1) Jennifer Marohasy: Climate Hysteria Has Killed Academic Freedom
The Spectator Australia, 23 July 2020
Peter Ridd loses, we all lose
On 2 May 2018, Professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for serious misconduct. It all started when he called-out his colleague Terry Hughes for falsely claiming healthy inshore coral reefs were dead from climate change and deteriorating water quality.
Ignoring the first censure in April 2016, Professor Ridd went on television in August 2017 and explained in an interview with Alan Jones and Peta Credlin why so much said and written about the Great Barrier Reef, including by scientists at the Australian Institution of Marine Science, is ‘untrustworthy’.
The interview was to promote a book that I edited, Climate Change: The Facts 2017. The book, published by the Institute of Public Affairs, begins with a chapter about the Great Barrier Reef in which the orthodoxy on Great Barrier Reef science is challenged, in particular reporting on coral calcification rates. In that interview – that contributed directly to Peter Ridd’s sacking – the main argument was, and continues to be, for better quality assurance of coral reef science.
It is a fact that the Australian Institute of Marine Science refuses to release 15 years of coral growth data – because it contradicts the claims of high-profile activists that coral growth rates are in decline. They are not. But the false claims are central to their fundraising strategy. Never mind the truth.
The first finding handed down by Judge Salvatore Vasta back in April last year case concerned the photographs taken in 1994 that Terry Hughes used to falsely claim Acropora corals that were alive in 1890 are now all dead. Peter Ridd had photographs taken in 2015 showing live Acropora and the need for quality assurance of Hughes’ claims.
Judge Vasta found in favour of Peter Ridd and ordered that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful.
It was very significant that Peter Ridd won on the issue of academic freedom: that he did have a right to ignore the university administrators and continuing to speak out about the lack of quality assurance and explain how and why important scientific institutions had become so untrustworthy.
The University never accepted that decision by the Federal Circuit Court, and they have never conceded that Terry Hughes was wrong to suggest all the corals were dead, when a documentary has since been made showing them to be alive. Further, they have never supported any calls for the coral growth data to be made public.
Instead, the University appealed, and today the University won in the Federal Court. In the judgement, Peter Ridd’s academic freedom is portrayed as his ‘personal opinion’.
It is not Peter Ridd’s personal opinion that the corals are alive, and the Great Barrier Reef resilient to climate change. It is fact. I’ve seen the coral reefs whose health is contested with my own eyes: they are very much alive.
What is dead is academic freedom in Australia.
Universities should be understood by the judiciary as different from other workplaces because it is expected by the ordinary Australian that, on occasions, there will be vigorous debates on important and controversial issues. It is essential that academics can engage in these debates without fearing that the use of plain and colloquial English could end their careers.
Yet today, the university’s appeal was upheld on the basis Peter Ridd was un-collegial in stating plainly that his own university and the Australian Institute of Marine Science are ‘untrustworthy’ because of systemic deficiencies in their quality assurance processes. Further, it was mentioned that Peter Ridd did ‘satirise’ the university’s disciplinary processes in a personal email.
Today’s decision means that James Cook University, and other Australian universities, will continue to crush dissent and sack academics who campaign for the truth.
2) Janet Albrechtsen: Censorship Universities Should No Longer Receive Funding By Taxpayers
The Australian, 25 July 2020
The final joke at the centre of the scandal of Peter Ridd’s sacking is that James Cook University wants more of our tax dollars to get through the economic crisis. It doesn’t deserve any, let alone more.
University life in the 21st century was confirmed by a court this week as being more concerned with the regulation of behaviour and the advent of social media than with the promotion of intellectual freedom and the pursuit of truth.
That is the summary of the decision of the full court of the Federal Court of Australia, on appeal from the Federal Circuit Court, released on Wednesday, that found James Cook University had legally terminated professor of physics Peter Ridd after 27 years of employment.
