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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Inquiry Finds No Proof That Federal Biologist Charles Monnett Falsified Data

Inquiry Finds No Proof That Federal Biologist Falsified Data

Polar bears in the  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.ReutersPolar bears in the  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Green: Politics
An internal investigation of allegations that a government biologist omitted critical data to “advance a global warming agenda” has yielded no evidence that he did so. The scientist, Charles Monnett of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is known for four 2004 sightings of dead polar bears in the Beaufort Sea that helped turn the bear into a symbol of the impacts of climate change.
In its final report, issued late last week, the bureau’s inspector general office did fault Dr. Monnett for leaking internal e-mails about federal scientists’ objections to planned oil leases in the Arctic, an action that the scientist’s managers have known about for over four years. For that, he has been reprimanded by his agency.
But the report did not present proof that he “omitted critical data or results and possibly submitted false data to advance a global warming agenda” when he reported his polar-bear findings in a 2006 paper in the journal “Polar Biology.”
The report is a rich broth of unproven charges, dark suspicions and minute facts about the length of the abstracts that begin a scientific paper, who can say what to whom about the design of a noncompetitive federal contract with academic researchers, and who saw floating polar-bear carcasses first.
The inquiry was opened because at least one employee in the Alaska office of the Minerals Management Service, the bureau’s predecessor agency, felt that Dr. Monnett and his colleague and co-author, Jeffrey S. Gleason, were campaigning to foster concern about climate change and thus might be twisting their science.
“The complainant alleged that Monnett and Gleason may have presented fraudulent scientific data for the purpose of advancing a global warming agenda, influencing the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and hindering the exploration and development of offshore oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf,” the report said. One of the companies planning such development is Royal Dutch Shell.  [They have recommenced drilling this week.]
In interviews with the scientists last year, investigators closely followed the road map laid out by the original complainant and at least one named official, the deputy regional director, Jeffery Loman.
The e-mails on which Mr. Loman and the anonymous complainant relied came to their attention after a more typical dispute broke out in the Alaska office of the agency, the report said. Environmentalists were suing to prevent some proposed offshore oil and gas drilling, and scientists within the Minerals Management Service objected to the drilling plans.
But when lawyers for environmentalists requested relevant internal documents, the agency withheld its scientists’ e-mails. Then the Web site of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that provides an outlet for federal whistleblowers, started posting some of the agency scientists’ e-mails.
A computer search of e-mail traffic at the agency showed that Dr. Monnett had sent those same e-mails to a contact at the University of Alaska that has ties to that whistleblower association, known as PEER.
Mr. Loman wanted to know whether Dr. Monnett had been sending other internal e-mails out, so his information technology subordinates gave him electronic copies of thousands of his e-mails. Some e-mails from this collection, discussing the findings in the polar-bear paper by Dr. Monnett and Dr. Gleason, were the basis for the complaint that set off the inspector general’s investigation.
One, from Dr. Gleason to Dr. Monnett, was written just after the two scientists had seen their fourth dead bear in as many observation missions.
Chuck: Just got off the phone with my co-supervisor from my Ph.D. who’s an Arctic ecologist and I mentioned the dead polar bears. He thought we might be onto something with the global warming angle. In any case, he recommended we get in touch with Ian Stirling to discuss our observations. It might be worthwhile to get his views on the topic.
Dr. Stirling is a leading international polar-bear researcher.
According to the report, the anonymous complainant annotated the e-mail for the inspector general as follows: “The mention of ‘global warming angle’ is key here as is the need to bolster the effort by consultation with other reputable scientists with similar ideology.”
Other speculation about the two scientists makes its way into the final report. For example, after a chance meeting with a woman who identified herself as an assistant on Al Gore’s film about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and said she knew of Dr. Monnett’s work, Mr. Loman suspected that Dr. Monnett or Dr. Gleason had been in touch with her.
“Loman said that after his conversation with the researcher he recalled seeing an e-mail from Monnett to an unknown recipient about photographs of dead polar bears.” The investigators questioned Dr. Gleason about whether anyone associated with the film had ever called him. He said no, and the investigators did not report finding any such e-mail.
The report also include accounts from two colleagues of Dr. Monnett at the Minerals Management Service, each of whom remembers (vaguely, in one case) seeing dead polar bears in the water. Neither of these is documented or corroborated. But the accounts are discussed at length, seemingly as if to rebut the suggestion by Dr. Monnett and Dr. Gleason that their sightings of dead bears were unprecedented.
In the course of the investigation, the inspector general’s special agents referred their findings to the United States attorney in Alaska under a law that forbids government employees from making fraudulent statements. It was one of three potential legal charges against Dr. Monnett and Dr. Gleason that the inspector general’s agents referred to that office in the course of the investigation. The attorney office pursued none of them.
In the end, the report does not corroborate the complainant’s charge that Dr. Monnett and Dr Gleason were out to further “the global warming agenda” or to influence the Fish and Wildlife Service’s eventual decision to put the polar bear on a list of threatened species. It does show in vivid detail how the inspector general’s agents went about trying, unsuccessfully, to make a credible case of scientific misconduct against the two scientists.


My comment to the author:

Ms. Barringer, 

I commend you for noting the two examples of climate denialism here:

(1) the complainant's idea that Dr. Monnett had a "a global warming agenda" (this counts as a valid smear on Fox News) and

(2) that other ridiculous concept of deniers that scientists have ideological reasons that motivate their research ("other reputable scientists with similar ideology").

What is clear from these two statements by the complainant is that he had an agenda and an ideology, but it is well known that those with "Republican brains" are among the most adept projectionists.

Thank you!

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