Polar Bear Scientist Cleared; Interior Dept. Still Under Openness Cloud
Interior Department scientists may want to think again about publishing their results. If the findings conflict with the department's drilling goals or political expediency, they may be subject to dunking-stool investigative procedures.
Case in point: Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Alaska, published a paper in 2006 noting observations of dead polar bears believed to have drowned because of disappearing Arctic ice. The observations became iconic evidence in the highly political debate over global warming during the Bush years (could the Endangered Species Act be used to force action on global warming?). Less obvious, however, was its dissonance with Interior/BOEM's drive to approve Shell Oil's plan to drill in Arctic waters.
In 2011, years after Monnett's polar bear observations, the Interior Department's Inspector General started an investigation of Monnett's science. The probe was started after a complaint by a faceless accuser who was a career Interior employee. The investigation's findings — partially published September 28, 2012 — were confused and contained no findings of scientific misconduct.
The principal charge upheld by the IG was that Monnett had leaked e-mails, some of which showed that Interior during the Bush administration had been ordering employees to keep scientific deliberations secret.
While the bulk of the investigation focused on the integrity of Monnett's scientific work, the probe did not follow procedures suggested under Interior's scientific integrity policy. Instead, it evaluated the science using scientifically untrained criminal investigators under the quasi-criminal procedures of the IG's office. An agency press officer had denied on the record that the Monnett probe had anything to do with the merits or integrity of the science.
- "US Polar Bear Researcher Cleared of Scientific Misconduct," Guardian, September 29, 2012, by Suzanne Goldenberg.
- "Kafkaesque IG Polar Bear Report at Odds with Facts," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Press Release of October 1, 2012.
- "Leaked E-Mails May Sink Arctic Offshore Lease Sales," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Press Release of February 4, 2008.
- "DOI's Polar Bear Scientist Investigation Ends in Confusion," Mother Jones, October 2, 2012, by Kate Sheppard.
- "Polar Scientist Rebuked for Leaks," Politico, October 2, 2012, by Erica Martinson.
- "Scientist Cleared In Polar Bear Controversy," NPR, September 28, 2012, by Nell GreenfieldBoyce.
- "'Polar Bear Fraud': How Fox News Smeared a Scientist," Media Matters, October 1, 2012, by Shauna Theel.
- "Drowned Polar Bear Probe Closes with a Whimper ," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Press Release of September 28, 2012.
- "Investigative Report of Charles Monnett (Redacted)," Interior Department, Office of Inspector General, September 28, 2012. [Note: the Interior Department IG has not published this document online because its site is down for technical and security reasons].
- Previous Story: "Interior Integrity Policy: Is Science Door Half-Open or Half-Closed?" WatchDog of February 23, 2011.
- "Scientist Accuses Obama's Interior Department of Misconduct," Mother Jones, August 14, 2012, by Kate Sheppard.