The esteemed scientist was sacked by JCU after the university claimed that, in breach of the JCU code of conduct, Ridd failed to act in a “collegial” manner and failed to treat a fellow staff member with “respect and courtesy”. Ridd’s uncollegial, disrespectful and discourteous crime was to question the quality of science emanating from parts of JCU about coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef in an email to a journalist and during an interview on Sky News.
It is a close contest as to which institution should be more ashamed of itself. A university that has spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend sacking an academic rather than defend intellectual freedom, and has still shown zero interest in testing Ridd’s claims about the lack of quality assurance of science emanating from JCU? Or the full court of the Federal Court for endorsing Ridd’s termination?
Upholding JCU’s appeal against an earlier decision that awarded $1.2m to Ridd because the university had unlawfully sacked him, the Federal Court has found that it is more important for a university to control behaviour under a code of conduct than to meet its commitment to academics in an enterprise agreement to protect intellectual freedom.
There are three absurdities at the core of the joint judgment by justices Sarah Derrington and John Griffiths, both former academics, no less.
The nonsense starts with the fact the judges perform a convoluted and unseemly set of linguistic gymnastics to side with JCU. In clause 14.1 of the enterprise agreement between JCU and its staff, JCU explicitly commits “to act in a manner consistent with the protection and promotion of intellectual freedom”. The rest of clause 14 explains intellectual freedom. Clause 13.3 of that enterprise agreement says JCU’s code of conduct “is not intended to detract from Clause 14”.
The farce gets worse when the majority of the court concede that JCU’s code of conduct is “couched in vague and imprecise language”. In fact, the two judges go further, describing as “an unfortunate consequence of the drafting, particularly given the very serious consequences” that the code’s provisions “do not readily provide clear guidance to staff as to whether particular conduct might breach the obligations outlined in the code of conduct so as to amount to misconduct, or indeed, serous misconduct. Reasonable minds may differ about whether particular conduct in fact breaches the obligations on any given occasion.”
Given the ambiguity at the heart of the code of conduct, one might think that a university, of all places, should err on the side of intellectual freedom for its academics when applying its code. It’s not hard to imagine an academic feeling peeved if another academic challenges their work. It might not seem very collegial, let alone respectful. So what? That’s part and parcel of the necessary rigours of academic life; it’s how one set of claims is tested and confirmed or found wanting.
One might think that if a university failed to err on the side of intellectual freedom, at least a court would uphold the mission of a university when confronted with a hopelessly vague code of conduct. After all, what is the point of providing for an intellectual freedom clause in an enterprise agreement if it can be rendered meaningless by a code of conduct so vague that just about anything might subjectively be classed as uncollegial or lacking in respect and courtesy? Yet that is precisely what the Federal Court did in upholding JCU’s claim to sack Ridd.
The farcical nature of this decision gets worse. The majority judges said: “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 JS Mill, John Locke, Isaiah Berlin and others who have written on the topic.”
Citing “a host of new challenges” and “changing norms” and “the rise of social media” and “student demands for accommodations such as content warnings and safe spaces”, the judges suggest they are in “uncharted waters” when it comes to academic freedom. Confused? So is the court as it tries to explain that the recent arrival of Twitter and other social media platforms, and new demands for protection from ideas by some students, has led the Federal Court to allow a university to use a hopelessly vague code of conduct to sideline a centuries-old tradition of intellectual inquiry that is at the heart of human progress. The court has used Twitter to kill intellectual exploration, innovation and open debate.
This is a judicial shout-out to the fans of cancel culture, an invitation to more safe spaces, trigger warnings to protect people from uncomfortable dissent. Keep going, with our judicial imprimatur, the court is saying, and these “contemporary circumstances” will help “evolve” the limits of acceptable intellectual inquiry.
The ramifications of this decision cannot have been lost on the court. This is a warning shot to every other academic who may want to raise doubts, questions or differing views that they might also fall foul of other vaguely drafted codes of conduct at any one of the country’s other universities. No junior academic, no matter how brilliant, is going to risk getting sacked if Ridd, a scientist of 27 years’ standing, can’t exercise intellectual freedom.
