldn’t use the words ‘political economy’). Tourism was another example. For almost anything you want to put on there will be a claim that it is (a) unnecessary, already being done, (b) not scholarly, (c) simply an applied version of what ought to be done within a discipline, (d) not for us, at best a TAFE field, (e) pick your own objection.

            Again, I don’t think you know much about what actually happened in the way courses grew in the post WWII Australian university.

          • Chris Warren says:


            The opposition to the word “political economy” is evidence of one type ferment. This was the line taken by some old world academics such as Heintz Arndt.

            Both political economy (Sydney U) and women’s studies (ANU) were introduced only after major student demonstrations with support from some academics. Obvious ferment.

  • ianl8888 says:

    > “Early on I wrote to the JCU Vice-Chancellor to suggest that she move to settle the issues quickly and away from the court …”

    Completely disagree with that dodgy wheeze, Aitkin, but that you take that tactic does not surprise me.

    You wrote a series of articles some time ago entitled: “How did we get in this mess ?”, referring to the vicious, interminable slugfest about anthropogenic climate change and whatever we may do about it. Avoiding direct, open, detailed, public debate on these issues is the most potent method of ensuring said issues go on festering (and the activists have followed this path with unwavering fanaticism – “we do not debate in public”), yet here you are advocating exactly this path. I have always regarded your stance here as hypocritical. When push comes to shove, you value collegial something or others over open scientific method – and then you have the hide to quote Popper.

    Please do *not* try the specious reply that the academic debate is available in published papers. These are paywalled and well beyond the general public’s reach. One of the JCU Senior Academics tried this dodge on another website a few days ago. He claimed that Ridd had been scientifically rebutted (of course he would). When challenged, he referred to some Letter to the Editor of the Courier Mail, paywalled so we couldn’t read it, and in any case not a peer-reviewed, scientific rebuttal but likely just a piece of grant-protection political propaganda. Then he claimed a rebuttal had been published in the literature but was unable to provide any detail at all. Pathetic. And The Conversation ? Ridd has been censored there.

    Now this next is a pious hope, I am aware, but we do hope that the actual detailed points of Ridd’s accusations of deliberately exaggerated conclusions for public notoriety and Federal funding are acutely exposed in open court. Forcing the MSM to report this honestly is likely several bridges too far and in any event, JCU lawyers will do everything they can to prevent this. We also expect that crowdfunding will again be necessary to meet the imposts from High Court appeals by JCU should adverse findings be made initially. Note I am not assuming Ridd is perfectly correct but we know that the Reef issue is a big emotional lever constantly jammed into the public consciousness, so exaggeration for Federal funding is just so …

    JCU’s reputation is already in tatters. The Bob Carter episode did that. The only downside I see to open court hearings (we do hope there will be no cleared Court evidence, although I completely mistrust lawyers, especially when lent upon by politicians in power) is that if Ridd actually has a favourable decision, his position at JCU would still be completely compromised. I suppose he would find it easier to find another appointment without the stain of “dishonourable discharge” but staying at JCU would be unbearable for him, one would think.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Ian, in one of the earlier essays I said I had some sympathy with the JCU V-C. And my own working rule when I was a V-C was ‘never go to court’. Courts do not, in cases like this, deal with the real issues. The most likely procedure will be to find out whether or not (a) the University had the power to sack Professor Ridd, (b) whether there were processes too follow (c) whether these processes were followed, (d) whether the code of conduct admits of only one reading, and so on. None of the science issues need to be part of this. The notion that an academic has to stand up and be accountable for what he or she sees as the ‘truth’ of a matter is unlikely ever to be looked at.

      It is for these reasons that I suggested that the matter be deal with out of court. I would like to know whether or not that route was followed at all, and if it wasn’t ,why not.

      My own belief is that universities that deal with their staff in the way that seems to be the case in re Ridd have no regard either for their reputation or for their staff.

      I am not sure whether this reply makes my position clearer, but it is the best I can do.

      • JimboR says:

        “And my own working rule when I was a V-C was ‘never go to court’. Courts do not, in cases like this, deal with the real issues. ”

        It was Ridd that took it to the courts. Assuming JCU are confident they’ve done nothing wrong, what else can they do but turn up and defend their position?

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Jimbo, go back and read the earlier essays, then go and read the material that you will find through the links. Then you will have some sense of the way this whole issue has unfolded.

    • Rick says:

      I agree with Don, that taking this to court is unlikely to directly address the science.

      Had it been possible to resolve Ridd’s conflict with JCU by negotiation it would have left him able to speak openly and further debate of the science in the open.

      As it is I fear he will be crushed by legal expenditure rather than superior argument. JCU has $100s of millions at stake, so they will simply drive him into the ground. Their lawyers may seek to break him personally by preventing him from ceasing action in future with the threat of JCU’s legal costs. Ridd may have unleashed legal monster he won’t be able to control, no matter how good his scientific and moral arguments. Public debate will be reduced as a result.

  • Mike says:

    The answer seems to be cautiously reduce government funding for science, at least the scientific method according to universities. What I’d really like to see is some sort of Henry the eighth figure close universities down and disperse the ideologically combative coteries. Would we be worse off? It’s a moot point

  • Fred says:

    Ridd is but the latest casualty from the environmentalist Bolsheviks, who have infected academia in Australia. First it was Bob Carter, whose association and emeritus status at JCU were terminated because he spoke inconvenient facts.


    Then it was Murry Salby, who, after presenting inconvenient research, Macquarie university prohibited from teaching climate and reduced his chair of climate to marking student papers for other academics. When Salby objected, he was accused of misconduct and sacked.


    Now it’s Peter Ridd, who was likewise censured (i.e., censored) because he questioned the climate change industry by speaking inconvenient facts. When he objected, Ridd too was accused of misconduct and sacked.

    The real casualty from this disgraceful behavior is the public, through the loss of international image, living standard, and Australia’s future, which is shaped by its standard of education. What our corrupt education industry is producing is not critical thinkers, who have been removed, but indoctrinated morons. It’s how they did it in 1917.

  • Graeme Doreian says:

    Thankyou Don,

    I agree with all your support for Peter Ridd.

    My colleque and I are suffering the same incompetence and coverups by Government, senior bureaucrats, and Universities of the truth and how to establish the truth, regarding the correct insulations for an Australian climate.

    We are in constant contact with a Professor that worked at James Cook University that had his one person division closed down, and made redundant regarding building energy efficiency, more so residential.

    I would suggest for similar reasons to Peter Ridd, our man has a conscience too.

    His Curriculum vitae spanned 13 pages up to 2005, and he is still assisting us on our crusade for the truth.

    As a brief recent background, I represented the public interest unpaid, with no backing from any organisation, and gave evidence (as one of seven it voluntary witnesses, only myself and my colleque were prepared to be named) on the stand, under oath regarding electrical issues, and was quoted thirteen times in the 361 page final report to the 2014 Royal Commission Home Insulation Program,

    Basically for 27 million dollars, Government/s have failed to protect people when they enter the hostile environment of a roof space.
    Remembering, Governments do influence Standards which are called up in regulation as I have found during my extensive research.

    I have the whole history enough for legal action, and like Peter and his supporters want to pursue the issue in the National and public interest.
    I would really like to contact yourself, and Peter Ridd, for some un biased advice please.

    I finish with this.


  • Anon says:

    I might add, that those who attract funding, are sometimes given more freedom to break procedural rules and less accountability in how they conduct their research, at least until the money runs out. I saw this in the early 1990s in the earth sciences, which were then struggling to attract much funding of any kind. Researchers who brought in funding were given the most senior positions and certain freedoms in conducting their research that they should never have had, and in which positions they immediately abused. My university at that time did not apply the same standards to those who brought in funding, compared to those who didn’t, and they knew it and exploited it, also knowing there would be few repercussions if they did so.

  • Karl Popper called it in 1945 writing The Poverty of Historicism in New Zealand. The progress of science could be stopped by government control of research and suppression of free speech.

  • David says:

    ….. cry me a river

    meanwhile Australia has just had its warmest April on record. Just saying.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “meanwhile Australia has just had its warmest April on record.”

      And don’t forget the accelerating SLR while you are at it, Davie.

      Meanwhile Australia’s beaches have never been healthier or wider.

      And I still keep looking for all those thousands of dead Lorikeets and Rosellas that Capt Arthur Phillip saw in 1791 but they just keep eluding me these days.

      Have you spotted any yourself?

      Or do you possibly think the bureaucrats might be using us for their own ulterior purpose?

      Like this:

      “Debating the Paris climate agreement is it $5 trillion to 2030 or $100-200 trillion by 2100 or is it both”

      • Louis Hissink says:

        “And I still keep looking for all those thousands of dead Lorikeets and Rosellas that Capt Arthur Phillip saw in 1791 but they just keep eluding me these days.
        Have you spotted any yourself?”

        When I was working in Halls Creek, circa 2008, I inadvertently collided with a small bird with the vehicle and it became stuck in the radiator grill. At arriving home I extracted the corpse and left it on the ground, a cement pad, in order to see how it was recycled back into the biosphere.

        The ants did a splendid job and totally removed the corpse, beak and all. In fact no bones at all were left. Considering the trillions of living birds in the environment, it’s interesting that none seem to end up being fossilised. Even bird beaks seem to become recycled back into the biosphere.

        No dead bird accumulations.

        Fossilisation feory seems incomplete.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      If you go to the climate4website you’ll see that other parts of the world have had shockingly cold Marches and Aprils. It’s called ‘weather’. Your comment might better have been posted to the May Off-Topic Thread.

    • spangled drongo says:

      Or you could look at it this way, Davie:

      “Greenies love to condemn urban air pollution and say how bad for us it is. Faulty science on fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) was the bedrock of the Obama EPA’s war on coal. Particulates don’t just make you sick; they are directly related “to dying sooner than you should,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson falsely told Congress. There is no level “at which premature mortality effects do not occur,” Mr. Obama’s next Administrator Gina McCarthy dishonestly testified.

      The latest research findings below are very powerful evidence on the question. The study included the entire Medicare population from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2012. And their finding that only one in a million people die from particulate air pollution is pretty decisive. If you bother about that tiny risk, you should never get out of bed.

      The authors pretend that their findings support the Greenies but they would have been reviled if they had said the truth: That their findings show that air pollution is not dangerous.

      Air pollution from smoky cooking-fires has probably been part of the human experience for something like a million years and we have adapted to it. We just cough it up.”


  • Don Aitkin says:

    A reader has asked me to insert this comment:

    ‘I assume Chris comes from The Conversation far left, Don. As a university student from 1950 to 1956 and again in 1959 to 1965, his claims about reality in those days confirm his abysmal ignorance. We had a very active communist group at Melbourne University in the early 1950s and an equally active Roman Catholic group. As well we had Barry Humphries, who got far more publicity and influence than the political ideologue groups!’

  • Don Aitkin says:

    I said that the Minister had not said anything, and that is still true However the Minister for the Environment has come out with a statement:

    ‘The controversy around Peter Ridd raises important issues. Academic freedom and the right to challenge what may be perceived as accepted wisdoms are essential in any free society and for that reason I’m concerned about the handling of this matter. It is only with scrutiny and open debate that we test theories, reach conclusions and take public opinion with us.
    Professor Ridd has challenged the view of some that bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is “ a new phenomenon” and has questioned that some peer-reviewed science is not proven. Just because one says the problem is exaggerated, doesn’t mean one denies there is a problem.
    I accept that the reef is facing a number of serious challenges including those posed by climate change. But I see the reef as remarkably resilient, more so than others might, and with the application of the best research which is continually subject to scrutiny, we will continue to ensure a bright future for the reef.
    Josh Frydenberg, Environment Minister, Canberra, ACT.’

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Senator Birmingham has joined in, and here is part of his speech:

      ‘However, where there are claims that the opinions of research staff such as Peter Ridd influenced the decision to sack them, then the university ought to explicitly detail credible grounds to justify its actions.
      While individual staff or students may produce content that looks as if it could have come from left-wing lobby group GetUp! — such as Monash University’s “If you don’t like it, change it” campaign, which features a montage of left-wing causes from Manus ­Island to the “stolenwealth games” — their administrators need to ­ensure they aren’t presented as ads that imply the whole institution shares those opinions.
      And what has the Labor Party had to say on any of these cases? Deafening silence.’

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    My personal experience, particularly when I approached my mid sixties, is that universities will act up to and beyond the limits of the law if they believe it is in their interest, and they think they can get away with it. The only way to bring them to heel is to drag them before Tribunals or the Courts.

  • Graeme Doreian says:

    Frydenberg to Peter Ridd issue at James Cook Uni.

    Very measured response from Frydenberg,

    However for myself he has “put his foot in it.”


    Quote from Frydenberg comment
    “It is only with scrutiny and open debate that we test theories, reach conclusions and take public opinion with us.”

    Building energy efficiency. Where is the open debate?

    How do “we test these theories” Mr Frydenberg?

    There is no facility to test theories and question building energy efficiency regulations and Standards.

    Peter Ridd exposes what Tim Renouf and Graeme Doreian have been pressing for years. Research that is questionable.

    Questionable science?

