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Russell McKane

There has been pressure on this issue and this observational note for some time. Given the politics of the area it does not suprise me it has come to this.(read the attached PDF from the guardian)Cross reference the senate report on James Hansen's position under the Bush regime. Similar actions and incompitencies.
The issue is hot because the Polar bear issue forced a moratorium for a while on arctic drilling (not sure of the status of this) and then Obarma put a further hold on drilling due to the Gulf of Mexico BP fiasco - but it seems that exploritory licences are now being activated. The pressure on this has been great from the oil lobby and the push to be less reliant on Islamic nations oil - so the defacto postion is drill the arctic quickly given the opportunity melting is providing. This actually means opening ocean drill sites.
Land based drilling is in real trouble due to permafrost melt (BP has actually had to close some landbased wells due to pipeline subsidance.) As we all know this is ironic as the oil is only available if Global warming is real and melting the multi year sea ice. The polar bears are the thorn in the side of this plan as if they are on the endangered creatures act this can stop the drilling. I suspect the energy loby would like to have any current research disrupted in this area. Thus the attack on Monnett who potentially controls the funds for further research in this area.

Paul Van Egmond

Monnett manages a $50m budget. The integrity enquiry is likely to have more to do with his managing of funds than with the veracity or validity of his scientific findings.


Paul, apparently Monnett is investigated for possible scientific misconduct, although he has not been informed of any specific charge or question relating to the scientific integrity of his work.

Account Deleted

Well, scientists do incur in scientific misconduct some times so I think this may very well be legitimate. The thing is, such as the inquiry into Marc Hauser's work is NOT a reason to dismiss cognitive sciences, this has nothing to do with the basics of polar bear research. In the end, if he is found guilty, further research will have to be made to replicate his results and check which areas of knowledge this affect.

Seke Rob

Whatever the truth is behind this, the fact is that the Inuit do not eat shot polar bears... the dispose of them as chemical waste. Says enough of the grade of pollution that has entered the Arctic environment.

Funny is that my own post on this of some days ago popped up in the Google search.. Neven's blog is near top, but here few links to articles available: ... Mercury calling and uranium ore ... http://www.nr.gov.nl.ca/mines&en/mqrights/ExplorationStandardsforLabradorInuitLands.pdf


Who cares about that extremely vulnerable environment where dead-zones will develop same as the Mexican gulf, as plankton blooms will suck up the oxygen from the surface waters with a little dilution of trickling up methane.

Jon Torrance

"Monnett manages a $50m budget. The integrity enquiry is likely to have more to do with his managing of funds than with the veracity or validity of his scientific findings."

Not an unreasonable supposition but it seems to be contradicted by the exerpts from Dr. Monnett's interview with the investigators available at http://www.peer.org/docs/doi/7_28_11_Scientific_Misconduct_Complaint.pdf. Apparently, they were focused on the publication about the drowned polar bears.

Jon Torrance

Okay, I should know better than to put a period after a URL.


Fixed that link, Jon.

Well said BTW, Legosalogos. But still: the way this is done, seems a bit weird. Sending in criminal investigators to discuss a scientific paper with the accused scientist? And why now, almost 6 years after that article was published?

michael sweet

It seems very odd that the scientist has not been told what he is being investigated for. Does anyone know: is it Interior policy that people being investigated have to be told what they are being investigated for? It seems like he should have been told at the start of the investigation. If he is being investigated for scientific misconduct, why are no scientists involved in the investigation?

L. Hamilton

From the transcript I gather the investigation is focused on the following passage from Monnett & Gleason's 2006 article in Polar Biology, where they extrapolate from the 3 dead bears and 4 live ones observed on Beaufort Sea transects (surveying about 11% of the area of interest) on 6-7 September 2004. The interviewer sounds confused about the numbers, so I checked the original source. My own notes about the extrapolations are in [square brackets].

