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Plain English Lost On The High Court Of Australia

great barrier reef coral

Coral reefs can be messy, and so can court cases.

And so it is with the case of Peter Ridd, sacked by James Cook University because he exercised his intellectual freedom.

The only thing that is neatly settled from this case is apparently ‘the science’, never mind that this is only because anyone who publicly disagrees with it is censored or sacked.

In the case of Peter Ridd, even after he managed to raise over $1.4 million to appeal his sacking by James Cook University all the way to the High Court of Australia, he lost.

In a unanimous decision handed down this morning, the Court concluded that Dr. Ridd’s right to intellectual freedom is constrained by the procedural requirements of James Cook University’s Code of Conduct.

The High Court found his freedom of speech is limited only to his area of expertise. Those freedoms do not extend to issues about how the University is run, or whether the pronouncements made by its research institutions are trustworthy.

These matters are apparently internal; the University’s academics are obliged to follow procedure over these and, in particular, must be mindful when disciplinary matters are deemed confidential.

This sends a very strong message to all politically astute academics: if they are likely to make findings that do not accord with the consensus, these findings should be hidden within phrases that are unintelligible gobbledygook.

In other words, their findings should be communicated in language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by the excessive use of technical jargon.

They should certainly not translate their findings into plain English, or, worse, air them on national television, because that way the average Australian would have some understanding of what they are actually funding with their hard-earned taxes.

The climate science literature is replete with hidden meaning and technical jargon. The extent of the gobbledygook is such that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently concluded that humans are the main cause of global warming and the role of the sun is inconsequential, never mind that there is an extensive prestigious scientific literature that arguably comes to the opposite conclusion – which is that much of the global warming we have been experiencing can be explained in terms of solar variability.

This extensive literature was recently reviewed by Ronan Connolly, Willie Soon, and 20 of their colleagues from 14 countries and published in the international journal Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics (Volume 21). However, it appears that tenured academics are not allowed to argue, at least not publicly.

There was a sense of irony this morning that made me smile. As I waited for the High Court judgment, I looked through a paper by Peter Ridd’s former colleagues – Emma Ryan, Scott Smithers, and others – entitled ‘Chronostratigraphy of Bramston Reef reveals a long-term record of fringing reef growth under muddy conditions in the central Great Barrier Reef’ published in the very respectable journal Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Palaeoecology (Volume 441).

It would be difficult for the non-specialist to decipher this jargon-filled technical analysis that essentially supports what Peter Ridd has been saying for some years – and which earned him his first censure by the University, but, in short, it says there is still healthy coral reef in Bowen Harbour.

It’s cold comfort, by the way, for the High Court to find in passing that the 2016 censure was unlawful, especially when it led directly to the 2018 censure, which, in turn, resulted in Peter’s employment being terminated.

Anyway, I’m told Scott Smithers is a very competent scientist and an all-around good guy. He never replies to my emails. Perhaps this is because I could translate his gobbledygook into plain English.

His potentially subversive publications would then be understood by the intelligent layperson for what they are – which is that they back up what Peter Ridd is saying in plain English and provide a very detailed explanation of how many inshore reefs of the Great Barrier Reef have been in decline for more than 1,000 years because of falling (yes, falling) sea levels.

The deceleration of reef growth occurred long before European settlement of the Queensland coast and was driven by natural constraints, probably associated with limited accommodation space due to late-Holocene sea-level fall. Our results demonstrate that mainland-attached reef initiation and accretion can occur in muddy inshore environments over long timeframes (centuries to millennia).

Because academics are not allowed to speak freely about controversial subjects, most people have no understanding of the cyclical nature of sea levels.

The general public is under the misconception that the most important global trend is one of sea-level rise.

There are cycles within cycles and the most significant cycle has been one of sea-level fall, by some 1.5 meters over the last 2,000 or so years, notwithstanding that there has been sea-level rise of some 40 centimeters since the industrial revolution, which coincides with the end of the Little Ice Age (circa AD 1303 to AD 1835).

To put all of this in some context, along the Great Barrier Reef there is a large and variable daily tidal range. For example, at Hay Point the tide varies by as much as 7.14 meters; at Mackay by 6.58 meters; and at Gladstone by 4.83 meters.

Sea levels have changed even more dramatically over geological time frames. For example, just 19,500 years ago, during the depths of the last major ice age, sea levels were 120 meters lower (yes, lower) than they are today.

And the Great Barrier Reef did not exist. This very long record shows changes in temperature precede their parallel changes in carbon dioxide by 800 to 2,000 years.

This vital point establishes that carbon dioxide cannot be the primary forcing agent for temperature change at the glacial-interglacial scale, but this reality is mostly hidden by the modern astute geologist and ice-core expert who arguably cares more for his career than the truth.

If this were not the case, they would be marching on Glasgow.

Read rest at Jennifer Marohasy

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