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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

04.08.2011 | 12:00am
ScienceThe polar bear transcript: the edited highlights
SCIENCE | August 4. 2011. 0:00
The polar bear transcript: the edited highlights

Sceptics claim the fact Dr Charles Monnett was interviewed about his 2006 study showing that polar bears were a victim of climate change undermines the science of global warming. Dr Monnott’s supporters claim he is being victimised while government departments are more concerned about drilling oil than conservation. Read the transcript from the interview with the Office of the Inspector General.

MONNETT:  Okay, and, and just so I know how to put my answers, do you have scientific credentials of any sort?  Uh, what, what, what level of scientist am I speaking with here that’s going to be evaluating my science?

ERIC MAY:  No, we’re criminal investigators.

CHARLES MONNETT:  Criminal investigators.

ERIC MAY:  With the Inspector General’s Office.


CHARLES MONNETT:  So I assume with no formal training in, in science or biology or –

LYNN GIBSON:  That’s correct.

ERIC MAY:  That’s right.

CHARLES MONNETT:  – marine, marine biology (inaudible/mixed voices).

LYNN GIBSON:  That’s correct.

ERIC MAY:  That’s correct, right.

CHARLES MONNETT:  All right, thanks. 


ERIC MAY:  Okay, understood.  Um, so during your participation in the BWASP, did you observe – well, you did observe polar bears.  

CHARLES MONNETT:  Absolutely, every year.

ERIC MAY:  Okay, can you elaborate on your observation of polar bears and what years and be a little bit more specific?


ERIC MAY:  Well, I mean, what was the first year you observed a polar bear?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Oh, I don’t know.  Um, I imagine I saw a polar bear the first year I was out there, so that would be ’99 but I don’t know.  I don’t, I don’t remember.  I didn’t review the reports. That’s, that’s too far back.


LYNN GIBSON:  So the data recorder allowed you to log polar bears and – on land, polar bears swimming, but not dead polar bears?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, no, no, we –

LYNN GIBSON:  Or how does that work?

CHARLES MONNETT:  We, um – hm, well, you’re asking me to remember something I can’t remember the details of now, but the, the – normally, if the bear was alive, we would record it.  That – we – uh, remember now, up to that point, we had never seen a, a dead bear to record.  Um, we did have swimming in the – uh, as one of the behavioral choices, because whales swim.  And there were a few things that, um – I’d have to look.  We’ve got a list, you know, of behaviors that long and, and, uh, if they were feeding on the carcasses, we probably noted that in some way. Um, you know, it might be in that book, because that has the protocols and, and, and things in it


ERIC MAY:  And just how did you know they were dead?  

CHARLES MONNETT:  Oh, it was really obvious.

ERIC MAY:  Okay, like what, just –

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, I’ve seen a lot of dead things in the water.  Um, number one, I’ve seen a lot of live things, too, so I know what a swimming polar bear looks like, but something that’s in the water, um, with its head down, with, uh, gurry and stuff streaming off it, that’s one way.  Um, another – the last one we saw was bloated like a, um, a beach ball, and it was this thing with its legs out, and it was visible for a long ways ahead of the aircraft.  The sun was shining on it. 


CHARLES MONNETT [Asked about the the subsequent studyâ?¦]: And, uh, then we sent it to journal, and they sent it out to three peer reviewers, anonymous peer reviewers.  

ERIC MAY:  The journal or -?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Uh, Polar Biology.

ERIC MAY:  Polar Biology, okay.


ERIC MAY:  How did they become involved?

CHARLES MONNETT:  The journal?

ERIC MAY:  Yeah.

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, we submitted it for publication.

ERIC MAY:  You just submitted it to them?


ERIC MAY:  Okay, and was, um, MMS aware that you submitted it to Polar Bear –

CHARLES MONNETT:  Yeah, absolutely.  

[The investigator appears to then question a presentation Monnett did at a Wildlife conference in ’06.]

ERIC MAY:  Well, actually, since you’re bringing that up, and, and I’m a little confused of how many dead or drowned polar bears you did observe, because in the manuscript, you indicate three, and in the poster presentation –


ERIC MAY:  – you mentioned four.  

CHARLES MONNETT:  No, now you’re confusing the, um, the estimator with the, uh, the sightings. There were four drowned bears seen.

[This seems to be the central allegation – that Monnett is inconsistent about the number of bears he saw dead.] 

ERIC MAY:  So will that explain – this is an email from you – between you and Mr. Gleason.


ERIC MAY:  And on the first page –


ERIC MAY:  – Mr. Gleason is talking about four observations, I believe, then you correct him and say only three observations during MMS surveys.

CHARLES MONNETT:  Oh, huh.  Well, that’s a typo, I guess. I don’t know what the context of this was.  But, I mean, I, I gave four lat/longs here, so -.

ERIC MAY:  Right, and, well, that’s, and that’s the confusion.


ERIC MAY:  So why did you correct him and – because he initially in the first email said four observations, using these. And then you correct him –


ERIC MAY:  – in, in, in response by saying, no, only three polar bear, dead, you know, dead polar bear observations during MMS survey –


ERIC MAY:  – and that’s why I’m asking about your actual observation.

