Academic Freedom VS JCU: Reef Scientist Peter Ridd Vows to Fight On

James Cook University professor Peter Ridd. Picture: Cameron Laird

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t JoNova; Courageous Reef Scientist Peter Ridd needs your help. He plans to continue the battle against James Cook University, to protect the right of Australian professors to be uncollegial, their right to publicly criticise the work of other scientists. Ridd intends to appeal a court judgement which which suggests Academic Freedom as most people understand it is a “historical concept.

From Peter Ridd’s GoFundMe page;

We have had a setback, but my lawyers have carefully gone over the judgement, and believe there are numerous strong grounds for appeal to the High Court of Australia. We are re-opening the fundraising campaign and will carry on with the legal action.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/peter-ridd-legal-action-fund-2019

In the final analysis, I was fired for saying that, because of systemic problems with quality assurance, work from the JCU coral reef centre, which also publishes extensively on climate change, was untrustworthy. I believe what I said was true and have given plenty of published evidence to support the statement. After I was fired, it was proven beyond doubt that I was correct when a group of seven international scientists who audited eight of the major studies from the JCU coral reef centre found them ALL to be 100% wrong. You can’t get much more scientifically untrustworthy than that. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/ex-judge-investigate-controversial-marine-research.

I don’t take the decision to appeal lightly. The financial and emotional costs are high and legal action is fraught with uncertainties. In addition to the $300K Cheryl and I have spent on this case, I have received from you, and about four thousand other people, over $800K. It is matter that rests heavily on my conscience. You have already done your bit, but I’d appreciate if you could share this with other people. I also thank you for your words of support to continue the fight.

We have an excellent chance, but we might lose. There are, however, too many important principles at stake to walk away at this stage.

This case has already demonstrated a major problem with Academic Freedom of Speech at a university. This ultimately affects what academics are prepared to say on controversial topics such as climate change, or the fate of the Great Barrier Reef. The Commonwealth government has already signalled its intention to consider adapting the French Review Model Code to prevent a similar case. This may be the most important long-term implication of the case. Ironically, even if we lose in the High Court, it will demonstrate beyond doubt that the work contracts at universities have the effect of crushing free speech. I have little doubt the Education Minister will have something to say about that once the legal action is over.

So even if we lose the High Court challenge, we still win the ultimate political battle.

Many thanks again for your support

Peter

For those interested in the detailed 80 page judgement, this is the link.

https://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/full/2020/2020fcafc0123

Why will this appeal cost so much? Legal action is horrendously expensive especially when going to the highest court in Australia. There is a large amount of legal documentation to be reviewed in order to put forward the strongest arguments backed with case law evidence. Also the Federal Court judgement must be forensically examined.

Note 1: We are just continuing the last gofundme campaign which raised $100K rather than start a brand new campaign. So the counter starts at $100K. The history of all the appeals is below.

Note 2: for overseas people, the High Court is Australia’s highest court. 

Note 3: My lawyers, led by Stuart Wood QC AM, are of the highest calibre and greatly respected in the legal fraternity.

Note 4: If we end up with excess funds, they will be donated to help the cause of academic freedom especially for those who have expressed controversial ideas and then been penalised.

Note 5: For those who would rather make a direct donation by bank transfer, my phone number is in the white pages. Peter RIdd Townsville

Note 6: Apologies to multiple donors if this is a duplicate message

Source: Peter Ridd GoFundMe Page

People who have waded through the entire judgment have dug up some truly eyebrow raising passages.

From JoNova’s website;

The judges reasoning is essentially that academic freedom doesn’t mean freedom in academia because J S Mill, John Locke and Isiah Berlin didn’t have any facebook trolls.

From Gideon Rozner at the IPA:

… this decision has proven how serious the freedom of speech crisis on campus is. You can read the judgment here, but this part in particular – found at paragraph 94 – is absolutely unbelievable:

There is little to be gained in resorting to historical concepts and definitions of academic freedom. Whatever the concept once meant, it has evolved to take into account contemporary circumstances which present a challenge to it, including the internet, social media and trolling, none of which informed the view of persons such as J S Mill, John Locke, Isaiah Berlin and others who have written on the topic.

The judges argue that academic freedom is indispensable to universities, but is dispensable enough to toss to the wind. The right of Professors to speak is now determined by students who are demanding safe spaces where their favourite delusions can hide. The judges admit they are in uncharted territory.

Australian law is now set by teenage twitter mobs.

