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Peter Ridd: Science Or Silence? My Battle To Question Doomsayers About The Great Barrier Reef

February 9, 2018

By Paul Homewood



We have covered the story of Peter Ridd before. Hopefully it is starting to get traction, with Fox News entering the fray.



Around the world, people have heard about the impending extinction of the Great Barrier Reef: some 133,000 square miles of magnificent coral stretching for 1,400 miles off the northeast coast of Australia.

The reef is supposedly almost dead from the combined effects of a warming climate, nutrient pollution from Australian farms, and smothering sediment from offshore dredging.

Except that, as I have said publicly as a research scientist who has studied the reef for the past 30 years, all this most likely isn’t true.

And just for saying that – and calling into question the kind of published science that has led to the gloomy predictions – I have been served with a gag order by my university. I am now having to sue for my right to have an ordinary scientific opinion.

My emails have been searched. I was not allowed even to speak to my wife about the issue. I have been harangued by lawyers. And now I’m fighting back to assert my right to academic freedom and bring attention to the crisis of scientific truth.

The problems I am facing are part of a “replication crisis” that is sweeping through science and is now a serious topic in major science journals. In major scientific trials that attempt to reproduce the results of scientific observations and measurements, it seems that around 50 percent of recently published science is wrong, because the results can’t be replicated by others.

And if observations and measurements can’t be replicated, it isn’t really science – it is still, at best, hypothesis, or even just opinion. This is not a controversial topic anymore – science, or at least the system of checking the science we are using, is failing us.

The crisis started in biomedical areas, where pharmaceutical companies in the past decade found that up to 80 percent of university and institutional science results that they tested were wrong. It is now recognized that the problem is much more widespread than the biomedical sciences. And that is where I got into big trouble.

I have published numerous scientific papers showing that much of the “science” claiming damage to the reef is either plain wrong or greatly exaggerated. As just one example, coral growth rates that have supposedly collapsed along the reef have, if anything, increased slightly.

Reefs that are supposedly smothered by dredging sediment actually contain great coral. And mass bleaching events along the reef that supposedly serve as evidence of permanent human-caused devastation are almost certainly completely natural and even cyclical.

These allegedly major catastrophic effects that recent science says were almost unknown before the 1980s are mainly the result of a simple fact: large-scale marine science did not get started on the reef until the 1970s.

By a decade later, studies of the reef had exploded, along with the number of marine biologists doing them. What all these scientists lacked, however, was historical perspective. There are almost no records of earlier eras to compare with current conditions. Thus, for many scientists studying reef problems, the results are unprecedented, and almost always seen as catastrophic and even world-threatening.

The only problem is that it isn’t so. The Great Barrier Reef is in fact in excellent condition. It certainly goes through periods of destruction where huge areas of coral are killed from hurricanes, starfish plagues and coral bleaching. However, it largely regrows within a decade to its former glory. Some parts of the southern reef, for example, have seen a tripling of coral in six years after they were devastated by a particularly severe cyclone.

Reefs have similarities to Australian forests, which require periodic bushfires. It looks terrible after the bushfire, but the forests always regrow. The ecosystem has evolved with these cycles of death and regrowth.

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.

The main system of science quality control is called peer review. Nowadays, it usually takes the form of a couple of anonymous reviewing scientists having a quick check over the work of a colleague in the field.

Peer review is commonly understood as painstaking re-examination by highly qualified experts in academia that acts as a real check on mistaken work. It isn’t.  In the real world, peer review is often cursory and not always even knowledgeable. It might take reviewers only a morning to do.

Scientific results are rarely reanalyzed and experiments are not replicated. The types of checks that would be routine in private industry are just not done.

I have asked the question: Is this good enough quality control to make environmental decisions worth billions of dollars that are now adversely affecting every major industry in northeast Australia?

Our sugar industry has been told to make dramatic reductions in fertilizer application, potentially reducing productivity; our ports have dredging restrictions that threaten their productivity; scientists demand that coal mines be closed; and tourists are scared away because the reef is supposedly almost dead – not worth seeing anymore.

Last August I made this point on Sky News in Australia in promotion of a chapter I wrote in “Climate Change: The Facts 2017,” published by the Australian free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The basic problem is that we can no longer trust the scientific organizations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even things like the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies … 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,” I said.

The response to these comments by my employer, James Cook University, was extraordinary.

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.


Most of the story we are already familiar with. But I was shocked to see that he was gagged in this way.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    February 9, 2018 10:54 am

    ” I was shocked to see that he was gagged in this way.” – makes us wonder what they had, to hide.