Remember that Ridd wasn’t querying the interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He was raising questions, in one particular area of his expertise, about the quality of climate change science. One of the fundamental challenges of our generation is to get the science right so we can settle on the right climate change policies. JCU told Ridd to keep quiet, then it sacked him. And a court has endorsed its actions.
JCU’s conduct, and the court’s decision, has sent intellectual inquiry down the gurgler in the 21st century at an institution fundamental to Western civilisation. Is that to be legacy of JCU’s vice-chancellor Sandra Harding? And what oversight has JCU’s governing council provided to this reputational damage, not to mention the waste of taxpayer dollars, in pursuing a distinguished scientist who was admired by his students?
Following this decision, no academic can assume that an Australian university will allow the kind of robust debate held at Oxford University in 1860 between the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist and proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The Historical Journal records how this legendary encounter unfolded: “The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution: rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons have always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? On this Mr Huxley slowly and deliberately arose. A slight tall figure stern and pale, very quiet and very grave, he stood before us, and spoke those tremendous words … He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.”
Not for nothing, Ridd’s lawyers submitted this example of intellectual freedom during the first trial. In sacking Ridd, and to win in court, JCU had to argue against the means that seeks the truth — intellectual freedom.
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3) Universities Must Tackle ‘Cancel Culture’ And ‘Demonstrate Commitment To Free Speech’ To Be Handed Emergency Loans, British Education Secretary Says
Daily Mail, 18 July 2020
Universities at risk of going bust and hoping to benefit from cash support from the government must demonstrate their commitment to free speech in order to be considered, Gavin Williamson has announced.
The Education Secretary said that institutions which are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to apply for emergency loans as part of the Higher Education Restructuring Regime to keep them afloat.
But in order to qualify for the new package of loans they must ‘demonstrate their commitment to academic freedom and free speech’.
In recent years, universities have seen a rise in ‘cancel culture’, including a no-platforming incident involving Amber Rudd at Oxford University in March.
The UN Women Oxford UK society sparked fury after its committee axed the former Home Secretary’s talk with just 30 minutes’ notice following outcry from students about her role in the Windrush scandal.
In his announcement yesterday the Education Secretary, who has previously spoken out against ‘cancel culture’ and how Rudd was treated, said money given to the student unions should not be used for ‘subsidising niche activism and campaigns’ and instead to ensure it caters to the needs of the wider student population.
The Department of Education also warned universities and colleges in England will only be considered if they ‘deliver high quality courses with strong graduate outcomes’.
4) WSJ Editorial Board Says It Won’t ‘Wilt Under Cancel-Culture Pressure’
Fox News, 24 July 2020
‘We are not The New York Times’, says note to readers
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board responded Friday to pushback from staffers about the paper’s opinion section and diversity in their newsroom, declaring that “we are not the New York Times” and that it will not succumb to “cancel culture.”
In a note to readers, the editorial board sought to reassure readers that “these pages won’t wilt under cancel-culture pressure,” noting the “outpouring of support” from readers for the opinion pages.
“It was probably inevitable that the wave of progressive cancel culture would arrive at the Journal, as it has at nearly every other cultural, business, academic, and journalistic institution. But we are not the New York Times. Most Journal reporters attempt to cover the news fairly and down the middle, and our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media,” the note stated.
“As long as our proprietors allow us the privilege to do so, the opinion pages will continue to publish contributors who speak their minds within the tradition of vigorous, reasoned discourse. And these columns will continue to promote the principles of free people and free markets, which are more important than ever in what is a culture of growing progressive conformity and intolerance.”
In a June 23 letter to their editor-in-chief, Matt Murray, a group identifying itself only as “members of the WSJ newsroom” wrote to “encourage more muscular reporting about race and social inequities.”
