December 5, 2013
Scientist In ‘Drowning Polar Bear’ Controversy Clears Name And Reaches A Settlement
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Alaska climate scientist Charles Monnett has settled a lawsuit with the US Department of the Interior over the now famous 'Drowning Polar Bear' controversy. Monnett alleges that the government office was tried to silence him to protect its agenda.
Monnet was temporarily suspended in 2011 during an inspector general's inquiry into a polar bear research contract he oversaw while working with what is currently the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). An employee within the Department of the Interior asserted that the scientist wrongfully leaked government records and that he and a collaborator intentionally left out or supplied false data in a paper documenting the drowning of polar bears.
In the paper, Monnett and a colleague reported seeing four dead polar bears while conducting an aerial survey in 2004. The bears were seen floating in the water after a storm and were presumed drowned while trying to swim long distances between ice packs. The Monnett paper concluded that drowning-related polar bear deaths may become more prevalent in the future if the regression of Arctic ice continues. The paper is said to have galvanized the climate change movement regarding the plight of the drowned polar bears.
The federal inquiry ultimately found no evidence of scientific misconduct. However, Monnett was chastised for the improper release of emails that would eventually be used by an appeals court to stop an Arctic oil and gas exploration plan approved by BOEM.
The scientist was eventually allowed to return to work, but work focusing on the Arctic had been reassigned, according to Jeff Ruch, executive director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which helped Monnett file a complaint last year.
According to details of the settlement release by PEER, Monnett will receive $100,000 but cannot work for the Interior Department for five years. He also agreed to retire, effective Nov. 15. For their part, the federal agency agreed to vacate the letter of reprimand and give Monnett a certificate for his work on the contested project.
“This agency attempted to silence me, discredit me and our work and send a chilling message to other scientists at a key time when permits for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic were being considered,” Monnett said in a statement released by PEER. “They failed on the first two goals, but I believe that what they did to me did make others afraid to speak up, even internally.”
“Following over two years of hell for me and my family, my name has been cleared and the accusations against the scientific findings in our paper have been shown to be groundless,” Monett added. “However, I can no longer in good conscience work for an agency that promotes dishonesty, punishes those who actually stand up for scientific integrity, and that cannot tolerate scientific work not pre-shaped to serve its agenda.”
“Dr. Monnett made it clear that he wanted to return to meaningful scientific work again but could not foresee that being possible anymore inside Interior,” Ruch said in the same statement. “If there was any doubt, the five-year employment ban on such a well-qualified, award-winning scientist makes it unmistakably clear that independent scientific views are not welcome in any corner of the Department of Interior.”