By Valerie Richardson
Nobody has done more to sink the claim that climate change is endangering polar bears than zoologist Susan Crockford — and she may have paid for it with her job.
After 15 years as an adjunct assistant professor, Ms. Crockford said the University of Victoria rejected without explanation in May her renewal application, despite her high profile as a speaker and author stemming from her widely cited research on polar bears and dog domestication.
Ms. Crockford accused officials at the Canadian university of bowing to “outside pressure,” the result of her research showing that polar bear populations are stable and even thriving, not plummeting as a result of shrinking Arctic sea ice, defying claims of the climate change movement.
Her dismissal, which she announced Wednesday in a post on her Polar Bear Science blog, has spurred alarm over the implications for academic freedom and the rise of the “cancel culture” for professors and scientists who challenge climate catastrophe predictions.
“When push came to shove, UVic threw me under the bus rather than stand up for my academic freedom,” said Ms. Crockford, who earned a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies, specifically biology and anthropology, in 2004.
Ms. Crockford cited numerous instances of the university promoting her interviews and work, including her participation in a 2007 PBS “Nature” documentary about dog domestication and evolution, as well as her appearances at K-12 schools and adult groups for 10 years through the University of Victoria Speakers Bureau.
That supportive climate changed two years ago. In May 2017, her lectures were shut down after the speakers bureau received a complaint about her “lack of balance,” which “I believe poisoned support I might have expected from colleagues in the department,” she said.
“The speakers’ bureau incident made it clear the administration had no intention of protecting my academic freedom against complaints from outside the university,” Ms. Crockford said in an email to The Washington Times.
UVic Associate Vice President Michele Parkin responded with a letter challenging the assertion that Ms. Crockford was let go for “telling school kids politically incorrect facts about polar bears.” She was referring to a recent headline in the National Post of Toronto.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Dr. Crockford’s adjunct appointment was not renewed for ‘telling school kids politically incorrect facts about polar bears,’” said Ms. Parkin. “The University of Victoria, in both word and deed, supports academic freedom and free debate on academic issues.”
The statement fell short of denying that Ms. Crockford’s dismissal was linked to her polar bear scholarship, which almost single-handedly blew up the climate change movement’s promotion of the bears as iconic victims of anthropogenic global warming.
Her books include “The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened,” published in February, in which she said the bears are not threatened. She noted that the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2015 Red List of Threatened Species puts polar bear numbers at 22,000 to 31,000 despite a widespread belief that the population has dropped to a few thousand.
‘Cancel culture’ and academic freedom
Marc Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change,” said situations like Ms. Crockford’s have become “all too common in the climate debate.”
He cited examples of prominent scientists who “came out” as skeptics only after retiring.
“Professor after professor has been hounded, silenced, censured or fired for speaking out against the approved man-made climate crisis narrative,” Mr. Morano said. “The message to any climate dissenters in academia is once again reinforced: Stay silent with your skepticism or risk endangering your career.”
University of Victoria economics professor Cornelis van Kooten warned of the threat to free speech on campus. “I think the climate change movement has done extreme harm to academic freedom,” he said, and the movement isn’t alone.
“Put it this way: religion, race, evolution, gender, indigenous peoples, nuclear power, polar bears, deforestation. … Any views on these topics that don’t fall in line with the ‘consensus’ are taboo,” Mr. van Kooten said in an email. “Think the extent to which free speech has been banned from campuses across much of the West in the name of political correctness.”
In her letter, UVic’s Ms. Parkin noted that adjunct professors are unpaid, meaning “Dr. Susan Crockford’s work can carry on without this appointment,” but Ms. Crockford said losing the university position will harm her ability to secure grant funding.
“No one suggested funds were involved,” she said. “The point is that I will not be able to apply for research grants and in most cases will be unable to collaborate with colleagues on their research projects without a university affiliation.”
Ms. Crockford has drawn the ire of environmental activists and scientists with whose views she disagrees, based in part on her associations with climate skeptical organizations such as The Heartland Institute and the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Her Polar Bear Science blog came under fire in a 2017 study in the journal BioScience by 14 academics, including Penn State climatologist Michael E. Mann, decrying the influence of “denier blogs,” which Georgia Tech professor emeritus Judith Curry blasted as “absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published.”
Heartland spokesman Jim Lakely slammed Ms. Crockford’s dismissal as “outrageous, an affront to academic freedom, and a new, troubling step in modern #cancelculture,” adding that “all honest scientists should take up her cause.”
“The people who oppose her, and those who dismissed her, are not interested in science, but pushing political dogma,” Mr. Lakely said in an email. “This is a sad day for academic freedom and science, not dogma, ruling our public discourse.”
Now on a European speaking tour, Ms. Crockford, a co-founder of Pacific Identifications, said her critics should know that her loss of adjunct status will primarily discourage her work on “speciation and domestication mechanisms in evolution,” not polar bears.
“What a lack of academic affiliation has not done — and cannot do — is stop me from investigating and commenting on the failures and inconsistencies of science that I see in published polar bear research papers and reflected in public statements made by polar bear specialists,” she said. “I am still a former adjunct professor and I will not be silenced.”