Climate science deniers and conservative media have a new hero

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Climate science deniers and conservative media have found a new “free speech” hero — an academic who is suing his own university and thinks the multiple human threats to the Great Barrier Reef are overblown.

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Desmog Blog

Climate science deniers and conservative media have found themselves a new “free speech” hero — an academic who is suing his own university and thinks the multiple human threats to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are overblown.

Professor Peter Ridd might be a new name to some, but the marine geophysicist has a long association with groups pushing denial of the well-established links between human activity and dangerous climate change.

Outlets including Breitbart and Fox News have joined a steady flow of columns and interviews across Australia’s conservative media landscape covering Ridd’s case, sometimes handing over space to him in their column pages.

Each time, Ridd, of Australia’s James Cook University, has been painted as a bastion of truth pushing back against the establishment. But how does that image hold up to scrutiny?

Conservative Media Fawning

News Corp Australia’s political commentator and climate science denier-in-chief Andrew Bolt has been especially enthusiastic, writing multiple blog posts and columns, inviting Ridd onto his Sky News show, and asking other stablemates to comment (News Corp columnist and climate science denier Terry McCrann called for James Cook University’s executive to be “sacked immediately”).

Ridd’s case, wrote Bolt, was “not only about free speech,” but was an issue of “whether scientific debates are settled by censorship or by debate.”

A mainstay of Western civilization is on trial here,” added Bolt, with no fear of overstatement.

Climate science denier James Delingpole of the hyper-partisan Breitbart wrote that the “gagged” Professor Ridd had “plenty of solid scientific evidence” to show the reef was “doing just fine.”

Examining Ridd’s Case

So what’s actually been happening? Another, less hysterical way of looking at the case, is this.

Ridd has been happily criticizing the science linking dangerous climate change to greenhouse gas emissions, and the science showing the impacts of humans on corals, for more than a decade.

Ridd has also repeatedly, over many years, said that the impact of agricultural runoff and water quality on the health and growth rate of corals is overstated.

But his employer, James Cook University, initiated its own action against Ridd after he had criticized specific organizations at his own university in media interviews, saying they could not be trusted. This, the university alleged, went against the university’s code of conduct.

So this is not about Ridd’s “freedom” to say what he wants, but is about an alleged breach of the university’s code of conduct — whether you agree with that code or not.

When the university censured Ridd in 2016, he ignored them. He gave an interview in August 2017 to another climate science denier, Alan Jones, on Sky News. Ridd was there to talk about his chapter in a climate science denial book produced by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

Ridd said “we can no longer trust” the government-backed Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at James Cook University.

The university alleged this constituted further “serious misconduct” so Ridd took the issue to his lawyers, and a case is proceeding.

To help fund his legal bills, Ridd got some help from the IPA (a key organization pushing climate science denial in Australia for two decades) to set up a crowdfunding campaign that raised the necessary $95,000 in just 49 hours.

The IPA’s executive director John Roskam was the first donor with $500. Other notable givers included climate science denier blogger Anthony Watts, U.S. Interior Department employee and climate science denier Indur Goklany, Perth philanthropist and IPA funder Bryant McFee, and author and political scientist Don Aitken. (The Washington Post and others have reported how Goklany has had a key role in re-writing Department of Interior climate documents.)

Many of Ridd’s cheerleaders have taken his scientific claims without skepticism and have not entertained the idea that he might be wrong.

Ridd’s Marine Pollution?

But Ridd repeated in detail several of his criticisms in a November 2017 “Viewpoint” article in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin — opening up his arguments for scrutiny.

Now, as reported in The Guardian Australia, a team of nine scientists, many based at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the James Cook University center Ridd has attacked, have issued a response through the same journal. Their assessment of Ridd’s claims is sharp.

They say Ridd’s criticisms are based on “misinterpretation, selective use of data, and over-simplification” and that they ignore “formal responses to previously published critiques.”

