Update on Polar Bear Biologist Investigation

by Marlo Lewis on August 18, 2011

in Features

Post image for Update on Polar Bear Biologist Investigation

Last week on this site I cautioned skeptics not to jump to conclusions about the Department of Interior’s (DOI’s) suspension of polar bear biologist Charles Monnett, who is also under investigation by the department’s inspector general (IG).

Monnett, you may recall, was lead author of a 2006 study on drowned polar bears that helped turn the bear into an iconic victim of global warming. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) cited Monnett’s study four times in its Jan. 2007 proposed rule to list Ursus Maritimus as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Skeptics are supposed to insist on seeing the evidence before making up their minds. I was concerned that some of our brethren were too quick to pronounce Monnett guilty when it was not even clear why he was suspended or on what charges he is being investigated. Claims that the scientific rationale for listing the bear is “melting away” have no basis in any information released by DOI or its IG.

What puzzled me in particular was the fact that a DOI spokesperson asserted the agency’s suspension of Monnett had “nothing to do with scientific integrity,” yet two IG agents interrogating Monnett told him they were investigating “allegations” of “scientific misconduct” having to do with “wrong numbers . . . miscalculations.”

Earlier this week, IG Special Agent David Brown sent Monnett a letter that seems to clear up what the investigation is about — a potential violation of federal conflict-of-interest rules.

According to Brown, Monnett admitted helping Univerity of Alberta Professor Dr. Andrew Derocher prepare a proposal in response to a government Request for Proposal (RFP). Monnett also served as Chair of the Technical Proposal Evaluation Committee (TPEC) “for this particular contract.” The Contract Officer responsible for the contract told the IG she did not know Monnett had coached Derocher, “and if you had told her she would have warned you that such actions would be highly inappropriate under procurement integrity policies and procedures.”

Monnett and his legal counsel, Paula Dinerstein of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), contend that helping researchers prepare contract proposals is “standard practice” (Greenwire, Aug. 17, 2011, subscription required). Brown’s letter concludes by asking Monnett to identify all contracts “wherein you have taken these actions.”

So my impression at this point is that Monnett’s suspension and the IG investigation have no policy significance. Were it not for Monnett’s quasi-celebrity status as the author the 2006 drowning polar bear study, none of this would be news.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: