Polar bear scientist Dr Charles Monnett cleared of scientific misconduct
- 01 Oct 2012, 16:00
- Chris Peters
An investigation into US academic Dr Charles Monnett - the
scientist whose work first highlighted polar bears drowning as a
result of melting ice in the Arctic - wrapped up this week,
clearing him of misconduct in his research activities.
Instead, Dr Monnett has received what appears to be a fairly minor
reprimand for "improper
release of government documents". The academic improperly
forwarded official emails to a local government official and a
fellow researcher at the University of Alaska without prior
authorisation, the inquiry found. Some of the material disclosed by
Monnett was subsequently used in court to force the Interior
Department to revoke its approval of Shell's drilling plan.
Science on trial?
Monnett, of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in the
US, was investigated by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at
the United States Department of the Interior. The investigation,
which began in 2010, was related to charges of scientific
his 2006 study which linked drowned polar bears to ice loss in
Climate sceptic campaigners argued the investigation showed
Monnet's research was suspect. Monnett's legal representatives at
environmental whistleblower organisation Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, meanwhile, labelled the
investigation a "witch
In February last year we put up an edited
transcript of the initial hearing where Monnett was questioned
by criminal investigators, revealing some particularly strange
questions being put to the researcher.
When asked what the investigation is focusing on, one of the
investigators responds: "Well, the scientif- - well, scientific
misconduct, basically, uh, wrong numbers, uh,
Dr Monnett replies: "Well, that's not scientific misconduct
anyway. If anything, it's sloppy. I mean, that's not -
I mean, I mean, the level of criticism that they seem to have
leveled here, scientific misconduct, uh, suggests that we did
something deliberately to deceive or to, to change it. Um, I
sure don't see any indication of that in what you're asking me
Later in the interview, Dr Monnett states of his interlocutor,
"somebody is deficient in fifth grade math."
The transcript suggests Monnett felt his work was being misrepresented by a
government department in order to support the interests of the
oil industry. Toward the end of the interview Dr Monnett also
suggests that hostility to his work from his government employers
created pressure to downplay the impacts of climate change in the
"...they don't want any impediment to, um, you know, what they
view as their mission, which is to, uh, you know, drill wells up
there, I mean, and, you know, put areas into production."
Monnett's legal representative during the investigation, Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), greeted the
investigation's conclusion in typically bullish style. PEER
Jeff Ruch suggested that far from being reprimanded
for his role in exposing his employer, "Monnett deserves a
"We are amazed that Dr. Monnett would be reproved for revealing
that his agency was wrongfully withholding information, [...]. For
his actions, Chuck Monnett deserves a citation, not a reprimand.
However if after years of investigation, these stale, stilted
charges are the only things these jokers could dig up, Dr. Monnett
must be an exemplary public servant".
This presumably marks the end of the issue. Last year, when this
story first broke
US organisation Media Matters noted that the "conservative
media have claimed that the case exposes 'the global warming fraud'
and that polar bears are not threatened by climate change."
It seems that, in the end, the investigation has concluded rather