Physics professor Peter Ridd, of Australia’s James Cook University, just won a significant AU$1,094,214.47 in compensation for unlawful dismissal after daring criticize colleagues’ research. Imagine the temerity of asking questions in a scientific context. What’s really a problem here, though, is that the University seems determined to appeal the original finding that his firing was unjustified and also the amount of the award (including an additional $125,000 punitive levy bringing the total award to $1.2 million) using their essentially bottomless supply of public dollars to try to crush this turbulent professor. Which sounds very much like bullying.
Anti-bullying is one of the sacred tenets of modern secularism. It is a major focus of schools and of celebrities and in principle everyone who’s anyone is against it. Yet dare to transgress against progressive orthodoxy in any area from gender to global warming, and you’ll be shunned, insulted, fired, denounced and even surrounded by a yelling mob. If this isn’t bullying, pace Damon Runyon, it will do until some real bullying comes along.
Ridd, for instance, has already spent $200,000 of his own money plus $260,000 contributed in a crowd-funding campaign. And of course, having been fired, he’s dipping into savings rather than paying lawyers from his ongoing income stream let alone someone else’s. The university, by contrast, has spent at least $600,000 of other people’s money, possibly a great deal more, and shows no signs of stopping. (And recently the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation also went after… Ridd.) It’s very much a David v Goliath story and it’s unfair. Where’s the outrage?
Or the humility. You’d think at some point JCU’s academician-bureaucrats would apologize, back down, and promise to do better next time, especially after losing on all 17 counts on the substance of the case. Which is all Ridd ever really wanted in what he calls “a fight that never should have started in the first place” and in which he has been vindicated in a grueling court battle.
In response to the $1.2 million award, he wrote “I have worked for 35 years on the Great Barrier Reef, and my genuinely held belief is that there are systemic quality assurance problems at Great Barrier Reef science institutions. I had a right, a duty, to say this.” Indeed. A duty. Challenging, probing, seeking to verify, questioning methodology, debating results, it’s how science proceeds and has at least since Galileo. There is such a thing as bad manners, or even bad faith in the laboratory. But nobody has credibly accused Dr. Ridd of any such thing.
Whereas the university got a proper tongue-lashing from the judge including for having “failed to respect [Ridd’s] rights to intellectual freedom” and for having issued a “blatantly untrue” and “appalling” public statement after losing on the substance of the issue in April while calling Ridd “scrupulously honest”.
It’s Ridd’s critics including his employers whose conduct has been scandalously aggressive and indifferent to the truth. Yet they grind on. Which should appal anyone interested in fairness even if they think Ridd’s views on coral reefs are unsound.