THEHEAD of earth sciences at Melbourne University is putting his professional reputation and possibly his financial future at risk by suing a creationist.
Geology professor Ian Plimer has taken to court Allen Roberts, a self-described doctor of Christian education, who claims to have seen Noah's Ark near Mount Ararat in Turkey. "If I win hands down, it will cost me $150,000 (Pounds 75,000)," said Professor Plimer, "If I lose I will go bankrupt."
Professor Plimer has been joined in the action, at the Federal Court in New South Wales, by American marine salvage expert David Fasold. They say that Mr Roberts and his company, Ark Search Association Inc, breached Australia's Trade Practices Act and its fair-trading laws by producing and selling literature, audio and video tapes that are misleading and deceptive. Mr Fasold says that before he met Professor Plimer he believed that rock formations in Turkey were Noah's Ark. He now alleges that Mr Roberts breached his copyright by reproducing a drawing of the Mount Ararat site he had completed in 1985 after several expeditions. The drawing was used in a report Mr Fasold wrote for the Turkish government and in his book, The Ark of Noah, but was reproduced by Mr Roberts in his own pamphlets.
Professor Plimer says the court action is a consumer protection case and that it is his public duty to try to stop impressionable young people from being misled by creationists. He told the court last week that he was appalled that people were being misled. In his capacity as an educator, he had a public duty to inform those who had paid to hear Mr Roberts speak publicly in 1993 about the deception.
Professor Plimer attended one of Mr Roberts's first meetings at a church in Melbourne where he was thrown out after insisting on asking whether Mr Roberts had proof of his claim to have discovered Noah's Ark. Mr Roberts later sued him for defamation after comments he made on radio following another meeting in Hobart. That action is due to go to the Supreme Court later this year but meanwhile Professor Plimer has mounted his own case.
The case, which is expected to last for another week at least, is the culmination of a five-year struggle which has left Professor Plimer in poor health and financially stretched. He says he pursues the issue because of the abuse of his science. A former colleague at Melbourne University, Victor Prescott, says the campaign against creationists has been accepted by the university because "academics should support the truth as they see it".