While Ridd and his colleague Piers Larcombe argue their critiques are “largely ignored,” these researchers point out that in fact, many of Ridd’s arguments have been directly addressed in the scientific literature.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers write: “To republish previous claims that have been addressed and refuted appears to be selecting information to support their statements and an example of the very issue Larcombe and Ridd (2018) are criticizing.”

Ideological Bent?

Also in the 2017 Sky News interview, Ridd accused others scientists of lacking objectivity and suggested another problem was that “we also potentially have scientists with an ideological bent.”

This is the time to look at Ridd’s own “ideological bent” and his long history associating with climate science deniers whose “theories” are rejected by every major scientific academy on the planet, as well as governments around the world.

Ridd has been affiliated with several groups that reject the science linking human emissions of carbon dioxide to dangerous climate change.

Ridd is a director and “scientific coordinator” of the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF) — a group he has been associated with since its launch in 2005 (and not to be confused with the Australian Conservation Foundation).

The AEF, which emerged from a 2004 meeting organized by the Institute of Public Affairs, promotes the idea that wind turbines make people sick and that human-caused climate change is unproven.

Ridd is also listed as an adviser to the Galileo Movement — an Australian group that for many years was run by former One Nation Senator and climate science denier Malcolm Roberts.

Ridd joined a list of well-known climate science deniers in 2009 when he co-signed an open letter coordinated by the Cato Institute — a U.S. “think tank” funded by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The letter ran as a full-page ad in several newspapers, including The New York Times, and claimed that recent temperature changes were “modest,” that the “case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated,” and global warming had stopped.

In 2011, Ridd called for a “Scientific Challengers Office” that “should start on Global Warming” and “the supposed threats to the Great Barrier Reef.”

Ridd is based at the “Marine Geophysics Laboratory” and, according to his university research profile, he “raises almost all of his research funds from the profits of consultancy work which is usually associated with monitoring of marine dredging operation.”

Several major coal and gas projects are listed as former clients of the lab, which was also home for the late Dr. Bob Carter who was, at one time, associated with 10 or more different climate science denial groups around the globe.

Ridd says he stands for “truth and honesty” and has “spent my whole life fighting for scientific truth.”

The problem is that the version of the “truth” he has been standing alongside, including his own arguments, have been repeatedly shot down by the world’s leading scientific institutions. Despite this, and despite the howls of his supporters, Ridd remains free to voice his “truth.”

Source: Desmog Blog. Reproduced with permission.

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37 Comments
  1. Joe 11 months ago

    Can we somehow be rid The Ridd.

  2. des_reputable 11 months ago

    A bit too much of the “gag the dissenting voice” if you ask me. It is a cop out to say “have been directly addressed in the scientific literature.” to an experienced researcher. Criticising Ridds associations amounts to ad-hominem attacks. If you are scientific, you should have clear cut scientific responses – not persecution by consensus. This is science not fascism!

    • George Darroch 11 months ago

      “It is a cop out to say “have been directly addressed in the scientific literature.” to an experienced researcher.”

      How is this a cop out? He’s been proven wrong, time and again. Yet he keeps publishing claims that have no substantiation and accusing his employer of misconduct. Only in topsy-turvy fact-denier world is he the victim.

      • des_reputable 11 months ago

        its a cop-out because he is an experienced researcher. To you or I they can say that to. But someone with as much academic standing as that, they should issue a rebuttal paper – otherwise it looks like the patronising fob-off that it is.

        • Steve Fuller 11 months ago

          I pray that Ridd is right for the planet’s sake.
          However, I fear that the overwhelming consensus means that we’re cooked and that Ridd is kooked.

          • Calamity_Jean 11 months ago

            “…we’re cooked and that Ridd is kooked.”

            Good summary, unfortunately.

        • Mark Klement 11 months ago

          He might be an experienced researcher but he is a paid pundit of the fossil fuel industry. One just needs to look at the great barrier reef to see that there is a problem.

        • steve d 11 months ago

          It would be like trying to convince a flat earther, pointless. Ridd is a denier. I think that is the clue.

