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JCU censures its own Professor for telling the truth “… there is nothing wrong with the Barrier Reef…”

The Australian Institute of Marine Studies has been caught out telling porkies….

by Don Aitkin

Well, the pressure to conform is happening again, and at Professor Bob Carter’s old university, James Cook University in Townsville. The late Bob Carter was censured by JCU some years ago for ridiculing the Global Warming  theory.     This time the proposed villain is JCU professor of physics, Peter Ridd, whose interests include coastal oceanography, the effects of sediments upon coral reefs, past and future climates and atmospheric modelling. I have met Peter Ridd, and I know something about his work. He has been head of the Department of Physics for ten years. His intellectual reach is wider than my short summary here, but I have put in what gives him some status in the world of global warming.

Professor Ridd’s comments on Sky news, to the effect that “We can no longer trust the scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies… The science is coming out not properly checked, tested or replicated, and this is a great shame.”

JCU Professor Peter Ridd said that a paper by JCU scientists foretelling the end of the reef was simply ‘laughable’. Bleaching is a natural event, and occurred long before there was human activity anywhere near the reef. What is more, reefs recover, sometimes quite quickly. The University is competing for research funds thus it has to create a doomsday scenario.

He has been in the news before, drawing attention to the need to change the peer review system, and to what he sees as exaggerated claims about the dangers that threaten the Great Barrier Reef, alleging that scientists or spokesmen for scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and government organisations like the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) were not behaving in a scientifically scrupulous way in announcing new claims and about danger. He was not alone in saying these things. The chairman of GBRMPA himself protested that headlines saying that ’93 per cent of the reef is ‘critically dead’ or that 35 per cent or even 50 per cent of the entire reef is now gone’ were rubbish. A former chairman said that ‘environmentalist were ‘exaggerating the impact of coral bleaching for political and financial gain’. Ridd said that a paper by JCU scientists foretelling the end of the reef was simply ‘laughable’. Bleaching is a natural event, and occurred long before there was human activity anywhere near the reef. What is more, reefs recover, sometimes quite quickly.

Nonetheless, the university told him he was ‘not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues’. Do it again, he was told, and we’ll try you for ‘serious misconduct’. I’ve written about this before, and indeed the above is an introduction to the news that JCU indeed decided to discipline Professor Ridd, and started the process in late August last year. What for? The University’s statement is that it was disturbed by Professor Ridd’s comments on Sky news, to the effect that ‘We can no longer trust the scientific organisations like the Australian Institute of marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies… The science is coming out not properly checked, tested or replicated, and this is a great shame.’ Such statements, said the University, were ‘not in the collegial and academic spirit of the search for knowledge, understanding and truth’. Further, his comments had denigrated AIMS and were ‘not respectful and courteous’. In a letter tabled with the court, the University said that his comments could damage the reputation of AIMS and the University’s relationships with it.

On this occasion, Professor Ridd decided he had had enough, and launched his own court case against the CEO, claiming conflict of interest, apprehended bias and actual bias. It happens that the University’s Vice-Chancellor is a director of AIMS, which produces an obvious conflict of interest. The University then told Ridd he was not to ‘disclose or discuss these matters with media or in any other public forum’. His lawyers pointed out that either the University was incompetent or it was guided by bias, which the University’s lawyers denied.

Peter Ridd was kind enough to write to me  about the alleged misconduct involved in talking to the media about the misconduct allegation, and later alerted me to the fact that there was deemed to be further misconduct  involved in writing to me! I wish him well in all of this, which is so unnecessary, and so inimical to the cause of scholarship, argument and the advancement of knowledge.

I can appreciate the dilemma facing the Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University, for there is no doubt that research grant money is really important. I have to say that I did not have a comparable problem in my eleven years in the role, despite the pressure on everyone to get grant money if they could. Nonetheless, there is no doubt where I think the right is. A scientist who says that other people’s work is flawed has to show cause. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef that is not hard to do. There has been a lot of loud noise based on small pieces of work. It is not widely understood that the Reef is a vast system, and that it is not closely monitored. You would need hundreds, thousands, of researchers and assistants to do that. And there are lots of natural and cyclic causes for changes to the Reef’s coral. These events have happened before, and they will happen again. The correct response from those he has criticised is to respond in the proper way, show that Ridd is wrong, and that their work can withstand his criticism.

To the best of my knowledge that has not happened. Instead, Professor Ridd has been attacked in an ad hominem way. It seems to me utterly wrong for his own University to try to ‘discipline’ him so that he does not criticise others. That is not what science is about. It doesn’t matter what relationships JCU has with AIMS. If the AIMS work is poor, or inflated claims have been made about the importance of its research, the University ought to be able to point that out, and suggest that better work ought to be done, or that claims should be more subdued.

Ah, but this is the Reef, an icon of the environmental movement. And there is a lot of money about for ‘research’ that is ‘consistent’ with the notion that doom is at hand. Like Professor Ridd, I think that the University has gone down utterly the wrong track, and the sooner it departs from it the better. As it happens, the book I referred to at the beginning of this essay, No End of a Lesson, gives instances of other high-handed behaviour from Vice-Chancellors. They are not emperors, and should never give the impression that they think they are.