The court went on to quote a passage from an academic textbook that endorses the view that intellectual freedom is an outdated concept:

Academic freedom plays an indispensable role in fulfilling the mission of the university… But a host of new challenges have arisen in recent years in response to the changing norms and expectations of the university. With the increasing role of the Internet in research, the rise of social media in both professional and extramural exchanges, and student demands for accommodations such as content warnings and safe spaces, the parameters of, and challenges to, academic freedom often leave us in unchartered territory.

Source: JoNova

If scientists no longer enjoy academic freedom, if they risk termination for making a public comment the University Chancellor or Dean does not support, then they are no longer free to challenge or condemn pseudoscience. Scientific truth will subordinated to other considerations.

If this judgement is allowed to stand it could affect more than Australia. Sometimes courts reference judgements made in similar cases in other jurisdictions, even other nations, when searching for an applicable precedent. Next time a dean or chancellor challenges a US or British professor on the grounds the professors public comments violated their safe space, a court judge looking for applicable precedent could very well cite the Ridd case as the reason for their decision.

Please provide a donation to help Peter Ridd defend the right of academics to speak their minds, without having to check whether their department head or university dean or chancellor or students approve of their views.

62 thoughts on “Academic Freedom VS JCU: Reef Scientist Peter Ridd Vows to Fight On

  1. There is a much greater existential threat to society from courts writing shadow legislation and regulation than from anything in man made global warming. This is no different than Putin’s court, Maduro’s court, or Xi’s new dictates over HK.

  2. I will be sending in $100 USD. I want to be part of this movement that has the capability to shape Academic Freedom, and general freedom of speech. It is a slippery slope, this silencing of academic debate, and that can get away in a heart beat and take a long time to recover. Sooner or later, this beast will come for all of us, so we all hang together, or we hang individually.

  3. The Australian High Court has a distinct record of overturning judgements handed down by lower courts.

    And inadequately legislated laws get re-interpreted for precedent-setting by the High Court.

    In taxation matters, the Australian Tax Office often funds both sides of legal challenges to their application of tax law in the High Court, in order to get clarity and precedent established once & for all.

    I think it behooves the Ozzie Government to take both-sides funding of Ridd’s case on as a matter of ongoing public confidence in the administration & application of the Fair Work Act.

  4. I love the way Australian law can give the same weight to the argument of an unpublished, non peer-reviewed troll as a multiply-published scientist. It’s as if coral bleaching can be determined by the number of likes and re-tweets by people who are least qualified to comment.

    • The case has nothing to do with coral or peer review which shows how little you understand the case. It is a workplace case of whether an employer can stop you criticizing a fellow worker outside the workplace even if that comment is true and not defamatory.

  5. This is how important this is—https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2020/07/22/colleges-should-encourage-stem-faculty-and-students-participate-public-policy From AAAS–“Even before the pandemic hit, reports from Harvard University, the National Academies and others called for more science expertise in government and mechanisms to provide more pathways for scientists and engineers to become active in policy.” Sounds so good????

    This is what part of what Sigma Xi (The Scientific Research Honor Society, joined AAAS in climate policy, etc.) is pushing in a meeting on July 30–“A discussion on how scientists can use their expertise to shape policy as a career. ” While some of this is reasonable I have yet to find any consideration of the dangers to credibility and study of the history of science relative to this endeavor. There are lot of examples in fisheries and wildlife management, medicine and others as a precautionary tale of what this has the potential to repeat, even exacerbate, mistakes of the past and present. Some number of academics are suggesting overthrowing democracy, methodology probably variable. They have overproduced, now need jobs, but when the umpires make the rules, who will be the umpires? Same problem in journalism. Save us from those who want to save us! Churches allowed exception.

  6. Having read the judgement the problem appears to be more about how Ridd said it rather than what he said. Some of his comments were not collegial by a long shot. No excuse for that I’m afraid.

    Anyway it seems the government is going to intervene in Ridd’s favor.

    • Terry,
      In other words, he wasn’t polite enough. Nothing subjective about that (he says sarcastically). Personally, find stark honesty refreshing in a world where everybody seems to be on a hair-trigger and dancing around on eggshells.

    • Define “collegial”
      That seems like one of the words that these days gets interpreted by users through the lens of “what benefits me”
      For example, the term “fair” these days always seems to mean “what’s in this for me”

      • Mr. says “define collegial.” According to some humpty-dumpty judges in Australia, it means what they say it means, nothing more or less. Doesn’t mean what it meant yesterday, or what Mr. thinks it means today. The quotes I see are strong evidence that these judges are able to toss all precedent aside and apply a new meaning utterly untethered to the old understanding of the meaning of words. Doesn’t matter what JCU, Ridd and all brilliant thinkers of the past thought “academic freedom” meant when they wrote the contract, it means what the judges say it means. Because they’re smarter than Mills et al. Hubris writ large.