    “reach conclusions”

    No correct testing in a building climate simulator, no conclusions

    “take public opinion with us”

    Yes Mr Frydenberg, you and your “mates ”have taken the public; “for mugs.”

    o high energy usage,

    o high energy prices, more costly to consumer

    Correctly insulated homes for the varying climates of Australia reduces all these energy issues.

    Do you care? NO. YES, keeping your job.

    Quote from Frydenberg comment below.
    “questioned that some peer-reviewed science is not proven. Just because one says the problem is exaggerated, doesn’t mean one denies there is a problem”

    “questioned that some peer-reviewed science is not proven”

    This statement above applies to Building energy efficiency

    o only one research paper from 1968/69 has any credibility

    o all the remaining research is flawed, a lot paid for by Governments.

    o Mr Frydenberg along with a number of his colleagues knows the points above, but everyone closes a blind eye.

    “Just because one says the problem is exaggerated, doesn’t mean one denies there is a problem”

    o Let’s see the proof, to give your statement above a slight chance of credibility?

    o Let’s have an open forum?. Just as Tim and Graeme have been calling for, for years regarding building energy efficiency.

    o This statement is a typical political no sense statement, so the political system can stay neutral to avoid committing to do something constructive to sort out issues.

    Finally, I believe Frydenberg has to defend the questionable granting of 444 million dollars, plus the research and cost to build and operate the Federal Government funded Sea Simulator at Townsville.

    The issues with Universities, and Governments assistance is an ongoing issue when I have been speaking with people working in them but no one has the guts to standup because they need the money to feed their families pay their bills. Good on you Peter.

  • BB says:

    Thanks Don it is a good insight into the rot of our universities. As you say there is going to be no good outcome. His career as a professor at JCU has ended not to return. At best perhaps a financial settlement but then where does he go from there? I perceive government funding for research can easily produce meaningless results. The only result you will get is that which does not threaten the funding being continued.

  • BB says:

    There is an article in today’s Australian that discusses this issue fully https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/no-room-for-differing-views/news-story/70c3e73570eccb414eb26fb22c31e6f9 I suggest that you subscribe if you have not already because it is the only newspaper that will discuss the decline of our civilisation in general.

  • BB says:

    And it just keeps coming. I suggest reading through this article and listening to the various commentators I have. For me it is not new and I would prefer to call this the alternative media since I think the term the dark web is formulated to denigrate. There is certainly a reaction to the darkness of intellectual suppression.

  • Donald Pauly says:

    I am astounded that the Global Warming Hoaxers have even more power Down Under than they do here in the USA. As far as I know, no Global Warming Denier has ever lost tenure here. My discovery of Joanne Nova made this tedious read worthwhile.

  • David says:

    Not sure how a statement about the ambient temperature is deemed off topic to a discussion about coral bleaching.

    …in case you have not noticed the Barrier Reef in not located in “other parts of the world” .

  • Brian Austen says:

    Although I have not fully thought it through, I believe there are some fundamental changes underway to our perceived political and social functioning. Many of our institutions have become virtual retail corporations run almost solely by powerful CEOs and responsible to no one. The University sector is a prime example. Many are merely commercial enterprises.

    So too are many sporting bodies, especially cricket and AFL. Just as Education has become a commodity, so too are the sports of cricket and football. The activity, learning and research and playing sport has become secondary to profits.

    It is not clear where this is headed or how widespread it is, but it is a fundamental change that deserves some serious analysis.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    The NTEU has finally come to the party, in the form of a letter circulated to embers and the wide world by the union’s Queensland secretary. Part of it runs as follows:

    ‘Of most concern is that Professor Ridd was sacked primarily for an alleged breach of confidentiality and insubordination. To summarise the University’s apparent position, Professor Ridd was required to keep quiet about the formal censure he received last year. That censure was the result of a misconduct process that management ran about his comments on the science pertaining to the Great Barrier Reef and scientific method used to underpin that science. They said that those comments were made inappropriately and disrespectfully. They said his comments denigrated his colleagues. They said that the findings and the censure were confidential.

    Professor Ridd did not accept the results of the internal misconduct process and did not accept that he should remain quiet about what he saw as an injustice. He went to the Federal Court to protect himself. In my previous letter, I argued that the Enterprise Agreement did not require confidentiality about the misconduct process on the part of Professor Ridd. To the contrary, I argued that the Intellectual Freedom clause in the JCU Agreement explicitly allowed him to question university processes and decisions. I stand by those statements.

    It is ironic in the extreme that JCU management appear to have been trying to protect the reputation of the University and bodies like the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Given the nature of the (entirely predictable) extensive media coverage, all management have done is to feed a right-wing media narrative that universities are conformist and actively suppress heterodox views on topics such as climate change.