“Only a small total number of bears was seen on >14,000 km of transect surveyed in 2004, thus limiting our ability to provide accurate estimates of polar bear mortality and associated confidence intervals (see McDonald et al. 1999; Evans et al. 2003). If, however, data are simply spatially extrapolated, bear deaths during a period of high winds in 2004 may have been significant. Our observations obtained from 34 north–south transects provide coverage of approximately 11% of the 630 km wide study area assuming a maximum sighting distance for swimming/floating polar bears of 1 km from the aircraft (coverage=630 km/ (34 transects x2 km wide transect)=10.8% of study area). Limiting data to bears on transect and not considering bears seen on connect and search segments, four swimming polar bears were encountered in addition to three dead bears. If these bears accurately reflect 11% of bears present under these conditions, then 36 bears [4 live bears/.11 = 36] may have been swimming in open water on 6 and 7 September, and 27 bears may have died as a result of the high offshore winds [3 dead bears/.11 = 27]. These extrapolations suggest that survival rate of bears swimming in open water during this period was low (9/36=25%).”

The last calculation confused me. I'd have reckoned survival at 4/7 or 36/(27+36) = 57%, though that still sounds low. Is the 25% an arithmetic goof or have I missed something?

L. Hamilton

One confusion in the interview appears fully the interviewer's fault (and some bloggers too): the issue of whether Monnett & Gleason saw 3 or 4 dead bears. Their article states clearly that they saw 4 dead bears, but for extrapolation purposes limited their calculations to 3 dead bears (and 4 live ones) that were actually seen on transects:
"Limiting data to bears on transect and not considering bears seen on connect and search segments, four swimming polar bears were encountered in addition to three dead bears."

L. Hamilton

Re-reading that passage, I see what I missed -- an assumed time offset between the live bears now (taken to represent how many might have been swimming during the storm) and floating bears who died then (representing how many died in the storm).

In any event, the extrapolation is a minor part of the article, not mentioned in the abstract. Their conclusion is qualitative and clearly labeled as speculation:

"We speculate that mortalities due to offshore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may be an important and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. We further suggest 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."

Noel Ward

What troubles me is that this appears to be a move to actually suppress Monnett's findings by the Obama administration. George W. Bush did this deliberately and now Obama is doing the same thing.

What was that Aldous Huxley line, something like "ignoring the facts doesn't make them go away."

How many dead polar bears does it take to prove there is a problem?


In a few days there will be a decision whether Shell is going drill in Alaska's Arctic next year, somehow I fail to not put these two subjects in same context.

Wayne Kernochan

I'm sorry, I've been staring at the transcript for a couple of hours and I still can't believe it. It is incredibly depressing, because of the lack of knowledge of absolutely basic math it reveals – and not by the scientist, who does just fine. I have simplified the numbers ever so slightly.

Two Interviewers: Hi. We’re here from the investigative branch of the department to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct in a paper you wrote about a sudden apparent increase in deaths of polar bears.

Scientist: Do you have the scientific background to understand the paper?

Interviewers: No.

Scientist: OK, I’ll do my best.
We had been doing surveys of whales up here off the Alaska coast for 20 years, noting all other creatures out there as well. Each sweep covers (randomly) 11% of the total area we watch over. One year, for the first time, the ice moved well away from the land. On our next sweep that year, we saw four polar bears swimming. On the sweep after that, we saw three dead polar bears.

Now, we couldn’t ever remember seeing such a thing, so I went and checked the notes and checked the memory and notes of the guy who had been doing this before me, since the beginning, and we’d never seen such a thing. So we wrote up a paper about it, passed it by everyone at the agency, had it anonymously peer reviewed by three people, and it was published by Polar Biology.

Interviewers: OK, so what you’re saying is, you saw 7 polar bears. How can you say there were 27 dead polar bears out there?

Scientist: What?! I didn’t say there were 7 dead polar bears – I said there were three.

Interviewers: No, in your paper, you say 4 polar bears on one sweep, and 3 in the next. Four plus three equals seven.

