Scientific integrity on line as sacked Reef scientist fronts court

When Reef scientist Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University (JCU) in 2018 for speaking out against what he saw as colleagues’ “unreliable research”, no one could have predicted the storm that would ensue.

The first complaint was made against him in 2016 and since then there have been three court applications – including a win for Dr Ridd for being unlawfully terminated, and an appeal to that decision by JCU that was upheld.

The final hearing in Peter Ridd’s fight for freedom of speech on climate and Reef science takes place in the High Court of Australia on 23 June and he will have plenty of support behind him – especially from those who believe critically assessing and verifying research used to form policies is essential.

AgForce Reef Taskforce Chair Alex Stubbs said the raft of regulations currently being rolled out across six Reef catchments in Queensland by the State Government was an example of what can happen when decision makers take the easy way out, and that it was ultimately crippling agriculture.

“What makes it so difficult to accept the regulations agriculture is now having to endure is that the science used to create them is outdated, contains false claims, and ignores many examples of conflicting evidence,” Mr Stubbs said.

“The 2017 Reef Scientific Consensus Statement is good advertising, not good science, yet the State Government has used it to justify every decision they’ve made in relation to the Reef, at the expense of truth and agriculture.

“It contains gross examples of selective use of and undisclosed adjustments to data, improper employment of statistical methods, unvalidated modelling held up as evidence, as well as other issues that demonstrates this Statement is an example of poor-quality science.

“These anomalies have been proven by scientists outside the so-called consensus of 48 who compiled the document, including Dr Peter Ridd, one of the Statements most vocal opponents.”

Mr Stubbs said AgForce, Dr Peter Ridd, and others would continue to champion for evidence-based Reef science because sound policy making demanded it.

“Decision makers require well-informed critical assessment they can rely on, not the type of science dished up the in 2017 Consensus Statement,” Mr Stubbs said.

“With environmental concerns especially, it is important that ambiguities and conflicting evidence be made clear, as well as the likely costs and risks of any proposed protective measures.

“The current approach of presenting scientific authority and consensus with no consideration of uncertainty or conflicting evidence is simply not good enough for either decision making or to be accepted as valid science.

“Whatever the outcome of Dr Ridd’s hearing, freedom of speech and, most importantly, the right to question the legitimacy of suspect science and poor-quality scientific practices, must remain cornerstones of rigorous policy making.

“Without these, the average person – the family farmer working to provide for the rest of us and keep their own head above water – is left vulnerable to the agendas of institutions, governments, and big business.”

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