    • Collegiate now seems to mean, never disagree with a professor who is bringing in lots of money.

      • No. Impossible. Such a mild comment would be deemed non collegiate and he would be on the road to dismissal.

    • You sound like a stooge for JCU. Have you any idea of the egregiousness of the behavior of people at JCU wrt the status of the Great Barrier Reef? How many lives these pampered ‘researchers’ were threatening to upturn – just to justify their narcissistic worldview?

      In view of the actual situation (which I’ve recently reviewed, so I’m familiar with it), Ridd’s comments were remarkably civil. I don’t think I would have been so restrained were I in his position.

  7. Is high court left or right there ? Left is different from liberal. Liberals today have more in common with conservatives that then they do with leftists.

    • That does not apply in Canada. Liberals up here are well left of centre. NDP are far left of centre and Conservatives are centre-right.

      • You mean conservatives are center-left. The cpc is closer to the left side of the spectrum than Christian’s liberals were in the late 90’s. We no longer have a right leaning party that has an actual chance of being considered a party in parliament.

        • When socialists are considered centrists, your political axis is so badly tilted that it is in the process of falling over.

  8. The internet, being a viewpoint amplifier, is the reason that Academic Freedom is even *more* important than in the past. These judges got it exactly bass-ackwards.

  9. Is there a way to send a check so that we don’t have to pay the $2.9% plus $0.30 fee to transaction operator?
    Consider that if we collectively gave $1,000,000 thru the default method (I don’t want to mention their name), that would result in $29,000 being rerouted away from Peter Ridd. $29,000!

  10. Can someone point me to an objective analysis of the Court ruling. Unfortunately this post is more confusing than enlightening.

  11. He received a second substantial contribution from me after he updated us ~4000 contributors by email two days ago on his decision.

  12. ” . . . student demands for accommodations such as content warnings and safe spaces, the parameters of, and challenges to, academic freedom often leave us in unchartered (sic) territory.”

    Well, vie-chancellors, that wouldn’t be the case if you and all other people in authority stopped PANDERING to every whim of the perennially outraged millennials.

    As well as a pandemic afflicting the world at the moment, we’re in the grips of a PANDERmic.

  13. Professor Ridd:
    Unlike the Australian taxpayers who are forced to fund the university’s wasteful litigation, those who contributed to your legal team did so voluntarily, and presumably with full awareness of the possibility of losing. Your conscience should not trouble you for doing a good thing.

  14. “Scientific truth will subordinated to other considerations.”

    This has already happened, is worse now than ever and ‘other’ is well established.

    “The subordination of science to political considerations must be stopped.

  15. In “The New Left”, Ayn Rand discusses the problem with students “commanding” university administrations, and the serious consequences. That was published decades ago. Only seems to have gotten worse.

  16. Dr. Ridd,

    Here is another donation to you in recognition of your skill, courage and honor. Best wishes in your continuing struggle for basic academic freedom.

  17. “Whatever the concept once meant, it has evolved to take into account contemporary circumstances which present a challenge to it, including the internet, social media and trolling, none of which informed the view of persons such as J S Mill, John Locke, Isaiah Berlin and others who have written on the topic.”

    As near as I can figure out, the court has ruled that academic freedom can only be permitted in those instances where nobody can find out what you are saying.
    The fact that opinions can get wide audiences quickly means that academic freedom becomes too dangerous to tolerate.

  18. Peter Ridd is not the first to fall under the JCU administration’s wrath
    Prof Bob Carter was appointed at JCU in 1981 and was Head of the Geology Department until 1998 when he stepped down following a disagreement with the university management on an ethical matter. He took early retirement but continued at the university as unpaid adjunct Research Fellow.
    This position was reviewed I 2012 and terminated (without discussion) because the Geology department staff did not like his views on climate change and too much administrative time was being spent defending him against outside criticism of his climate change views
    JCU claims to be ‘inclusive’ – but only if you have the ‘right’, ‘safe’ ideas – like the German Democratic Republic was ‘Democratic’.
    JCU is not a ‘safe’ space if you are not collegial (support the consensus right or wrong) or if you have the wrong ideas; even more so it seems when, like Prof Ridd, you have the data to support those ideas

    • “hear, hear! Howard
      God rest his soul – Prof Bob Carter – JCU hierarchy really are a pack of bullies

      -human nature at its worst – let’s hope after the judgement falls

      we can chant ;

      Oi Oi Oi

  19. It happened before in China. It was called the “Cultural Revolution.”

  20. With the increasing role of the Internet in research, the rise of social media in both professional and extramural exchanges, and student demands for accommodations such as content warnings and safe spaces, the parameters of, and challenges to, academic freedom often leave us in unchartered territory.

