Dr Peter Ridd — the Australian professor cancelled for wrongthink on the Great Barrier Reef — wants to launch a new movement: Kamikaze Academics.
Kamikaze Academics will comprise professors like himself willing to get themselves fired for expressing opinions which go against the standard leftist narrative — and in doing so, expose how little free speech and diversity of thought there now is in academe.
“It’s only older academics like me who can do this,” Ridd tells me in an interview on the Delingpod podcast. “We have a duty to do this so that younger academics can have a proper academic career where they can say tough things or even stupid things and still be forgiven. You need to be able to make mistakes.”
Ridd’s own big ‘mistake’ was to tell the truth about the Great Barrier Reef. As a physicist at James Cook University (JCU) in Queensland, Australia, he has been studying it for years and became increasingly worried about the hysterical reports being produced by some of his colleagues about the reef’s supposedly imminent demise.
There is a vast pseudo-scientific industry in Australia churning out dubious studies claiming that the Great Barrier Reef is suffering death by a thousand cuts: from ‘ocean acidification’, from bleaching (caused by ‘global warming’), from agricultural sediment and pesticides, even from sunscreen.
In fact, though, the Great Barrier Reef is doing just fine. When Ridd pointed this out, however, he found himself marginalised by colleagues who depend for their funding on the ‘Great Barrier Reef is doomed’ scare narrative.
In 2017, he was fired, the official reason being that he had breached his employment contract by speaking ill of his university.
It was, he admits, quite a blow. Ridd, 59, had been attached to James Cook University for almost 40 years, first as an undergraduate, later as a professor. His father, brother, sister, and both his children were educated there — as was his wife. “It was my life,” he says.
Science, he says, is in serious trouble because so much of it is politicised, shoddy, corrupt, and unreliable. In numerous fields — everything from radiation safety to climate change and last year’s Australian bush fires — government policy is being decided on the basis of ‘peer-reviewed’ studies, perhaps 50 per cent of which are untrustworthy to the point of uselessness.
“There is a huge crisis in science,” he says. “My crusade is to create an Office of Science Quality Assurance. This will take ‘peer-reviewed work’ and subject it to a proper peer review to make sure that it is rock solid.”
After he was fired, Ridd fought back by taking his university to court for wrongful dismissal. His case was funded by the generosity of Breitbart readers, as well as by The Australian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs and readers of Watts Up With That? and Jo Nova.
Last year, he won a landmark victory — and A$1.2 million — when Judge Vasta of the Brisbane court found in his favour. The judge’s summing up included a spirited defence of intellectual freedom:
“That is why intellectual freedom is so important. It allows academics to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. It allows a Charles Darwin to break free of the constraints of creationism. It allows an Albert Einstein to break free of the constraints of Newtonian physics. It allows the human race to question conventional wisdom in the never-ending search for knowledge and truth. And that, at its core, is what higher learning is about. To suggest otherwise is to ignore why universities were created and why critically focussed academics remain central to all that university teaching claims to offer.”
But the university appealed against the decision in the Federal court and this time Ridd lost.
Ridd says: “The university hired reputedly the most expensive barrister in Australia — on $20,000 to $25,000 a day. Our case was funded by $100 donations from thousands of people.”
Undeterred, he is now appealing to the High Court. (You can support his GoFundMe here.)
“It doesn’t matter if we lose,” he says. “In fact, it will almost be better. Already the publicity for James Cook University has been appalling. Even if they win, all it will prove is ‘We have smashed academic freedom. And aren’t we proud of that?'”
And just in case there’s anyone still out there who believes the nonsense about the Great Barrier Reef being in peril, here is Ridd’s handy, elevator-pitch rebuttal.
“There’s the same amount of coral on the Great Barrier Reef as there was since records began. The coral growth rates, if anything, have increased over the last 400 years. Corals grow faster in warmer water, if anything we should expect a 10 per cent increase in the coral growth rate if we get a decent amount of global warming. So: pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There are no measurable pesticides on 97 per cent of the reef; there is no sediment on 97 per cent of the reef. And it is obvious if you go and have a look at it one of the most pristine, curious, most beautiful eco-systems in the whole wide world. Come and have a look at it!”