Academics rally around sacked JCU Professor Peter Ridd
by Don Aitkin
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 He has since withdrawn that part of his suit addressing possible bias on the part of the Vice-Chancellor of the University.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.
EHP draining irrigation dam flushing tonnes of sediment onto the reef
The draining and bulldozing of a 1000 megalitre irrigation dam at Springvale Station south west of Cooktown by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has made a mockery of preventing sediment runoff onto the Great Barrier Reef.
Millions of litres of dam water is being siphoned from the dam directly into the East Normanby River, creating a muddy plume for many kilometres downstream, dumping thousands of tonnes of sediment onto the reef.
The East Normanby runs into the now dry West Normanby to become the Normanby River which eventually runs into Princess Charlotte Bay.
The 2016 purchase of the former cattle property by EHP drew much criticism from the farming industry when it was discovered flawed sediment runoff data was the basis for its acquisition by the government.
A spokesman for EHP Minister Stephen Miles confirmed the dam was being pumped out and millions of litres of valuable water were being discharged into the flowing East Normanby River.
Water being siphoned from the irrigation dam has cut a deep channel through the soil and is draining directly into the flowing East Normanby River(top of photo) creating massive sediment plumes kilometres downstream
The EHP has claimed the dam could fail, but adjoining landowner and former Cook Shire Mayor Graham Elmes said the dam was sound, properly built, had gone through four wet seasons and had filled easily during its first wet in 2013.
“This dam also acted as a large sediment trap filtering runoff into the river system, but when the walls are bulldozed what will happen to the 30,000 cubic metres of earth that an engineer has measured,” he said.
“It can’t be left in the excavation area because it will simply run off into the river and then Springvale actually will have a sediment runoff problem.”
KAP State leader Robbie Katter said the State Government is on a crusade against farmers.
“They are deceiving the public through misinformation and inaccurate data,” Mr Katter said.
“This is a fallacy, again derived from incorrect data and is a waste of viable, developed grazing property, which would be far better managed by a farmer than the State Government. This dam should be left intact.”
North East Regional Manager of Agforce Paul Burke was incensed that a government could undertake such “wanton waste.”
“It beggars belief that such a precious commodity could be pumped down the river when this property could have been producing a number of irrigated crops and still breeding cattle,” Mr Burke said.
The EHP spokesman claimed the dam “did not undergo a full regulatory approvals process as required by State legislation and is therefore unauthorised.
“To prevent dam failure and any subsequent downstream impacts, including contributions to sediment production within the catchment, the dam will be decommissioned and the land will be rehabilitated,” the spokesman said.
Mr Elmes was adamant the dam had been properly constructed and there was absolutely no chance the dam wall could fail.
“Bulldozing this water asset that cost $400,000 to build is totally irresponsible and an act of environmental vandalism.
“The government should stop all destructive activities on this property, freehold and subdivide it into four blocks and ballot these blocks for younger farmers,” he said.
UN urges world to commit to Agenda 2030 to shut down any further development
September 4.This corrupt organisation, the United Nations made up largely of third world nations wants all countries to stop any further development in the name of ‘greenhouse’ (greenhoax) gas emissions that cause ‘climate change.’
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the conference’s focus on sustainable development and climate change, urging all countries to take early action on these.
Last September, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a new global framework to advance peace and prosperity for all people and for a healthy planet.
Ahead of G20 opening, Ban stresses ‘far-reaching’ impacts of early climate action, urges unity on Global Goals
4 September 2016 – At a G20 summit in the southeastern city of Hangzhou in China, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the conference’s focus on sustainable development and climate change, urging all countries to take early action on these.
“For the first time in the history of the G20, the Hangzhou draft communiqué is now focusing on this Sustainable Development Action Agenda as one of their most important [aspects of] the outcome document,” the UN chief said at a press conference, ahead of the summit’s opening.
“Climate change and Sustainable Development Goals should go hand in hand. That is not my message – that is the message of all scientists, economists and all experts,” he added, stressing that “early action will bring more and more, and better and better results.”
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Great Barrier Reef in near pristine condition: dive boat operators
The healthy Great Barrier Reef deniers have been caught out lying about coral bleaching and the near-pristine condition of the world’s best coral icon.
Dive boat operators who visit the reef almost on a daily basis taking thousands of tourists on diving expeditions have been telling authorities for several years there is nothing wrong with the reef.
