Polar bear climate-change scientist investigated for ‘integrity issues’

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
Font Size:

The federal wildlife biologist whose research on drowning polar bears became a rallying cry for global warming advocates is under investigation for “integrity issues” relating to his scientific studies.

Charles Monnett, a scientist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) was placed on administrative leave by the agency on July 18, pending an investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General office.

In 2006, After observing a number of drowned polar bears while doing field work, Monnett and a colleague published a peer-reviewed article suggesting that “drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.”

The article never explicitly tied polar bear deaths to global warming, but it was nevertheless picked up by environmentalists — and even made its way into Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Although no details have been released regarding the investigation, Monnett was interviewed in February by agents from the office of the Inspector General regarding “potential scientific misconduct.” The interview focused specifically on Monnett’s 2004 work that led to the famous article.

BOEMRE declined to comment specifically on the investigation.

“All of the scientific contracts previously managed by Mr. Monnett are being managed by the highly qualified scientists at BOEMRE,” said BOEMRE spokesperson Melissa Schwartz. “Any allegations regarding scientific integrity would be addressed through the Department’s new scientific integrity policy. The investigation is being handled by the department’s Office of the Inspector General.”

The Office of the Inspector General also declined to comment, as it is an ongoing investigation. However, a source familiar with the investigation said Monnett was placed on leave “for reasons having nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting, as has been alleged. Any suggestions or speculation to the contrary are wrong.” (RELATED: EPA stimulating environmental regulations abroad)

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental advocacy group, called the investigation a “witch hunt” and filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior today.

The complaint demands Monnett receive an official apology and be reinstated. According to PEER, investigators have seized Monnett’s computers, papers and equipment. While on leave, he is not allowed to continue his scientific work or enter his office.

“Ever since this paper was published, Dr. Monnett has been subjected to escalating official harassment, culminating in his recent virtual house arrest,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “This is a cautionary tale with a deeply chilling message for any federal scientist who dares to publish groundbreaking research on conditions in the Arctic.”

James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute, had a different take.

“Without knowing the specifics of the evidence for or against Monnett, I will say that government-funded scientists should be able to and indeed required to provide supporting evidence for their claims,” Taylor said. “If Monnett did nothing wrong, an inquiry into his work will enhance his reputation and his claims. If he did poor research or engaged in misconduct, then the public certainly has a right to know that, too.”