Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I have not been able to find out any details beyond what has been reported in the Oz (behind paywall), but having had a few peripheral interactions with Prof Peter Ridd over the time I was at James Cook University many years ago, I was upset to hear that he appears to have been rapped over the knuckles by his employer for making perfectly reasonable statements about the need for quality assurance in studies of the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

My letter to Vice-Chancellor Prof Sandra Harding is reproduced below:

Dear Prof Harding,
I am writing to express my dismay at the recent treatment of Prof Peter Ridd, as reported in the media, for expressing his considered professional opinion about issues relevant to his expertise.

As a proud graduate of James Cook University (BSc 1991, PhD 1998), I am unhappy to see such weak commitment by my alma mater to a free and robust expression of thought.

As a practicing physical scientist (70 peer-reviewed publications, h-index = 19), I expect anything I publish to be frankly and fearlessly criticised if my methodology or assumptions are deficient, and would be horrified if potential critics were to refrain from such criticism on the grounds that it would be ‘disrespectful to my reputation’.  If such a criterion – as reported in the media as grounds for the censure of Prof Ridd – were to be generally adopted, it would mean the death of science.

 And parenthetically, as a former resident of Townsville (1983-1998), I can remember many episodes of panic that one event or another would lead to the death of the Reef. I vividly recall my grandfather, E/Prof Bill Lacy (Foundation Professor of Economic Geology at James Cook University), saying that such episodes had been a feature of life in North Queensland since he first visited the region.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Chris Fellows FRACI
Associate Professor in Chemistry
School of Science and Technology
The University of New England
NSW 2351

Update 17th June 2016: A reply! And a brief additional correspondence...

Dear Associate Professor Fellows

Thank you for your email to Professor Harding in relation to this matter. Professor Harding has asked me to advise you that media reports that a James Cook University scientist was censured for questioning the veracity of another academic’s research are incorrect. 
Any action that may be taken by the University under the JCU Code of Conduct would be in relation to matters of personal behaviour and not for questioning the veracity of another researcher’s science.

Media reports that the member of staff was threatened with dismissal are also incorrect. Under the JCU Code of Conduct there is a broad range of responses to any inappropriate behaviour, and dismissal would only be applied for the most serious or repeat offences.

James Cook University values intellectual freedom and its marine science is subject to the same quality assurance processes that govern the conduct and delivery of scientific research internationally.

Kind Regards

Russ Parker
Executive Officer to the Vice Chancellor and President
James Cook University
Dear Mr Parker,
Thank you for very much your response. In light of what must then be widespread misrepresentation in the media, is a statement of clarification explaining exactly what matters of personal behaviour were found to be inappropriate and why publicly available anywhere?
Best regards,
Chris Fellows
Dear Chris
As you will understand, the specifics of any staff matter are protected under the Information Privacy Act and we are not at liberty to discuss them directly or make them public.
Regards, Russ


Update 8th July 2016: Prof Ridd has kindly shared with me the censure letter and the document that prompted it and has told me he has no objection to them being disseminated more widely.

1 comment:

SabrinaGreen said...
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