Polar Bear Researcher Cleared Of Scientific Misconduct
September 30, 2012

Polar Bear Scientist Gets Slap On The Hand By The Interior Department

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The scientist who helped bring the plight of the polar bear to the public's attention and helped get the creatures listed as a threatened species has been reprimanded by federal investigators for sharing internal government emails without authorization, but was cleared of scientific misconduct, according to reports.

The results of the Office of the Inspector General for the Interior Department investigation into the conduct of wildlife biologist Dr. Charles Monnett, which were released on Friday, found that he and a colleague had been "sloppy" with data collected regarding the polar bears, Jill Burke of the Alaska Dispatch explained.

The two and a half year probe also condemned him for "having too close a relationship with a government subcontractor," she added. Investigators ruled that Monnett had improperly released government documents on five separate occasions in 2007 and 2008. For those actions, he was given what Burke calls "the administrative equivalent of a slap on the hand."

According to Guardian US Environmental Correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg, Monnett and ecologist Dr. Jeffrey Gleason initially discovered four drowned polar bears during a 2004 research flight. He detailed their findings in a paper for the journal Polar Biology, concluding that the usually capable swimmers had become overly fatigued due to gaps between solid sea ice caused by global warming.

"The research note was the first time scientists had drawn a link between melting Arctic sea ice and a threat to the bears' survival, and was immediately taken up by Al Gore and other environmental campaigners," Goldenberg said. "Until mid-2011, Monnett oversaw much of the research on Arctic wildlife, managing $50m in scientific projects, for the government agency overseeing oil drilling in Alaska, the bureau of ocean energy management, or BOEM."

Last year, Monnett was accused of scientific misconduct and mismanagement of government contracts, and was suspended for six weeks. Those charges stemmed from an inquiry, launched in March 2010, which alleged that Monnett and Gleason had included falsified information in their journal article.

The investigators found that the two researchers used an incomplete database in their research, and had also "deliberately understated data" in regards to the drowned polar bears, Burke said. Nonetheless, the probe decided that those improprieties did not impact the decision to add the creatures to the Endangered Species List.

"This has been a vindication of Dr. Monnett in that they found no scientific misconduct or anything related to his scientific work that merited any sort of discipline or personnel action," Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the organization in charge of the scientist's defense during the investigation, told the Guardian.