Controversial Polar Bear Scientist Deserves Academic Freedom

Controversial Polar Bear Scientist Deserves Academic Freedom
Daniel Karmann/dpa via AP

The apex predator of the north is the polar bear, which devours about 150 pounds of meat at a sitting. Fortunately for the seals (and occasional humans) polar bears dine out only every five or six days.

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Polar bears, of course, have been elevated by environmentalists to the status of demi-gods of the wilderness. Images of them adorn almost every appeal to save the Earth from the depredations of humanity. Among the favorite visuals is the forlorn and emaciated bear, trapped on an ice flow as his Arctic environment melts away around him. The message: our ravenous desire for fossil fuels is driving the beautiful bears to the brink of extinction.

This message has some evident flaws, not least of which is that polar bears are excellent swimmers. But the greater flaw is that polar bear population in recent decades has been growing rapidly. Extinction isn’t on their menu.

The most prominent bearer of the news about bear fecundity has been Susan Crockford, a zoologist and an adjunct researcher in the anthropology department at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. Her university just deleted her from its speaker bureau and cut off her adjunct status. Adjuncts of course can be fired for no reason and universities aren’t required to explain why. But Crockford believes she was cashiered because her popular blog, polarbearscience.com, undercuts the environmentalist mythology. She puts the extant polar bear population at about 39,000, which cuts against a widespread belief that there are no more than a few thousand left.

Among Crockford’s enemies numbers Penn State “climatologist” Michael Mann, who has a troubled history with facts but a celebrity status among warmists. Mann characterized Crockford’s website as a “denier blog.”

Denying Crockford’s adjunct status at the University of Victoria puts at risk her research funding, much of which is tried to her maintaining a university position. The National Association of Scholar’s Canadian counterpart, the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, wrote to the University asking for the grounds and the procedure for her firing. Crockford herself sees a political motive behind the university’s decision. Her new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, stands perilously on the melting iceberg of climate orthodoxy.

Crockford’s dismissal is a striking example of how the academy attempts to police scientific opinions on climate change. Scientists—including very well-known figures such as Crockford, William Happer, and Judith Curry—are subject to a constant barrage of ad hominem attack. They seldom receive more than token support for their academic freedom, but are instead pressured to “respect” the so-called “climate consensus.”

Instead of debates on the merits of climate models and critical examination of the underlying data, we have universities that are willing to take active steps to suppress dissonant views. Perhaps the polar bear is indeed an apt symbol for environmental extremism: a charismatic killer that gorges on the innocent.

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