Scientist Who Exposed Climate Threat to Polar Bears Is Suspended
In the guise of "integrity inquiry" the US government tries to silence an Arctic Scientist to protect the oil firms wanting for Arctic permits.
Last summer’s Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico clearly showed the conflict between science, energy policy and politics, and the looming battle over drilling in Arctic waters will be no different, as a watchdog group claims that federal scientists are being muzzled and harassed over their efforts to disclose potential impacts of energy development in the fragile Arctic marine environment.
Dr. Charles Monnet, a senior federal scientist working the Arctic has been placed on administrative leave and is being investigated by the Interior Department’s Inspector General. Such inspections are not uncommon, but what’s unusual in this case is that the researcher says he has no idea what the investigators are looking for.
But a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog and whistle-blower protection group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the investigation is designed to interfere with scientific research that points out the dangers of Arctic drilling. In a scientific misconduct complaint filed last week, the group charged that Monnet is “being hounded in a political attempt to impugn his observations on polar bears’ vulnerability to retreating sea ice.”
“We think they’re nervous about his portfolio of science in the Arctic,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch, explaining that there’s enormous pressure to move ahead with offshore drilling in the region.
Monnett is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement who coordinated a significant portion of all the extramural research and a majority of BOEM research on Arctic wildlife and ecology. The Interior Inspector General is apparently investigating a 2006 note authored by Monnett and a colleague published in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology which reported sightings of drowned polar bears in open waters following a storm.
This seven-page paper, which had undergone internal peer review, management review and outside peer review coordinated by journal editors, galvanized scientific and public appreciation for the profound effects that climate change may already be having in the Arctic.
Although the IG probe has been going on for months, Monnett was suddenly suspended on July 18 due to the IG’s “on-going inquiry.” He has not been informed of any specific charge or question relating to the scientific integrity of his work, nor is it clear why the IG has mounted a multi-month investigation of a five-year-old journal article.
“Ever since this paper was published, Dr. Monnett has been subjected to escalating official harassment, culminating in his recent virtual house arrest,” Ruch said in a press release. He thinks the huge economic stakes for oil companies seeking to open Arctic waters is resulting in the suppression of scientific research.
“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,” Ruch said.
BOEM officials said they wouldn’t comment on the substance of the investigation.
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