They have warned lying so-called conservation bodies such as the WWF, Wilderness Society, CAFNEC, the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce and the Australian Conservation Foundation their misleading campaigns would harm the Far North tourism trade.
Tourist operators have advised the State Government that coral bleaching is a natural and annual event that can affect small sections of the reef.
Spirit of Freedom dive boat owner Chris Eade told the Cairns Post that reports of coral bleaching along 93 per cent of the 2300 klm reef had damaged the reputation of the $5 billion tourism industry.
“Scientists had written off the entire northern section as a complete white-out,” Mr Eade said.
“We expected the worst, but it is in tremendous condition, most of it pristine, the rest in full recovery.”
“It shows the resilience of the reef.”
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions operations manager Craig Stephen, who conducted a similar survey on the remote reefs 20 years ago, said there had been almost no change in two decades despite the latest coral bleaching event.
“The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we have been we have found healthy reefs,” Mr Ball said.
“There has been a great disservice to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism and it has not been good for our industry.”
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimated a mass coral white-out of between 50 to 60 per cent, on average, for reefs off Cape York.
Scientists with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reported about 35 per cent mortality but warned “the final death toll” on some reefs may exceed 90 per cent.
This year the worst bleaching was found at Lizard Island, 180 klms north of Cooktown, where several reefs have shown distress due to fluctuating water temperatures.
Photo: Quicksilver Cruises
Dive boat operators maintain the reef is in near-pristine condition, dismissing the lies of conservation groups
According to the late Professor Bob Carter of James Cook University in an interview several years ago, this is a natural phenomenon that has occurred for several thousand years.
The climate and reef-runoff cults namely the Labor Party, Greens and conservation groups have campaigned to stop sediment runoff from farming areas which they claim is causing coral bleaching and would be doomsday for the entire reef.
The only problem with the Lizard Island bleaching is that no farming or grazing occurs on the entire eastern coastline or hinterland north of Cooktown which includes the nearby mainland opposite the tourist island. The closest farming activities are 180 kilometres to the south.
Never letting the facts get in the way of a fictitious environmental issue, the State Government in June purchased the large pastoral property ‘Springvale’, 50 klms west of Cooktown for $6.7 million ostensibly to prevent sediment runoff from grazing.
If ever the government made an unnecessary land acquisition, this one took the cake. The Government’s own Chief Scientist Dr Geoff Garrett in May released a report clearing the Spingvale/ Normanby River system of any measurable sediment runoff entering the ocean.
ALP sources have advised there are several more property acquisitions from the Cooktown district in the pipeline, which, according to Lakeland district graziers, would be a monumental waste of taxpayers money and would have a severe impact on the district’s economy.
The Labor Government now proposes a blanket World Heritage listing over the entire Cape York Peninsula to pacify the Greens after their planned, savage vegetation management bill was voted down last week in Parliament, thanks to the good grace of the independent Member for Cook, Billy Gordon.
This vexatious World Heritage nomination will be sure to agitate indigenous people and pastoralists who said they would take the fight to the minority ALP government which is teetering on the edge of electoral defeat.
Cairns residents should ignore rising sea level nonsense
I have spent 55 years in the engineering profession where ignoring the evidence often kills people. Thus I am predisposed to look at the evidence before drawing conclusions.
Many articles and claims about sea levels are in conflict with the evidence.
For instance, sea level has been rising at something between 2 and 3 mm per year since the end of the Little ice age. As you can see from the graph, there is no indication that the rate of sea level rise is increasing. There is some indication that the rate of rise has reduced slightly since 2006.
In addition, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology set up a chain of sea level measuring stations around Australia and in the Pacific that are the most accurate in the world. As you can see from the chart, the sea level at Tuvalu dropped markedly during the 1997 – 1998 El Niño and since 2000 it has been substantially constant. Claims that Tuvalu is sinking beneath rising sea levels caused by man-made carbon dioxide therefore cannot be true. it is most unfortunate that many people who choose to spread this rumour have not bothered to look at the data. It is particularly unfortunate for the population of Tuvalu because they have been told that their very real problems with erosion are beyond their control when, in fact, they have largely caused them by taking too much fresh water out of the water table and by mining the reef for coral to reclaim land. If the powers that be recognised that this is the case, then aid could be concentrated on solving the real problems, not the imaginary ones.
One division is 100 mm.
Others claim that Pacific Islands are disappearing. Once again, this does not stack up against the evidence:
Bryan Leyland MSc, FIEE(rtd), FIMechE, FIPENZ.