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    February 9, 2018 10:55 am

    Unbelievable in any democracy: doubly so in a university

    • February 9, 2018 11:08 am

      It may be a democracy, but the voters have no say in what elected Governments do after they are elected. These days there is very little choice between the major parties – they are all equally incompetent and full of stupid politicians.

      As Einstein might have said “Only two things are infinite, the universe and politicians’ stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

      • dave permalink
        February 9, 2018 11:53 am

        The relevant Australian Law is actually quite simple.

        (1) Australia signed a reasonable U.N. Convention on Human Rights and incorporated it into domestic law. Victory for everyone.

        (2) One of the rights emphatically guaranteed (Art.19) is “freedom of expression.”
        Victory for Ridd.

        (3) However there is a flaw – or safeguard – in the law called “reasonable limitations.”
        Victory for the University.

        (4) However there has been established by interpretation a “safeguard against the safeguard.”
        Victory for Ridd

        (5) there is a final, ultimate “safeguard against the safeguard”
        Crushing victory for Ridd

        To be more precise

        (1) refers to developments since 1986.

        (2) is very explicit and general

        (3) one limitation on free expression is that it is not to be used to “injure reputation.”


        (4) no limitation shall act so as to extinguish the right itself.


        (5) anyone claiming the power to impose a limitation must act proportionately and show that exercise of the power is absolutely the only way to proceed.

        Clearly, the WHOLE PURPOSE AND INTENT of the University was to silence Ridd COMPLETELY, contrary to (4), and TO MAKE an example of him by disproportionate action, contrary to (5).

        “Injuring the reputation of colleagues, boo hoo”, was never going to work, since the prevailing myth of academic protocol is that matters are supposed to be settled by robust public argument!

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 9, 2018 1:07 pm

      Unbelievable? RNot any more, Jack, and if truth be told not for a long time.

      The activist left was already at work in the teacher training colleges when I was trained in the ‘60s — both among staff and students. My daughter was experiencing the same thing in the mid-80s, the NUS “politicians” even then being scornful of the Rag Committees which they saw as frivolous. Everyone when not studying was supposed to be out with a placard protesting for the currently fashionable cause. Certainly not out enjoying themselves.

      The left has always been active in academia. Read C P Snow’s Strangers and Brothers corpus. Fiction maybe, but (I am reliably informed) a not unfair reflection of academia as far back as the 30s and 40s. Even among scientists.

      The situation has reached what might be called “critical mass” since about the mid-90s as the intellectual (ha!) left has genuinely come to believe that the rightness of its philosophy is so self-evident that deviation from it is so deviant as to be criminal.

      You want a simple answer as to why this happened? Because the right stopped challenging it. The right shifted left as the left become ever louder. I make no personal judgment as to right or wrong but to take one obvious example, there was never any groundswell of public opinion for gay marriage. This was a left wing “concoction” which gave gay people nothing that they did not already have through civil partnerships. But it was another salvo fired at centuries of human tradition and for that reason alone worth doing. According to the left.

      • Robin Humphreys permalink
        February 9, 2018 1:49 pm

        And the irony is that the left don’t seem to understand that prior to 1977 and the advent of IVF, gay marriage would have been a contributory factor in the extinction of the human race!

      • Tom O permalink
        February 9, 2018 2:15 pm

        This is for Robin’s comment. Actually, they are fully aware of the fact that gay marriage would “reduce population growth, possibly reversing it.” That is the agenda behind the movement. That is the agenda behind transgenderism. That is the agenda behind teaching children that if it feels good, it is good, don’t worry, be happy. That is the agenda behind making the so called white races abhorrent about their heritage. Population reduction. It really isn’t difficult to see it, but you do have to open your mind and think about it to accept it. The battle is between a controlled human population and the potential of human destiny. There are no superior or inferior “races” because there is only one human race. Environmental conditions affects how quickly we develop thus giving the appearance of superiority and inferiority. So if we can bring the so called third world up to the same level of existence as the first world, we could finally start to realize the real potential of the human race. I don’t understand why the struggle is to do the opposite, and insure that they don’t.

      • mothcatcher permalink
        February 9, 2018 6:07 pm

        I can echo what Mike Jackson has eloquently said. The threat has always been in the education system, but the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago has freed people from the fear of the left and rendered them insensible to what is actually happening.

      • Rowland H permalink
        February 10, 2018 10:01 am

        Well, at least Bermuda has had the courage to reverse the gay marriage law.