    No, they don’t.

    Freedom of individual speech and of research take complete precedence over social media, professional and extramural exchanges, and most especially student demands for accommodation.

    The weak-minded twits who wrote that academic textbook are making the implicit claim for superior valuation of student demands; superior valuation of social media, and superior valuation of professional and extramural exchanges.

    That is, they’re claiming that those venues have the freedom to suppress an individual’s freedom of speech and of research. Not only are there no ethical grounds to suppose such things, but these academic second-raters don’t seem to realize that their argument is self-contradictory.

    After all, how can there be student demands at all, without the freedom of speech accorded to individual students? Likewise, expression within all the other claimed superior venues requires freedom of individual speech for their proponents.

    The same could be said for the authorial twits. Even to publish their book requires the freedom of speech they deny be accorded to them.

    These academics express intellectual cretinism, and so does the judge.

    • “Free speech for me, but not for thee” increasingly seems to be the Left’s operating standard. And they harness the twitter and facebook mobs to enforce it for them. But the problem with mobs, is they are like a wildfire; they can turn on you at any moment.

  21. the Kruddmeister just donated. Fingers crossed that the judges aren’t activists, looks like the appeal judges were, unbelievable decision.

  22. Exposing fraudulent research seems to be in another category besides academic freedom. And by “fraudulent”, I mean this in the softer sense of the concept, as in a reasonable person’s deep interest in looking at all the facts, before stating a reckless conclusion, in which many professionals might place their trust in its truthfulness.

    • Who judges what is right and appropriate? Without academic freedom there is no freedom to expose fraudulent or poorly conducted research.

  23. I have the strong feeling that while JCU may win the battle, they will lose the war

    Goliath crushes David with public money. JCU cannot get out of this without egg on their moosh

    There will be a reckoning – I betcha

    What the left do not get is that the more they shout and dictate, the more people move in the opposite direction

    • I fear they will win the battle and the war, and then hide it as if it never happened. This is Australia remember.

  24. This ongoing case raises a deep question about the court system.
    Just how free are the judges to make fair judgements?
    They are agents of the state because they are paid for by the state. They have a subconscious mindset to protect their employer no matter how “ethical” they may claim to be.
    What is to stop the state from just adding more and more appeal procedures, until the appellant is worn down to dust, both economically and emotionally?
    We must keep funding Peter’s cause because the state called JCU in this case, uses our money via taxation to oppose him.

  25. “their right to publicly criticise the work of other scientists” id private criticism doesnt get an inaccurate article withdraw then it has to be public.

    Better uncollegiate than fraudulent.

  26. Contributed $100. Peter Ridd is a genuine “hero” for continuing this battle.

    The appeal judgement in a nutshell:

    The JCU Code of Conduct is not subordinate to the Enterprise Agreement. (technical judgement)

    The terms of “Academic Freedom” and “Intellectual Freedom” have no meaningful historical basis, and can be construed to mean whatever anybody wants at any time, so the inherent conflict between the COC and the EA is academic, and JCU can do whatever it wants. (philosophical judgement)

    Regardless of the what the High Court decides, this is clearly a geopolitical issue and requires political intervention and clarification. Note that this could work both ways…side with JCU and mandate that you can’t hurt anybody’s feelings, or side with history and countless bodies and note that the fact that you don’t like my opinion is meaningless.

    While there is clearly a back and forth on this conflict, the direction is clearly towards the latter (ie too bad if you don’t like what I say). If you are pessimistic about this direction…pick up any good history book.

    Ethan Brand

  27. Dear Prof. Ridd, as a man of science myself, I have always struggled to look for real science in each and every scientific work, and very often found very little.
    I contributed for your struggle for basic scientific truth and freedom.
    Best wishes for victory against blind activists!

  28. This whole thing looks really bad. The judges seem to think any meaning of a word has to be interpreted according to contemporary views (Orwell would say: according to newspeak…). A few examples: SCIENCE is dictated by consensus (97%????) and not by experimental evidence. Even worse: TRUTH will be defined in the future by consensus (number of clicks???), and not by factual evidence. The nightmares of Lyssenko (politically rigged science) and politically rigged justice are again crawling out of their leftist dark pits… This has to be stopped. Prof. Ridd is right to bring this to the supreme court. I’ve also donated.

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