The writers alleged that their colleagues in the opinion section were making their own jobs difficult, noting that some of them had been “told by sources that they won’t talk to us because they don’t trust that the WSJ is independent of the editorial page.”
5) WSJ: ‘We’re Not The New York Times & Won’t Wilt Under Pressure’
Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2020
We’ve been gratified this week by the outpouring of support from readers after some 280 of our Wall Street Journal colleagues signed (and someone leaked) a letter to our publisher criticizing the opinion pages. But the support has often been mixed with concern that perhaps the letter will cause us to change our principles and content. On that point, reassurance is in order.
In the spirit of collegiality, we won’t respond in kind to the letter signers. Their anxieties aren’t our responsibility in any case. The signers report to the News editors or other parts of the business, and the News and Opinion departments operate with separate staffs and editors. Both report to Publisher Almar Latour. This separation allows us to pursue stories and inform readers with independent judgment.
It was probably inevitable that the wave of progressive cancel culture would arrive at the Journal, as it has at nearly every other cultural, business, academic and journalistic institution. But we are not the New York Times. Most Journal reporters attempt to cover the news fairly and down the middle, and our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media.
As long as our proprietors allow us the privilege to do so, the opinion pages will continue to publish contributors who speak their minds within the tradition of vigorous, reasoned discourse. And these columns will continue to promote the principles of free people and free markets, which are more important than ever in what is a culture of growing progressive conformity and intolerance.
6) Cancelling ‘Cancel Culture’: The Rise And Fall Of The ‘Wokerati’
Sky News Australia, 26 July 2020
Sky News host Rowan Dean presents Cancelling ‘Cancel Culture’ examining whether the cancel culture phenomenon is threatening freedom of speech in Australia and around the world.
click on image above to watch the programme
The thought-provoking special explores the rise of ‘cancel culture’ and the impact it is having on people’s lives and livelihoods.
Rowan speaks to academics authors, entertainers and political commentators including Warren Mundine, Jacinta Price, Laurence Fox, Lauren Southern, Peter Ridd and Douglas Murray during his investigation.
Author Douglas Murray says in the fight against cancel culture, mainstream majority views can’t be silenced so people feel they can voice them other than at the ballot box where they give the “wokerati a nasty surprise”.
Cancel culture is not justice it is a “lynch mob” which doesn’t adhere to the standards of innocent until proven guilty, according to political activist Lauren Southern.
7) Gerard Henderson: Academic Freedom Bows At The Altar Of Social Media
The Australian, 25 July 2020
It’s out with philosophers John Stuart Mill, John Locke and Isaiah Berlin and it’s in with “the internet, social media and trolling”. According to the majority judgment of the Federal Court of Australia in James Cook University v Ridd handed down on Wednesday, that is.
Peter Ridd was employed by James Cook University for 27 years before his employment was terminated in May 2018 for serious misconduct. At the time Ridd was a physics professor. However, he was not dismissed on any academic or teaching grounds.
Rather, Ridd went down because JCU maintained that he had failed to act “in the collegial and academic spirit” required and had denigrated a fellow staff member by failing to act “with respect and courtesy”. Oh yes, Ridd had also denigrated JCU, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
In fact, Ridd disagreed on scientific grounds with the views of some fellow academics and some influential organisations about the long-term viability of the Great Barrier Reef.
He maintains that sections of the Great Barrier Reef are in good shape and that coral dies and is reborn as part of the reef’s life. This is inconsistent with the scientific orthodoxy preached by JCU and like-minded organisations.
Announcing the termination in May 2018, Iain Gordon, then JCU’s deputy vice-chancellor, referred not to the quality of Ridd’s teaching and research but to his “manner” and “disrespect”. You see, he had been charged with having “trivialised, satirised or parodied” JCU’s disciplinary processes. Why, Ridd had even sent a private email to a friend dealing with JCU that was headed “for your amusement”. How shocking is that?