CHARLES MONNETT:  I don’t know.  You know, I don’t know what that is.  I don’t, I don’t remember that, and I don’t know if that’s the same thing.  


ERIC MAY:  Wonder what, what they did is seven of what number is, uh, represents 11 percent, and that would – that’s where the 63 came up.

CHARLES MONNETT:  Somebody is deficient in fifth grade math.  

2 ERIC MAY:  (Laughing)  

3 CHARLES MONNETT:  Seriously.  I mean, give me a break.


ERIC MAY:  – in the studies that we reviewed, I’ll quote, um, “1987 to 2003, BWASP aerial survey reports state ‘Sightings of dead marine mammals were not included in summary analysis or maps’.  


ERIC MAY:  So how could you make the statement that no dead polar bears were observed during 1987 to 2-

CHARLES MONNETT:  Because we talked to the people that had flown the flights, and they would remember whether they had seen any dead polar bears.  

ERIC MAY:  So you talked to each individual from â??87 to –

CHARLES MONNETT:  No, no, we talked to the team leaders.  We talked to Steve Treacy and, and –

ERIC MAY:  All the way back to 1987?


ERIC MAY:  Do you have documentation of that?


ERIC MAY:  How, how did you talk to them?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, on the phone.  He’s retired, but I call him a lot. 

ERIC MAY:  And you asked him if he observed any dead polar bears?


ERIC MAY:  Now how – isn’t that a little questionable, only because the, the objective of the studies was not to observe dead polar bears, but to observe the migration of bowhead whales?


ERIC MAY:  So as a scientist, if another scientist made these conclusions based on the information, you would be okay with that as a peer reviewer?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, yeah, I would, I mean, if, you know, if they told me that. They keep notes.  I mean, they did this – every, everything like we do, so -.  

ERIC MAY:  And that’s a, that’s a – and it’s a stretch, isn’t it, though, to make that statement?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Well, no, I didn’t think so.  I thought that was perfectly reasonable to ask them, since it isn’t something – remember, the reason it’s not in the database is because it, it doesn’t happen.  You know, you don’t see it, so – and there’s a reason, uh, why it’s changed, which is in, in, in a lot of the early years, there was a lot of ice out there, and there just weren’t opportunities for there to be dead bears.  You know, bears don’t drown when there’s ice all over the place.

[Jeff Ruch from PEER comes in to ask what the specific allegations are.]

JEFF RUCH:  Um, but, uh, Agent May indicated to, um, Paul that he was going to lay out what the allegations are, and we haven’t heard them yet, or perhaps we don’t understand them from this line of questioning.  

ERIC MAY:  Well, the scientif- – well, scientific misconduct, basically, uh, wrong numbers, uh, miscalculations, uh –

JEFF RUCH:  Wrong numbers and calculations?

ERIC MAY:  Well, what we’ve been discussing for the last hour.  

JEFF RUCH:  So this is it?

CHARLES MONNETT:  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 about.  

ERIC MAY:  No, no, no further comment on my part.  We, we’re – I’m just about complete with my – the interview, so –

CHARLES MONNETT:  Really?  Oh, good.  That’s it?  

ERIC MAY:  Like I said, we receive allegations; we investigate.  

CHARLES MONNETT:  Don’t you wonder why somebody that can’t even do math is making these allegations and going through this stuff

CHARLES MONNETT:  – we – listen, we, we work for an agency that is, especially then, extremely hostile to the concept of climate change, that’s hostile to the idea that there’s any effects of anything we do on anything.  And we could only write this paper by being extremely conservative, with a lot of caveats.  It’s the only way we could publish it. Because you saw those names on there.  They’re all looking at it, you know, wanting to see whether we’ve said anything at all.

And that’s what you guys ought to be thinking about is that, and why somebody is, is asking these silly questions, why they’re trying to, uh, make me look bad and undermine this simple paper that’s an obvious paper, uh, that hasn’t been subject to any scientific criticism up to this point.  And it’s been out there for a while. 

And my management have been trying to kill this study for a while, ever since really the polar bear thing came out.  That was when they realized that it’s dangerous to take data like this, because if there are changes and, you know, God forbid something that has anything to do with the climate change debate.  So I, I thought they’d softened. I’m amazed that it, um, is coming up, at least if it’s coming up here.  I don’t know, maybe it’s coming up somewhere else, but –

LYNN GIBSON:  So what was your management then motivation to not want you to ensure that this was statistically correct, by doing all those things?  I mean, what – why?

CHARLES MONNETT:  Oh, you didn’t want to get me started (laughing). Well, why do you think?  They, they, 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.  The bowhead whale is extremely political, and the Native community is very powerful, and they’re very concerned about, uh, you know, any impacts that we might have on the whale.  So what MMS has done has created, um, the perception that we’re monitoring this, and we’re finding negative results all the time, when I would argue we’re not monitoring at all.  We’re just doing this study.

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