Scientist: But …

Interviewers: Also, why didn’t you say 7 dead polar bears instead of 30, since that’s all you saw?

Scientist: Look, in the first place I only swept 11% of the area, so I multiplied the number I saw by 9 …

Interviewers: Why would you multiply by 9?

Scientist: Excuse me, but have you ever taken any fifth grade math?

Interviewer: And even if it was OK to multiply by 9, that would mean you were claiming you saw 63 dead polar bears.

Scientist: No, I’m claiming I saw 3 dead polar bears, and that the best guess for the total in my area was 27 dead polar bears.

Interviewers: Ah, so let me read back to you what you have said. ‘I am claiming in my paper that it is likely that there are 30 dead polar bears out there.’ Is that correct?

Scientist: No. Have you ever taken any statistics? Even just a little? It is not “likely” that there are 30 dead polar bears out there. It’s just the most likely number, and there is an almost 50% chance of a number less than that, and an almost 50% chance of a number grea - …

Interviewers: Well, I think we have all we need.

Scientist: In that case, on the record, let me tell you what’s really going on. First, the purpose of the paper was not to establish a final determination of what was going on, but to say that something odd was going on. Second, my hypothesis – that there are increased polar bear deaths because of ice withdrawal from land – has been amply proven since by scientific research, anonymously peer reviewed. Third, this department has persistently attempted to prevent me and others from publishing any research that might support global warming, even though this research is a clear part of my job as a scientist and a clear part of my task in this department. Fourth, I am supposed to be checking out anything that might affect the natives here, not just whales. They want to know about my research, whales and otherwise. The only people who don’t are the oil companies whose permits might be affected and the political appointees in this department who seem to be doing their bidding. Instead of investigating me, why don’t you investigate them for “scientific misconduct”? I can certainly document attempts to distort my research, to the point where I took my name off the product …

Interviewers: Goodbye.

Wayne Kernochan

Sorry, the last few numbers should be "27". I was copying this from a blog post where I had made the area of the sweep 10% of the total, to make the math even clearer.

Susan Anderson

Thanks for all the info, and most particularly Wayne Kernochan. It never hurts to spell out the obvious.

Noel Ward

The kind of conversation Wayne describes is frightening. Unfortunately, it's too common in the States when bureaucrats, civil servants and political appointees are involved. By making something absolutely clear, many people are still confused.

Wayne Kernochan

@susan anderson: If you are enjoying this depressing discussion -- heaven knows why -- you might like www.thinkprogress.org/green/issue, which posts some of the quotes from the interview ... - w

Rob Dekker

I'm shocked, guys.
Am I still in the US ?

Apart from the consistent anti-AGW public media propaganda machine consistently misrepresenting their work, we already had climate scientists being harassed, threatened, bombarded with FOIA request, and being criminally investigated, simply for doing their work.

But as far as I know this is the first time that a climate scientist is actually relieved of duty without any specifics about wrongdoing.

I read the interview, and my jaw was falling down. Special agents trying to find any sort of detail to misinterpret Monnett's manuscript, notes and even emails ? Anything to discredit this scientist. This reminds me of the Spanish inquisition.

This is not an investigation in 'scientific misconduct' at all. It is pure McCarthy style political powerplay against a scientist who is in charge of Arctic environmental research for the US government.

Dr. Monnett is in the way of the industrial progress plans Arctic drilling, so he gets pushed out, and no doubt will be replaced with somebody who should better listen better to the wishes of the trillion dollar oil business, or will be set aside as well.

This is getting scary...


So, colour me a tinfoil-hat candidate, but I smell a rat here...

5 years after the publication of a relatively trivial piece of work (a note in a journal of some observations that, with regard to the bear morality figures, was upfront about the small size of the sample but nevertheless passed multiple layers of review), suddenly the metaphorical black helicopters descend and Dr Monnett is looking at Star Chamber style proceedings. Someone is keen to see this gets the whole nine yards. Why? And why now?

