Australian High Court dismisses Physicist’s claim of Intellectual Freedom

Aishwarya Rathore-

Published On: October 13, 2021 at 13:51 IST

The High Court of Australia dismissed an Intellectual Freedom claim by a University Physicist who was fired due to his remarks alleging that Scientists misrepresented the harm caused by climate change to the Great Barrier Reef.

Five High Court Judges unanimously rejected Physicist Peter Ridd’s allegation that he was unfairly fired by James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, in 2018.

The Court ruled that a clause in his employment contract preserving his Intellectual Freedom was not a “general freedom of speech” clause and did not prevent him from being fired for significant misconduct in violation of the University’s code of conduct.

The University stated, “James Cook University has always made clear that it strongly supports the pursuit of intellectual enquiry and the freedom of staff to engage in academic and intellectual freedom.”

Ridd had been the Head of the Physics Department at the University for the past 27 years and was ranked among the top 5% of researchers in the World by ResearchGate.

Ridd’s first reprimand resulted from an E-mail he wrote to a journalist in 2015 in which he accused the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority of excessively misusing scientific data to imply that the Great Barrier Reef was severely damaged.

His most recent reprimand was issued after a Sky News interview in 2017 in which he criticised two Scientific Organizations that are directly affiliated with the University.

Education Minister Alan Tudge stated, “While I respect the decision of the High Court, I am concerned that employment conditions should never be allowed to have a chilling effect on free speech or academic freedom at our Universities.” 

The Institution praised the ruling, which included 18 findings of significant misconduct that were not protected by the Intellectual Freedom Clause.

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