Peter Ridd is a hero for some people. He holds beliefs that they subscribe to with the passion of an evangelist – or of the Prime Minister at Hillsong. He thinks that the Barrier Reef is not endangered. This unsettled his employer, James Cook University. His position may have seemed uncomfortably close to them to broadcasting political views. That of course would be anathema, particularly to those in the commentariat who see universities as breeding grounds for some kind of Marxism – whatever that means.
But the I P A is committed to the position that the orthodox scientific view of climate change is not well founded. They therefore think Mr Ridd is their man. This involves – yes, you got it – freedom of speech! So they accompanied Mr Ridd to the High Court with John Roskam and Bob Katter – and ‘dozens of supporters.’
Well, why should I not be free to say that 1 + 1 = 3? If I am teaching arithmetic at state school? Why should I not be free to say that the book of Genesis is literally true? If I am teaching archaeology and carbon dating at university? The expression of a dissident view by an academic in the course of teaching might seriously undermine that teaching – and the education of the students. It would be curious if the teaching institution had to put up with that inimical conduct.
According to the press, counsel for Mr Ridd submitted:
Sometimes an academic has to say something is wrong and give the reasons why it is wrong. The reasons it is wrong may be that the research is fraudulent, the research has a funding bias, that the researcher may have been negligent. As an operation of the ideas clashing, the truth emerges… but reputations are damaged as one side is proved to be wrong. That can’t be done in a respectful and courteous way.
Well, the words ‘wrong’ and ‘truth’ might be a little too absolute for a common lawyer, or someone brought up in the tradition of empirical philosophy, but the process described by counsel is not too far away from the forensic process that our courts undertake every day. I would be surprised if the Court had not been reminded of the well-known remarks of Justice Holmes:
Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises.
But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.
That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.
And it would be difficult to suggest to Her Majesty’s justices that their work cannot be done in a ‘respectful and courteous way.’
And it is just too bloody rich for the IPA, which inhales coal in its milk, to be associated with the suggestion that views on scientific research might be vitiated by a ‘funding bias’. Has anyone done more for the IPA than coal and Gina?
The G7 meeting was a genuine success for Scott Morrison and for the West…The only leader who spoke with any realism on climate change was Morrison himself.
The Australian, 17 June, 2021, Greg Sheridan.
Even Mr Ridd might draw the line there.