      • dave permalink
        February 10, 2018 10:31 am

        It is interesting that Bermuda held a referendum on ‘same sex unions’ [sic – it was not a referendum on homosexuality, which is legal there] on the same day as the U.K. voted in the Brexit referendum. And Bermudians expressed disapproval of the law which, it is fair to say, had been forced on them, in the ratio of 2:1, on a turn-out of 49%

        The sentiment expressed in Bermuda (of those who were bothered to vote) has now been fully bowed to – unlike in the U.K.,where various, furious, rear-guard actions are on-going, covered by a smoke-screen of pretend “negotiations.”

        Funnily enough, the only time I went to Bermuda I thought it was the pinkest place I had ever been!

  3. Phoenix44 permalink
    February 9, 2018 11:29 am

    The only surprise is that it has taken so long to reach “real science” rather than the social sciences which have long prevented certain views being held and discussed.

    This is pure politics. For decades now, people who hold certain political views have been clearing universities of those they disagree with. It may not be a co-ordinated thing, but it has happened, as we see in the voting patterns in the US and the UK, as well as surveys of political views of academics and lecturers.

    The damage done to our economies as well as science from this is immeasurable, with the poorest and most vulnerable – as ever, look at Venezuela – suffering the most

    • JerryC permalink
      February 9, 2018 12:17 pm

      The long march through the institutions.

    • oldephartte2 permalink
      February 10, 2018 9:30 pm

      ” It may not be a co-ordinated thing,”
      Then why does it in fact seem co-ordinated ? Furthering an agenda at the expense of individuals does require infringement of reasonable liberties. I am reminded of Winnipeg’s Altermeyer and his “The Authoritarians/” It isn’t a matter of what appearances are when policy suppresses reasonable assessment in favour of ‘political correctness’ rather than academic freedom.
      Denis Rancourt and Roger A. Pielke Jr. are only two of those who have essentially had their employment interfered with because of political suppression of individual conscience.
      Rancourt has a blog ‘The Activist Teacher’ which lays out many of these concerns. Pielke is a published author and speaker about the misrepresentations which accompany what is incorrectly referred to as ‘science’ when it only has a representation of it.

  4. Robin Humphreys permalink
    February 9, 2018 11:51 am

    My old Biochemistry Professor, in the late 1960s, told us that “if anyone tells you there is a consensus in science they have their hands in your wallet”. Nuff said.

  5. Roy permalink
    February 9, 2018 12:33 pm

    Thank God for Jordan B Peterson! This guy is well worth listening to. I hope he can start to reverse the trend.

  6. Coeur de Lion permalink
    February 9, 2018 1:32 pm

    What was lovely to see was that crowdfunding raised the necessary 95000 US dollars for legal expenses from just people like thee and me in about 48 hours. Did that get into the vile BBC? No.

  7. February 9, 2018 1:38 pm

    I have said for many years that the least diverse place in the United States was the university or college campus.

    Once those who cried for free speech and no limits in the 1960’s now run the places. And there is no dissent allowed to their ideas. The idea of “academic freedom” is now a joke.

  8. steve kent permalink
    February 9, 2018 2:48 pm

    Shoot the messenger… that always works !!!

  9. February 9, 2018 3:08 pm

    I listened to this week’s edition of ‘Inside Science’ on the BBC. I fully expected this issue to be addressed since the programe tells us it “investigates the news in science and science in the news”. I tell you that I was astonished that this was not the main item of science news and in fact was not even mentioned – completely shocked I was!

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    February 9, 2018 7:50 pm

    For professional reasons I have a hatred of the BBC which is often reinforced. Harrabin and Shukman should be fired for conspiracy.

  11. Broadlands permalink
    February 9, 2018 9:51 pm

    The sea surface temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef can be retrieved and they show no special increase during the recent coral “bleaching” .

    Studies have shown that UV radiation is important, not “global warming”.

    • mikewaite permalink
      February 9, 2018 10:35 pm

      The Nature link that you have provided , Broadlands, states in the abstract that exceptionally clear water (and hence higher UV transmittance ) contributed to the bleaching of Caribbean reefs . A previous post here, just yesterday , :
      predicts an imminent drop in UV through a natural solar cycle.
      Will this help to resolve the “crisis” (“crisis – what crisis”) on the GBR without a descent into the hysteria that the BBC amongst other bodies likes to provoke ?
      Incidentally still no comments on this situation in “The Conversation” that i could find although freedom of speech issues in Universities have been raised.

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