Debra J. Saunders

When I asked Rundel for an example, he said that Bonnicksen was wrong to write in a September piece in the San Jose Mercury News that there are at least 896 Pacific fishers (a weasel-like animal) in the Sequoia National Monument. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service letter estimated their number to be fewer than 500 in a nearby larger area.

Bonnicksen's reply: "My people on the ground" -- whom he would not name-- "say that's a reasonable estimate." And, "In either case, they're not endangered."

In their open letter to the media taking on Rundel and company, the academics, including two professors emeritus from UC Berkeley, wrote that they were "appalled" at attacks "by four individuals who are attempting to silence debate."

Of the 10 profs, Rundel said: "If you look at who signs the letter in support of him, it's a very different group. They're all people who are forest products people or forest modeling people -- with a couple of exceptions." Get it: They're all hacks, except those who aren't.

Bonnicksen's story may seem like small potatoes, but it reveals a disturbing trend in academia. Professors used to shrink from even the appearance of trying to muzzle colleagues who hold unpopular opinions. Now, scientists are working to turn places that are supposed to encourage students and professors to think for themselves into institutional echo chambers. Brilliant: They chase out skeptics from academia, and then figure they must be right because everyone they know thinks as they do.

After we spoke, Rundel sent me a note suggesting that The San Francisco Chronicle run a series on forest management policies that "would provide a venue for the discussion of all points of view." Now he wants all points of view to be heard.

But as more academics act a la Rundel, they will convince themselves that they should not have to tolerate critics. Or as Bonnicksen told me over the phone, the other side is pushing for "science by popular vote, and that's no science at all."

Debra J. Saunders

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