        • Alastair Leith 11 months ago

          Even an experience research needs three things: hypothesis, method and data. This guy is grasping at straws, he needs to get back to basics.

        • John Saint-Smith 11 months ago

          The ‘consensus’ of climate scientists is only 97%. You’re overly enthusiastic about the crazy one in thirty, like Ridd who make themselves seem important by denying reality. But then, crazy = clever in some minds. Lets face it, 25% of Americans voted for Trump, and for them the facts of his failures are all fake. I wonder what it is like to be so confident when you’ve never even cross-checked your sources?

          Oh, but real facts would spoil everything wouldn’t they?

          • neroden 11 months ago

            Actually, the consensus of climate scientists is over 99% now.

        • des_reputable 11 months ago

          All missing the point. If Ridd is wrong, it is no excuse to not do the work to rebut him in the correct way. Alarm bells should ring for science, when you see fascist tactics employed *instead* of correct scientific rebuttal.

          • neroden 11 months ago

            Ridd has been rebutted already, and the citations for the rebuttals are readily available to those who bother to look.

            Instead of responding appropriately as an academic is supposed to to the rebuttals (namely with counterarguments) — Ridd just repeated the same disproven lies, as if he hadn’t even read the rebuttals.

            This behavior doesn’t deserve a repeat of the already-made rebuttals. This deserves throwing Ridd out of the academy for misfeasance.

            Ridd is actually using fascist tactics: ignoring all criticism and pretending it never happened, while attacking nonexistent strawmen.

    • howardpatr 11 months ago

      Why don’t you read the response to Ridd by the nine scientists before blurting forth?

      “Now, as reported in The Guardian Australia, a team of nine scientists, many based at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the James Cook University center Ridd has attacked, have issued a response through the same journal. Their assessment of Ridd’s claims is sharp.”

      No, just rely upon the likes of Lord Monkton and followers.

      • des_reputable 11 months ago

        What you are saying does not address the statement I pointed out. The nine scientists need to cover all the claims and rebuttals – not just some.
        If it is a problem then science process should fix the science part, and law the law part.

        • Mark Klement 11 months ago

          Climate deniers are detatched from reality. Not one of their assertions stand up to peer review science, not one. It is not science that is broken it is the plutocratic system we live in that is broken.

          • mick 11 months ago

            cant do much about wealth redistribution by peaceable means but murdoch would be around 87ish, hopefully he drops off soon followed by a break up of empire and hopefully honest dessemination of events

        • Alastair Leith 11 months ago

          Just because deniers are too stupid or too wilfully determined to not understand the science doesn’t mean that either the science or the communication of the science of AGW and climate change has failed. It’s just means that these people are ideologically precluded from reasonably being educated.

          There’s a known phenomenon called the backfire effect, that conservatives who cling to a belief about something, when shown evidence to the contrary will actually reject the evidence and say they evidence isn’t really important/relevant/trustworthy and become even more entrenched in their position. It’s a behavior of tribal loyalty deeply (hard?) wired into the human subconscious and conditioning from birth.

          You’re “gag the dissenting voice” is a classic example of that. Dissent is something the right stifle at every opportunity to maximize profits for the rich and the super-rich. The neo-conservative right and the deniers amongst them (which is most of them as it’s almost an article of faith or admission fee to be a climate denier and a neo-con) literally try to buy the silence of hard working, ethically upstanding climate scientists and the activists (like me) who are trying to wake the world up to the impending catastrophes that are more likely now to occur than not thanks to relative inaction on climate change for the last two decades. They invest hundreds of millions a year in propaganda machines and buy MPs and representatives. Discent is something these people have zero respoect for.

          If there was someone or a team of scientists who could cast doubt on the 97-99% actively conscious consensus position within climate science they would instantly qualify for triple nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and peace. And fossil fools would sponsor their research without question to the tune of millions. Such a physicist was Robert Muller who took millions to examine air temperature recordings and other data sets at Berkley Uni, himself skeptical about the AGW theory and so hypothesised that there must be something wrong with the data. His conclusions several years later was that he was wrong, and (surprise, surprise) tens of thousands of climate scientists are right and it’s actually much worse than IPCC are letting on.

