Uni must answer for Ridd debacle: Dametto

JAMES Cook University’s executive leadership must be held to account for its persecution of Professor Peter Ridd following his vindication in court, says Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto.

Mr Dametto said the university’s “relentless pursuit” of Professor Ridd, who was sacked last year after questioning the methodology used by some of his colleagues on issues such as coral bleaching and sediment run-off, flew in the face of basic academic freedom.

“Professor Ridd was simply doing what any scientist would – applying basic scrutiny to Reef research presented as unchallenged, definitive proof of the impact of climate change,” Mr Dametto.

“Because he dared express his concerns in public over the veracity of such claims about the health of the Great Barrier Reef, he was, quite astonishingly, given several warnings by JCU and then eventually sacked. If that doesn’t amount to an attempt at censorship, I don’t know what does.

“Universities, by their very nature, should be a forum for free thought, ideas and opinions that can be raised and debated without impunity. This in itself is the essence of democracy.”

Mr Dametto called on JCU to reinstate Professor Ridd immediately following his successful Federal Court challenge over his dismissal. Judge Sal Vasta ruled that the university acted unlawfully when it sacked the physics professor.

“Based on public feedback I have received, one could conclude that JCU’s reputation has been tarnished as a result of its conduct and reinstating Professor Ridd will go some way to correcting a gross error of judgement by its executive leadership team,” he said.

“I believe those responsible for Professor Ridd’s treatment should face disciplinary action over their conduct and the university should ensure appropriate measures are taken to protect academic freedom in the future. We cannot have a repeat of this debacle again.

“It’s my understanding the university is considering an appeal of the court’s decision but I would ask them to consider the negative implications of doing so.

“As everybody knows, an appeals case could be drawn out for as long as three years. That would only further erode the integrity of JCU while this matter hangs over their heads like a dark cloud.

“We consider JCU as Hinchinbrook’s local university campus and I would love nothing more than to see the reputation of JCU restored.”

Mr Dametto also questioned the veracity of the peer review process, which Professor Ridd has previously raised concerns over the system’s failure to deliver proper academic scrutiny.

“I liken the process to having a friend mark your test and vice versa. Discussions I’ve had with Professor Ridd indicate there is a need for an independent body which can verify research without the risk of potential conflicts of interest that could arise from peer review,” he said.

“If the general public loses faith in science then where does that leave us?”

Nick Dametto MP