Polar Bear Scientist Investigated; Fueled Climate Debate
FILE – This undated file photo provided by Subhankar Banerjee shows a polar bear in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Federal wildlife biologist Charles Monnett, whose observation that polar bears likely drowned in the Arctic helped galvanize the global warming movement, was placed on administrative leave as officials investigate him for scientific misconduct. Investigators’ questions have focused on a 2004 journal article that Monnett wrote about the bears, said thePublic Employees for Environmental Responsibility group that is representing him. Monnett was told July 18 that he was being put on leave, pending an investigation into “integrity issues.”
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Just five years ago, Charles Monnett was one of the scientists whose observation that several polar bears had drowned in the Arctic Ocean helped galvanize the global warming movement. Now, the wildlife biologist is on administrative leave and facing accusations of scientific misconduct.
The federal agency where he works told him he’s being investigated for “integrity issues,” but a watchdog group believes it has to do with the 2006 journal article about the bear.
The group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, filed a complaint on his behalf Thursday with the agency, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Investigators have not yet told Monnett of the specific charges or questions related to the scientific integrity of his work, said Jeff Ruch, the watchdog group’s executive director.
A BOEMRE spokeswoman, Melissa Schwartz, said there was an “ongoing internal investigation” but declined to get into specifics.
Whatever the outcome, the investigation comes at a time when climate change activists and those who are skeptical about global warming are battling over the credibility of scientists’ work.
Members of both sides, however, said that it was too early to make any pronouncements about the case, particularly since the agency has not yet released the details of the allegations against him.
Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the case reinforces the group’s position that people should be more skeptical about the work of climate change scientists.
Even if every scientist is objective, “what we’re being asked to do is turn our economy around and spend trillions and trillions of dollars on the basis of” climate change claims, he said.
Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she’s not alarmed by the handling of the case so far.
Grifo said the allegations made in the complaint filed by Ruch’s group are premature and said people should wait to see what, if anything, comes of the inspector general’s investigation.
Beyond the climate change debate, the investigation also focuses attention on an Obama administration policy intended to protect scientists from political interference.
The complaint seeks Monnett’s reinstatement and a public apology from the agency and inspector general, whose office is conducting the probe.
The group’s filing also seeks to have the investigation dropped or to have the charges specified and the matter carried out quickly and fairly, as the Obama policy states.
BOEMRE, which oversees leasing and development of offshore drilling, was created last year in the reorganization of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversaw offshore drilling.
The MMS was abolished after the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The agency was accused of being too close to oil and gas industry interests. A congressional report last year found MMS Alaska was vulnerable to lawsuits and allegations of scientific misconduct.
The agency announced steps to improve.
On July 18, BOEMRE told the longtime Anchorage-based Monnett that he was being put on leave, pending the investigation, according to the complaint. BOEMRE has barred Monnett from speaking to reporters, Ruch said.