Sydney Harbour sea levels rise less than 1 mm since 1886

Cairns residents living on the coastline need not worry about going under water. You will have to wait for a few millennia. The $20 million given by the Federal Government to Torres Strait islanders for the construction of sea walls, ostensibly to keep out sea water from an alleged increase in sea levels is perplexing. Have the islanders investigated the natural geological occurrence of sinking islands?
Measuring sea levels

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 – by Don Aitkin

This is my last foray into the SCM document on ‘climate change’ that I have investigated twice before, here and here. But before I get into it, readers in New South Wales will have noticed that the Government of their State has issued drafts of a new approach to how local government councils should determine building regulations for coastal communities. The new approach simply ignores the IPCC’s predictions of rapidly rising sea levels. The Minister’s press release says: Since the original Coastal Protection Act was enacted in 1979 our understanding of coastal processes has improved dramatically. We know our coastline is not a fixed object, but a dynamic, ever-changing environment with a range of natural processes.

The new approach has a three-month consultation period, and my guess is that the Greens and others who believe in the orthodoxy will run a campaign against the draft. I hope the Minister is confident and determined. He would gain some support from a droll speech intended to be given by our PM at the Paris meeting, and written by Geoff Derrick, a sceptical geologist. You can get it from him at geoffd. Derrick includes a graph displaying the trend in sea-levels in Sydney Harbour over the period 1886 to 2010.


As you can see there are highs and lows, but the outcome is a tiny increase over a century and a quarter. The Sydney region is geologically pretty stable, and there’s not much sign of anything dramatic there.

OK, on to the SCM paper, or, for newcomers, a paper by the Société de Calcul Mathématique SA in France entitled ‘The battle against global warming: an absurd, costly and pointless crusade’. What interests me about the long paper is that it is mostly directed at problems of measurement, and it assembles those problems in a succinct and accessible fashion. The paper points out, once again, that we don’t have a lot of accurate data that extend over time. If one wanted to make a case that the oceans were raising at a faster rate (than when?) one would need a good deal of data over time. We just don’t have it.

What we do have are tide gauges and satellite estimates. The gauges don’t go back past about 1800, and the satellite measurements start in 1992. It is estimated that the end of the last ice age, say 20,000 years ago, was followed by an irregular melting of ice, which increased the height of the oceans by about 120 metres. That’s an average of about 6.6 mm a year. That process stopped several thousand years ago, and since then there has been a much slower increase. Tide gauges put it at about 1 mm a year, the satellites at about 3 mm a year. Given that tidal changes can run at metres a day, that a warming sea will increase in volume and thus rise, and that the Antarctic and Greenland ice melts vary in output over time, to be able to say with hand on heart that sea-level rises of a millimetre or two are worrying is an extraordinary claim, one which needs extraordinary evidence. Alas, it just isn’t there.


Saibai Island Torres Strait

Coconut Island

Moa Island

The CSM paper goes on to pile even more possibilities on top of those already mentioned. Our planet is changing its shape as time goes on; an undersea mountain will have a higher sea level above it; the earth is rebounding following the loss of kilometres of ice above it; variations occur in the internal temperature of the planet; our rivers abrade the land, dumping earth onto the seabed and thereby raising it; el Ninos have a powerful effect on sea levels; and so on.

Why are we so exercised about sea levels, given the problems of measuring them accurately? Millions of human beings live on or close to the sea, and are naturally interested in what is happening there. Australia is an excellent example, with all our major cities save Canberra on the coastline. So it is easy to run a scary story about the possible flooding of coastal suburbs, the loss of great sections of Bangladesh, the submerging of Kiribati and Tuvalu, and other awful possibilities.

And, of course, so much these days comes from ‘what the models say’. About the use of models the SCM paper is politely scathing: Conclusions based on any kind of model should be disregarded. As the SCM specializes in building mathematical models, we should also be recognized as competent to criticize them. Models are useful when attempting to review our knowledge, but they should not be used as an aid to decision-making until they have been validated. Now, validating a climate model requires thousands of years.

I return to a question I have asked myself many time before. How did we get into this? How did our measuring instruments become subverted to assist in something else altogether? As Geoff Derrick shows, in the piece I mentioned at the beginning, William Dawes, who came with the First Fleet, established an observatory on what is now know as Dawes Point and, among other things, kept accurate temperature measurements for the new colony. They seem remarkably similar in their trend to the average for the last 150 years, but that’s not really the point. Dawes was a scientist and a competent astronomer. He was laying the foundations of knowledge regarding aspects of weather.

Early settlers inland did much the same. They measured river heights, took temperature measurements, and collected rainfall data. Why? They just didn’t know anything about this new land, or area. They needed to know when the rain came, how high the rivers went in flood, when was the right time to plough, how reliable was the water supply, and how cold it might get in winter. Their purpose was straightforward: we are new here and we need to know a lot.

Of course, some of their measuring instruments weren’t all that good, and they were not meticulous with when they took the measurements. Some of their data has been lost. There are great gaps. But slowly, over time, our society got better at it. Australia was one of the early investors in good data of all kinds, censuses, temperature, tide gauges and the like.

To take this great body of data of varying quality and quantity, and ‘homogenise’ it so that its truth, spotty though it is, is pushed aside, but the message of ‘climate change’ is somehow revealed, is to prostitute science — and to dismiss the work of numerous people who maintained the data in the past.

Those who do this do not seem to realise that they are thereby reducing the status that science and scientists have had in the past — to the cost of all of us.