Blog Archive

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Los Angeles Times: After suspension, U.S. polar bear scientist Charles Monnett is back at work

After suspension, U.S. polar bear scientist back at work

by Kim MurphyLos Angeles Times, 
August 27, 2011
Readers, the money paragraph is the second to last one.
SEATTLE — The arcane world of polar bear research was rocked recently by the suspension of a federal scientist in Alaska whose research on polar bear drownings in the Arctic raised major concerns about climate change. But the researcher was reinstated to his job Friday — and an inquiry has been launched to determine whether the Obama administration tried to interfere with his research.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement confirmed that Charles Monnett — whose suspension in July sparked an outcry among fellow scientists, climate change researchers and opponents of offshore oil and gas drilling — has been recalled from six weeks of administrative leave. But he won’t be resuming his previous work managing research contracts, the bureau said.
Agency officials have sought to downplay the incident, saying Monnett was suspended for improperly administering contracts, not for documenting dead polar bears.
“There is no truth to any suggestion that the return to work is in any way tied to ... allegations against bureau leadership,” said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the bureau, which oversees oil and gas development in many of the same Arctic regions where polar bears are seeing their icy habitat shrink.
But the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is providing Monnett legal representation, has alleged that federal investigators targeted their initial questions primarily at a 2006 article he co-wrote in the journal Polar Biology.
That article documented a wave of polar bear drownings, probably because of a storm and the long distances the bears had to swim between diminishing ice floes. The article had been approved by Monnett’s superiors and was peer reviewed before it was published, the group maintains.
“All the questions were on this paper, and whether it was complete and accurate. And this paper was a big deal — it helped galvanize popular understanding of the effects of climate change in the Arctic,” the advocacy group’s executive director, Jeff Ruch, said in an interview.
A transcript of the interview that agents from the Inspector General’s Office initially conducted with Monnett suggests that they were investigating allegations of “scientific misconduct” apparently connected to the polar bear article. In it, the agents asked detailed questions about how Monnett and his co-author had assembled their data.
The investigation launched this month by the Interior Department’s scientific integrity officer stems from the advocacy group’s complaint that Monnett’s suspension violates Obama administration rules that took effect in February. Those rules are designed to protect federal scientists from interference from outside the scientific process.
“There was a presidential directive that said the Obama administration won’t tolerate political manipulation of science as it occurred under the (George W.) Bush administration,” Ruch said. “So if the new policy is they’re supposed to protect scientists from interference, this is a heck of a way to do that.”
The integrity issues bureau officials have cited appear to relate not to the polar bear article but to Monnett’s oversight of a Canadian research study, and to Monnett’s admissions, as summarized in a letter to him from an agent of the inspector general earlier this year. In those admissions, Monnett is said to have acknowledged helping a Canadian researcher prepare a research funding proposal even though he was also responsible for deciding who was awarded the contract.
The action has nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting, as has been alleged,” Schwartz said in an e-mail.  [If it not any of the things they interviewed Dr. Monnett about, then what the heck is it!?! Oh yeah, they want him to shut the hell up about environmental damage that could be caused by drilling for oil.]
“The return of an employee to work does not suggest that future administrative actions cannot/will not be taken,” she added. [Nice little threat there.]

No comments: