An Australian university recently censured marine scientist Peter Ridd for “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution,” because he questioned popular claims among environmentalists about coral reefs and global warming.
What was Ridd’s crime? He found out two of the world’s leading organizations studying coral reefs were using misleading photographs to make the case that global warming was causing a mass reef die-off. Ridd wasn’t rewarded for checking the facts and blowing the whistle on misleading science. Instead, James Cook University censured Ridd and threatened to fire him for questioning global warming orthodoxy.
“These photographs are a big deal as they are plastered right across the internet and used very widely to claim damage,” Ridd told The Weekend Australian newspaper.
The Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority published photos in a report of the Great Barrier Reef in the 19th Century and 1994 to bolster their claim man-made global warming was causing widespread coral bleaching.
“Historical photographs of inshore coral reefs have been especially powerful in illustrating changes over time, and that the change illustrated is typical of many inshore reefs,” the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority published in its 2014 report, next to the side-by-side photos of the reef.
Ridd, who’s been working for years to make sure research institutions are using sound science, found the photos were misleading. For starters, Ridd said it’s not possible to say what killed off parts of the reef featured in the 1994 photo.
“In fact, there are literally hundreds of square kilometres of dead reef-flat on the Great Barrier Reef which was killed due to the slow sea-level fall of about a meter that has occurred over the last 5000 years,” Ridd said.
“My point is not that they have probably got this completely wrong but rather what are the quality assurance measures they take to try to ensure they are not telling a misleading story?” Ridd said.
Ridd’s not alone in criticizing some institutions and environmental groups for over-hyping the impacts global warming will have on coral reefs.
A recent Australian Institute of Marine Science survey, for example, found 73 percent of the Great Barrier Reef would escape global warming unscathed, and that most of the bleaching had taken place in the northern section of the reef.
In fact, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s own chairman had to come out and dispel notions the reef was almost completely gone.
“This is a frightening enough story with the facts, you don’t need to dress them up,” chairman Russell Reichelt recently said. “We don’t want to be seen as saying there is no problem out there but we do want people to understand there is a lot of the reef that is unscathed.”
“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 percent of the reef is practically dead,” Reichelt said. “We’ve also seen reports that 35 percent, or even 50 percent, of the entire reef is now gone.”
“However, based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 percent — and about 85 percent of that die-off has occurred in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometers north of Cairns,” he said. “Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.”
The group’s former chairman Ian McPhail even accused environmentalists of “exaggerating the impact of coral bleaching for political and financial gain.”
Despite the campaign to tamp down on reef alarmism, Ridd was punished by James Cook University for “not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputations of other colleagues.” The university even warned that if he does this again, he’ll be tried for serious misconduct.
“I feel as though I am the whistleblower,” Ridd said.
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