    A university, even a relatively young one such as JCU should have the courage of its convictions and commitment to its mission so as to allow its staff to engage in robust scientific, political and academic debates, regardless of any perceived reputational damage that critical positions might generate.

    The simple fact of the matter is that defence of the core value of genuine academic freedom is not well served by the corporate, top-down, anti-collegial and managerialist structure and culture in today’s universities, and is incompatible with managerial preoccupations with “brand” and “image”. This might explain why so many university managements (including JCU) sought to remove Academic/Intellectual Freedom clauses from our Enterprise Agreements in the current round of bargaining.

    Whither academic freedom?

    In this environment, the NTEU is obliged to reassert its commitment to academic freedom, even or especially where its expression contains statements that may be at odds with many or most members’ views. Without the maintenance of the core value of academic freedom, our universities would cease to be worthy of the name.

    The NTEU calls for the immediate reinstatement of Professor Peter Ridd.’


    Jennifer Marohasy pointed this statement out to me, for which many thanks.

    • Grahame McCulloch says:


      An interesting and reflective piece from you, as always.

      Note that your comment here that NTEU has ‘finally come to the party’ is inaccurate. Prior to the Union’s most recent statement calling for Ridd’s reinstatement NTEU had issued earlier statements supporting Ridd when he was previously censured for misconduct based on a flimsy management interpretation of the JCU Code of Conduct. This fact has not been picked up by most commenting on the case including the press.

      Over the last two decades there has been a number of high profile cases involving the termination of university staff where the Union has defended the staff member on academic and/or procedural fairness grounds – Ted Steele (Wollongong),
      Andrew Fraser (Macquarie), Judith Bessant (RMIT), Roz Ward (Latrobe) and now Peter Ridd.

      The intellectual (and sometimes political) orientation of the various staff involved has ranged (in my estimation at least) across a spectrum including radical right and radical left positions, and at least three of the staff were unpopular with many of their colleagues.

      The Union’s support for some of these cases generated considerable criticism from sections of our membership and the press. In many instances it was not surprising that the critics and papers concerned had opinions sharply at odds with the terminated staff member.

      In my book this underlines that the Union has always adopted a principled defence of academic freedom – a necessary condition for a viable university – even in the face of internal and external pressure and criticism.

      Grahame McCulloch
      General Secretary NTEU

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Thank you, Grahame. I was unaware of the earlier intervention on the NTEU’s part. I believe that JCU’s attitude in this case is an example of not learning from mistakes and not foreseeing likely problems with a proposed course of action, but just making decisions through a knee-jerk reaction.

        All universities should avoid legal action in courts. They are a sign that something hasn’t been done properly internally (I am speaking here of matters internal to the university). They cost a lot of money, and they rarely solve anything. In my twelve years on the UC payroll we did not go to court at all, and my instructions to our lawyers were to foresee problems and alert them to us early. We were taken to the the AAT by a student who wanted to see the examination scripts of the students who had passed the unit he had failed, and we told him he couldn’t, for privacy reasons. He did not accept that, and the President of the AAT agree with the University. FOI was available for him to see his own scripts but not those of anyone else. The student finally graduated…

        I agree that the Union will get flak from people who object to what has been said… why is the unions supporting this ratbag? etc. Ken Buckley once told me that three quarters of the people the old FAUSA had defended were troublemakers and difficult, but you had to support them anyway. Universities were not there as Sunday Schools, all peace and light.

  • Chris Warren says:

    It seems strange that an employer should impose such confidentiality on an unwilling employee when no such requirement was the basis of employment.

    I doubt whether they have the right to do this.

    They obviously have the right to respond to an abusive denigrator who disrupts collegiality, but not under a veil of secrecy unless both sides agree.

    The current sacking appears to be triggered by Ridd’s lack of acceptance of a confidentiality condition where there is no confidentiality agreement.

    Any employer – public service, private corporation, university, whatever – has the right to take action against disrupters depending on the extent of their disruption.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “Any employer – public service, private corporation, university, whatever – has the right to take action against disrupters depending on the extent – AND INCONVENIENCE – of their disruption.”

      FIFY blith.

      Ridd’s lack of acceptance was in fact JCU’s lack of acceptance.

  • spangled drongo says:

    How neomarxist-degenerate are universities becoming? In Canada recently, Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant was disciplined and told that superiors would have to sit in on her lectures, for showing a Jordan Peterson video in class:

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