If they did not create such an ugly precendent, the information available would be hilarious - the Mulder of the piece seems all but innumerate (at least Scully seemed to have a grasp on simple sampling techniques) and was welded onto a couple of simple (but incorrect) contentions. The questioning techniques reminded me of a radio shock-jock who doesn't understand what he is saying but is determined to go on repeating it in the hope of getting a usable soundbite.

I'd bet good money that our "Mulder" was asking questions that had been fed to him by someone with a marginally better grasp of stats, questions which were framed to discredit. Remember the Phil Jones "no (statistically) significant warming" gotcha that Lubos Motl fed into the Matrix feedlines? This has the same smell to me (not claiming this is actually Lubos' handiwork) - someone who knows enough to know how to misrepresent this has fed this to the DOI, who have snapped up the bait. "Spooky" May is just someone's patsy. But who...?

It doesn't matter whether misconduct is found. This is all about planting another denialist meme into the fertile soil of stupidity. If Sea Ice decline continues, polar bears are in real trouble. But anyone who voices that concern in the next several years will be met with "but the bears are fine - Monnett was charged with misconduct!"(whether he is or not). And why would someone voice that concern? Well, perhaps for a Environmental Impact Study when someone wants to drill for oil in this area, perhaps? Just saying...

Once planted, this noxious little weed of denial will continue sprouting up for years yet. Someone - and its not Agent May - is rubbing his hands in glee.

Account Deleted

If the data was collected (and not made up) and the paper past peer review how can it be misconduct?
If they have beefs with the science - fund more radio collaring of polar bears
To get a decent sample size.

This might the next polar bear study they want to discredit.

The sample size is even smaller

Rob Dekker

I found this section from an article in the
Alaska Dispatch rather revealing :

....oil companies have raised specific concerns about Monnett and some of the studies he has directed be done in his role as the official who oversees contractors for BOEMRE.

Action comes as Obama under pressure to drilling in the Arctic
This week, BOEMRE began issuing stop work orders to some of those contractors, leaving them without funding to finish the work they'd started. One study that tracks polar bears is being continued through the researcher's own funds, according to letters sent to BOEMRE and obtained by PEER.

Increasingly, the Obama administration has come under pressure to approve drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean. Although those same permits were on hold or challenged during the Bush years, it is the Obama White House that is taking flack from industry as well as environmental groups in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't kind of way.


BOEMRE has been under a lot of pressure to approve sign off on Chukchi Lease Sale 193.
Not only from the White House, but also from Alaskan politicians :


and of course from the oil/gas industry directly :


With Monnett pointing out qualitative flaws in the environmental studies and the process BOEMA is supposed to perform (see Monnett's interrogation) he may be considered an obstacle to reek in these billions of dollars the American Petroleum Industry is talking about.

The head of BOEMA did not waste time announcing the change in course :

Note that Bromwich does not mention Monnett by name, states rather surpisingly that his dismissal has nothing to do with Monnett's science or his dead polar bear observation, but instead "it was the result of new information on a separate subject brought to our attention very recently." and leave little doubt that Monnett would not return.

I wonder if this "new information on a separate subject" may be related to Chukchi Lease Sale 193....

L. Hamilton

I agree, the astonishingly incompetent investigators who asked only about the polar bear paper they hadn't read, and said they were looking into scientific misconduct ... the administrative declaration that the investigation has nothing to do with polar bears or scientific misconduct ... a target who still has no idea what he's charged with ... nothing about this sounds right.


Joe Romm has a really good piece on this.

L. Hamilton

Update on the story. Apparently no charges could be cooked up from that interview about the 2006 paper, so BOEMRE now says their investigation is about something else (but still polar bears):



A $1.2 million dollar budget while apparently $53 billion in royalties goes uncollected

Rob Dekker

OK. After the update on this story,

it all becomes painfully clear what's going on :
Monnett gets put on the side lines by the DOI on July 28, and his replacement wastes no time approving Shell's Arctic drilling plans :


Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe sends a note to his replacement pointing out that the polar bear's status as endangered species is impeding with oil/gas industry plans for further exploration in the Arctic :

What's next ?