It is a long time since there was genuine academic and intellectual freedom in the groves of academe — if this ever existed. The ideals pronounced by John Henry Newman’s 1875 The Idea of a University are essentially utopian. What’s new about the current JCU case is that the curtailment of academic freedom that once prevailed in the social sciences has extended into the physical sciences.
Take Australia, for example. The two big cases of academic freedom in the past half-century involve philosopher Frank Knopfelmacher (1923-95) and physicist Ridd. In 1965 Knopfelmacher, who was a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, was appointed to the position of senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sydney. The appointment was overturned by the university’s professorial board.
Knopfelmacher’s appointment was strongly supported by David Armstrong, one of Australia’s finest philosophers.
Like Ridd, Knopfelmacher went down because of his irreverent manner and a tendency to criticise colleagues in addition to his unfashionable views. An articulate and well-informed anti-communist, Knopfelmacher upset the leftist fashions of the time with his vehement criticism of the communist regimes in central and eastern Europe (East Germany, the Soviet Union) and Asia (North Korea, China, North Vietnam), and their supporters in the West.
In 1964 Knopfelmacher wrote an article in Twentieth Century magazine criticising the leftist ideology that prevailed in many of Melbourne University’s social science departments. He claimed that left-wing academics discriminated against non-leftists and exercised significant veto powers “in matters of academic preferments and sinecures”.
This accurate comment was used against Knopfelmacher by his opponents on Sydney University’s professional board.
In the half-century since the Knopfelmacher affair, the attack on academic and intellectual freedom has moved into universities as a whole, including the physical sciences. That is Ridd’s problem. JCU appears to have a view that the Great Barrier Reef is dying fast and anyone who disagrees with this orthodoxy, no matter how well qualified, does not have a right to be heard, especially if they are irreverent and outspoken.
In one sense, the Federal Court’s decision in JCU v Ridd turns on the interpretation of the enterprise agreement under which the respondent was employed.
In September last year the Federal Circuit Court (Judge Salvatore Vasta presiding) found that JCU had contravened section 50 of the Fair Work Act by making findings against Ridd, giving him directions with respect to confidentiality and speech along with a “no satire” instruction. All this, the court found, had led to an improper employment termination.
However, the current case is more important than mere industrial relations. The majority — justices John Griffiths and Sarah Derrington — essentially dismissed “historical concepts of academic freedom”.
So the thoughts of Mill, Locke and Berlin are out of date. Griffiths and Derrington instead cited the work of American philosopher Jennifer Lackey concerning the internet and social media. They quoted favourably from the Illinois academic, who has written that the concept of academic freedom has been challenged not only by no-platforming but also by student demands for “content warnings and safe spaces” that “leave us in uncharted territory”.
Newman, originally an Anglican who became a cardinal in the Catholic Church, was a deeply religious man who saw a role for an essentially secular university bestowed with intellectual freedom. But many a modern campus has become an institution that acts in accordance with the notion that “error has no rights”.
This was once the teaching of extreme religious sects. Now it is being put into effect by censorious administrators, academics and students who believe that those with whom they disagree have no right to be heard.
In his dissent, Justice Darryl Rangiah placed much more emphasis on Ridd’s right to intellectual freedom. Rangiah agreed with the majority that the decision of the primary judge contained material errors on industrial law.
However, he said that while the appeal should be allowed, the proceedings should not be dismissed but remitted for a further hearing. Rangiah did not support the majority view that some aspects of Ridd’s conduct cannot be characterised as an exercise in intellectual freedom.
While JCU v Ridd turns primarily on industrial law, it is likely to have the unintended consequence of discouraging academics who are at odds with prevailing fashions in the social and physical sciences from speaking out.
Australian universities need more Knopfelmachers and Ridds — not fewer.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute. His Media Watch Dog blog can be found at www.theaustralian.com.au
8) And Finally: Is The Demise Of Polar Bears being Exaggerated?
Ross Clark, The Spectator, 23 July 2020
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could debate climate change for five minutes without hearing about polar bears or being subjected to footage of them perched precariously on a melting ice floe?