          The consensus position has a tight consilience of evidence while the deniers have a gish gallop of contradictory claims and rants (it’s cooling, the sun is responsible for the warming, CO2 doesn’t effect climate vs CO2 has a ‘positive’ effect on climate, it’s all just random nonsense with no internal coherence or supporting evidence sans cherry picked ‘facts’).

          • des_reputable 11 months ago

            Thats quite a post. Still missing my point. The 9 are fudging their scientific response – they need to list the exact points “already covered” and why it covers it. Thats the credible scientific response – not a fob off cos thats defective process. If Ridd has incorrect points, then that will suffice. The 9 should respect that scientific process.

          • neroden 11 months ago

            Read what they wrote and follow the citations. They list the exact points covered. Obviously, they are not going to repeat them in detail in a brief letter; you must do your followup research.

          • des_reputable 11 months ago

            Well, it is still a fob-off to say “already covered” – this articles words. So its either badly reported or is a bad response by the 9. That stands by itself.
            I did have a quick look at your invite, though. Example:
            Appendix: De-ath et al 2012, para 3 looks like a non-statement based around Ridd does not quote ‘without significant changes’ as a rider to his criticsim. Is De-ath saying degradation will or won’t continue without said changes? Obviously it will. Ridd or anyone could hardly be criticised for assuming thats what it meant – it is curiously ridiculous.
            https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X18301425

          • wideEyedPupil 10 months ago

            You do realise that wasting climate scientists time with vexatious requests for data, idiot-proof explanations, counter arguments to whatever crackpot theory of the day Russian servers are spewing out that week is a deliberate strategy to slow down climate science work? Validation and verification is why science has a journaled peer review process, and IPCC has a very conservative consensus peer review process in addition to that. It certainly isn’t perfect, but its infinitely better than the whatsupwiththat/FoxNews/Exonn PR machine.

            If you want to get serious start publishing, until then start doing some balanced reading on the subject.

          • des_reputable 10 months ago

            So Ridd subscribes to Russian servers? But more seriously, he is so “vexatious”, he is taking some legal action – so either he is a crackpot funded by crackpots, or he will make his point with legal force as regards his assertions about the reef.

  3. howardpatr 11 months ago

    Ridd should be able to get some more funding from “STOP THESE THINGS” and perhaps one of that organizations supporters, the Minister for Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity?

  4. John Saint-Smith 11 months ago

    A handy little follow up, which might silence some of the ‘gagging the dissenting voice’ brigade, would be an analysis of the number of deniers’ claims and predictions which have been comprehensively debunked – by history – like Don Aitken’s 2010 assertion that: “All the so-called ‘lost’ Arctic ice always re-forms during winter.” This year, the winter ice cover in the Arctic was one of the lowest on record, and the average for the last decade has been 1.8 million square kilometres less than the 1981 – 1990 average.

    Or how about Ian Plimer’s confident prediction, made in 2009, of a return to ‘near ice age’ conditions within 20 years, which was immediately followed by the 5 hottest years in the past 170 years.

    Last but not least is Monckton’s enduring ‘no warming since 1998’ claim, based entirely on cherry-picking a starting point during an El Nino, on a faulty (RSS) satellite dataset, which now shows that the ‘pause’ was nothing more than an illusion.

    The sceptics, it seems, despite their endless trumpeting to the contrary, never get it right, so they abandon one failed prediction and latch on to another, confident of their followers’ infinite capacity for self-deception.

    • solarguy 11 months ago

      I think that sums it up nicely.