Rob Dekker

And if there is any doubt about increased risk for polar bears of drowning during their end-of-summer swim back to shore, the check out this comparison :


The transcripts show blatantly clear that Dr.Monnett is questioned by the DOI simply for being the first to observe drowned polar bears. Equally blatantly obvious is that he is suspended by BOEMRE for being in the way of oil/gas Arctic drilling plans.

I knew that BOEMRE (previously MMS) was quite cozy (and sometimes literally in bed) with the oil/gas industry,
but I was unaware that government agencies would collaborate to push aside scientific environmental whistle blowers to serve the agenda of the trillion dollar oil industry.


That's the 'free' market for ya, Rob. Thanks for those links. I linked to the NPR piece in the latest SIE update.

The last thing hasn't been said about this.

Daniel Bailey

Humans being humans, we place great value upon the relationship. So much so, that the relationship is part and parcel of the integral whole of the selling process.

When I worked for the US Department of Defense, it was quite common for those dealing with contractors to form close working relationships with those on the contract side. And who made a lot more money than you. So it would come as no great surprise to see, over time, a migration from those on the government side of the table, to those on the contract side of the table...

I'm not saying that anything untowards ever occurred on my watch (or not), nor am I implying that anything untowards is occurring right now with the suspended scientist (or not). I just wanted to give some insights into the processes through which commercial and government parties interact with each other. Commerce often mines government for employee talent, as they can afford to more greatly compensate talented individuals.

One can see the obvious implications.

Bob Wallace

NPR just reported that Monnett has received a letter from the investigators.

They have accused him of inappropriately helping prepare a proposal for funding and then sitting on the board which approved the proposal.

Monnett's attorney(?) states that Monnett did not help prepare the proposal but simply gave it a reading to see if it properly written for submission.

He also pointed out that there were no other applicants for this project. There was no opportunity to steer the decision to a favored applicant.

Smelling worse and worse....

Seke Rob

Surely a review of the bid invitation process will exonerate Monnett. Over here there must be sufficient time and assurance that all interested parties will see that a [tax funded] project is out there to submit a proposal for. If there were other interested parties and felt locked out, that is more than likely to come out, sooner rather than later.


Michael Tobis has also written a bit about it: Blue Monnett.


As has Eli Rabett.

Bob Wallace

If Monnett is exonerated things should not stop there.

If this does appear to be an attempt by friends of fossil fuels to suppress information which they don't like then we need to try to do something to help see that they do not get away with it.

I think it's necessary to wait and see if there is anything behind the charge. That should be settled soon.

If Monnett is cleared then it will be time to start contacting our Democratic Senators to see if a hearing can be held to sort things out.

Contacting Representatives is likely to do little as Republicans control the committees and most likely will ignore requests from minority members.

Lots of letters, phone calls and emails to Senators' offices might create some heat for those who decided to run this investigation.

If their intent was to discourage scientists from gathering data which might work against their friends we could try to discourage them from trying to suppress research in the future.

Kevin McKinney

Neven, your linked got glitched somehow. Try this:



Thanks, Kevin!

Let's first wait and see if the accusation has any merit.

Kevin McKinney

I'm afraid we may have a long wait. . . and I confess I've formed a pretty strong opinion already about the merit of this accusation!

I'd put a 'wink' emoticon there, except that I don't think it's funny--either for Dr. Monnett, or for the institutional culture at BOEMRE. (And beyond, too, if this is the intimidation that I believe it to be, and if it is allowed to succeed.)


Kevin, I tend to agree. I've now seen the transcripts for both the Monnett and Gleason 'interviews'. My heart sinks.

Kafka didn't know what he started.


Lots of interesting stuff on this subject over at Rabett Run.


Charles Monnett is back at Ak Region BOEMRE tomorrow:



Thanks for the link, WhiteBeard!