But that is a little too much to expect. Polar bears have become the pin-ups of climate change, the poor creatures who are supposed to jolt us out of thinking about abstract concepts and make us weep that our own selfishness is condemning these magnificent animals to a painful and hungry end.
Needless to say, the Guardian and BBC jumped on the opportunity for more polar bear coverage when a paper appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, predicting that a high carbon emissions scenario ‘will jeopardise the persistence of all but a few high-Arctic subpopulations by 2100.’ The paper uses a new predictive model by Peter Molnar of the University of Toronto.
A BBC report, as usual, upgraded the claims made in the paper in order to state: ‘Polar bears will be wiped out by the end of the century unless more is done to tackle climate change, a study predicts.’ Except that the paper doesn’t quite say that. The high emissions scenario used in the study isn’t what would happen if the world continued on its current trajectory of fossil fuel use. Instead it uses a worst-case scenario called ‘RCP8.5’ dreamed up in 2014, which envisages that coal-burning will globally increase fivefold between now and 2100. This could be a challenge, because it would mean burning through more coal than, according to some estimates, exists on Earth. In fact, global coal-burning likely peaked in 2013. Even Nature Climate Changes’ mother journal Nature published a think piece in January calling for scientists and campaigners to stop using RCP8.5 as a ‘business as usual’ scenario, on the grounds that it is highly improbable.
But even if we were to jack up carbon emissions to the level envisaged by RCP8.5, and Arctic sea ice was to melt in accordance with the models, would it really mean the end of most polar bear populations? Given that polar bears feed on seals they catch by punching through sea ice, this may seem a reasonable claim. Yet the relationship between sea ice and polar bear population isn’t quite so simple.
A lot of the assumptions about polar bears and sea ice have been made on the back of the animals’ decline in the Western Hudson Bay area of Canada. Compared with the 1980s, sea ice there now breaks up on average two weeks earlier and refreezes a week later. As a result, polar bears are spending five months on land – where they struggle to find food – rather than four as before. Their estimated numbers fell by 22 per cent between 1987 and 2004, although this has levelled off since then. Polar bear numbers have also been falling in Canada’s Southern Beaufort Sea.
Yet it is a very different story in the Barents Sea, which lies to the north of Scandinavia and European Russia. There, the retreat of seasonal sea ice has been far more dramatic – it now hangs around, on average, 21 weeks less than it did 40 years ago. Yet polar bear numbers are stable. On Svalbard their numbers have increased by 40 percent – and the females seem to be in better physical condition now than they were 15 years ago. It is a different story, too, in the Chukchi Sea, which lies to the north of Alaska and Russia’s far east. There, sea ice forms for 41 days fewer than it did 40 years ago – yet the polar bear population seems to be stable, with no decline in the bears’ physical condition. The Kane Basin, off north western Greenland, has lost 53 days’ of sea ice in recent decades, yet the estimated number of polar bears more than doubled between 1997 and 2013.
All of which seems to indicate that polar bears, like many other creatures, have proved rather adaptable to changes in their environment. The assumption that they can only catch seals through sea ice, and will inevitably decline if their opportunities to do this disappear, seems simply to be wrong. Somehow or other, most populations of polar bears are finding enough to eat.
The end of polar bears has been predicted many times before. Indeed, one of the authors of the Nature Climate Change paper, Steven Armstrup, claimed in 2007 that the decline of sea ice would lead to a two thirds reduction in polar bear numbers by the middle of this century. The failure of overall polar bear populations to follow this downward trend, in spite of a decline is sea ice, was documented in a book The Polar Bear Catastrophe that Never Happened by anthropologist Susan Crockford. What happened to her follows a familiar story for those who refuse to toe the line on climate change: shortly after publication last year she was relieved of the post of Adjunct Assistant Professor at Victoria University, which she had held for 15 years.
The Denial by Ross Clark will be published by Lume Books in September.