    • Andrew Egan 11 months ago

      Dam if only those pesky climate stats weren’t homogenised to fit the fraud
      Anyhow may as well shovel out as much coal as we can for our Conrad’s in China while we destroy our energy sources for FA

      • John Saint-Smith 11 months ago

        If we had an hour or two, I could go through Plimer’s shameless cherry picking, lying and manipulation of data to fit his perverse conclusions. I can even show you how he got started and where he plagiarized his pseudo-climate science from. But he’s an amateur fraudster, compared with the games that Monckton revealed to me when I cross-checked his presentations. The guy even got his citation for a reference in the AR4 by fraud, which meant he could strut about on the stage and claim to be a ‘co-author’ of the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC. When Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he even got a special badge commissioned so that he could claim to be a Nobel laureate. Total sleaze!
        Then if you’re not too busy, I could bend your ear with the details of my email exchange with Aitken, in which he made a complete ass of himself over a publically accessible ice data set he failed to read correctly. You knew that Aitken is a ‘political scientist’ not a real scientist didn’t you?

        But what would I know? According to your unsupported assertions, which none of the denialists have ever been able to pull two facts together over, the climate stats were ‘faked’. How come you tell us but you never show us how they did that colossal conspiracy, especially the bit where they made the spring arrive early, and the permanent snowline go higher up the mountains? Just inconvenient historical facts, I guess.

        Because like Rush Limbaugh, you know it’s true but you can’t prove a word of it, because history, not pesky climate stats keep proving you wrong.

    • MaxG 11 months ago

      The problem is: these clowns get coverage… 🙁

  5. Alastair Leith 11 months ago

    “A mainstay of Western civilization is on trial here,” added Bolt, with no fear of overstatement.

    Understatement of the week.

  6. Ken Dyer 11 months ago

    The World needs characters like Ridd. After all, if all these academics were in violent agreement, who knows what might happen. However, it would appear that the many studies, over many years and the consequent accumulation of lots of data about the GBR, clearly show despite the nay saying and shonky expostulations of Ridd and his seriously deluded colleagues, that the data does not lie, particularly when it is subjected to the level of scrutiny that the scientific method imposes, regardless of subsequent political decisions.

    On the other hand, the ideological drivers of the IPA and their ilk, and their blind support of Ridd , clearly show that we are fortunate that people like Ridd are in the minority.

    But what are the consequences if in fact he and his supporters are wrong? We are all in deep shit.

    And if he is right can we then continue on as we are with our heads firmly up our fundamental orifices, a place with which Ridd and his mates seem to be intimately acquainted?

  7. Alexander Hromas 11 months ago

    The problem with this argument is that it assumes that climate deniers are rational folk.
    My experience in my arguments with them is that they are not, even the educated ones.
    They all seem to cling to idea that what we did in the past was fine and we must not change. This idea may be based on religion, need to follow conservative political parties or the idea that “i am so much smarter than all of these climate scientists that i can see through their conspiracy”.
    Our problem is that even though these people may be the minority they are powerful in Australian politics and can attract enough press coverage because of their shock/novelty value. Our other problem is the old analogy of the boiling frog. Climate change is sufficiently slow that most of the public do not recognize it and see no need for urgent action.

  8. Ken Fabian 11 months ago

    Scientists who misrepresent the work of their professional peers – breaching professional standards – should be dealt with through appropriate actions by those overseeing standards and ethics. News organisations (foreign owned political campaign organisations?) deem themselves to be beyond having any such limitations on what they can say.

  9. Aluap 11 months ago

    Why does James Cook University continue to employ him? Surely there are better replacements! Or is James Cook University just that bad and untrustworthy and unworthy of its paying students?

    • Calamity_Jean 11 months ago

      Maybe he has tenure?

      • neroden 11 months ago

        There’s something called a “misfeasance hearing”. Tenured professors are allowed to spread whatever opinions they like, but they are not allowed to teach things which have been proven outright false within their field. No lying about the facts — that’s misfeasance.

        Ridd seems to be practicing wilful misfeasance. His tenure can be revoked for that. It should be.

        • Calamity_Jean 11 months ago

          Maybe James Cook U. has a deep-pocketed “benefactor” that is paying the university to keep him on.

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