"Ruch says Monnett got a phone call on Thursday telling him to report back to his office and that the administrative leave is being suspended. "He thinks in some sense it is a vindication that they acted in undue haste," says Ruch.

However, Ruch says Monnett is concerned that he does not yet know what his duties will be upon his return."

This story gets more and more intriguing...

Daniel Bailey

    "This story gets more and more intriguing..."

A game is afoot...

Bob Wallace

A bit more emerges...

"In March 2010, the OIG received credible allegations from a seasoned, career Department of the Interior (DOI) employee, that acts of scientific misconduct may have been committed by one or more DOI employees," says the letter to Inhofe, which is signed by Mary Kendall, acting inspector general for the Department of the Interior.

This means the original complaint apparently did not originate from an outside interest group trying to discredit climate change research or influence government decisions about Artic drilling, as some critics seem to have assumed.


There's something really smelly about this revelation.

The information comes from a letter sent to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) from the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General.

Inhofe, for those who don't know, is a major climate change denier. His official federal web site includes a link "Hundreds of Scientists Dispute Global Climate Alarmism".

When it all plays out I suspect that the villains are going to be Bush/Cheney holdovers who are overly friendly to oil interests.

Rob Dekker

I wondered how this interrogation by the IG of the DOI would be allowed. After all, it should not be possible for federal scientists to be questioned on their (already peer-reviewed) findings by criminal investigators from the IG who also threaten to refer the 'case' to the Justice Department if they find any possible 'wrongdoing'.

But then I found out that the reporting of another DOI employee (of suspected scientific misconduct by Monnett in his peer-reviewed paper) and the investigation by the IG, including the interrogation of Monnett by special agent May et al is all completely in compliance (and actually required) under the DOI "scientific integrity" policy, as put forward by Salazar himself, in Secretarial Order 3305 :


Read this, which demands that any employee reports (suspected) 'scientific misconduct', and will be protected :

"...employees will be protected if they uncover and report scientific misconduct by career or political staff. It shall be the duty of each employee, career and political, to report such misconduct."

Followed by this :

"DOI will identify, address, track, and resolve instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may have been compromised."


"...establish expectations of employees with regard to scientific integrity. Misconduct will not be tolerated. Allegations of misconduct will be investigated and disciplinary action will be taken, as appropriate."

Not sure if your jaw is hanging now, but mine was after reading such blatant statements. At the very least, these statements by Salazar show that May is simply doing what his boss tells him to do.

Which, in the end, not only sends an incredibly chilling message to any DOI scientist to avoid publishing scientific findings that may (or may not) depart from any political opinion that may prevail at any time within the department, but these rulings by Salazar create ligitimacy for the political influence over science that Obama's 'scientific integrity' policy was supposed to eliminate.

This whole thing smells really bad, and comes from really high up in the 's..t' tree...

Kevin McKinney

"...employees will be protected if they uncover and report scientific misconduct by career or political staff."

I wonder if this wasn't intended to address incidents such as the repeated rewriting of scientific conclusions by some political appointees during the Bush administration. In which case, it would be pretty ironic that in the Monnett case it was applied pretty much 180 degrees opposite, allowing BOEMRE management seemingly to conduct a politically-motivated witch hunt.

"Scientific misconduct" ought to be clearly defined, just for starters; but I wonder to what degree it's possible to design a legal instrument that can't be (mis)used to cut both ways.

Pete Dunkelberg

The Rabett notes that Eric May has a heavy handed history:

So that explains part of it - only part of it.

Rob Dekker

At the time that Salazar signed the new policy rules into effect, he Union Of Concerned Scientists already noted :

"The proposed policy is not an agency-wide scientific integrity policy as it states, but rather a scientist misconduct policy."


So I think there was little misunderstanding as to what Salazar's new policy was supposed to do : Investigate scientists on the integrity of their work, and take appropriate disciplinary action if they find anything wrong.

And that is exactly what May is doing, and is required to do under Salazar's rules.


The latest:


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