JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Just five years ago, Charles Monnett was one of the scientists whose observation that several polar bears had drowned in the Arctic Ocean helped galvanize the global warming movement.
Now, the wildlife biologist is on administrative leave and facing accusations of scientific misconduct.
The federal agency where he works told him he was on leave pending the results of an investigation into “integrity issues.” A watchdog group believes it has to do with the 2006 journal article about the bear, but a source familiar with the investigation said late Thursday that placing Monnett on leave had nothing to with scientific integrity or the article.
The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation, wouldn’t comment further.
The watchdog, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, filed a complaint on Monnett’s behalf Thursday with the agency, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Investigators have not yet told Monnett of the specific charges or questions related to the scientific integrity of his work, said Jeff Ruch, the watchdog group’s executive director.
His group released excerpts of interviews investigators conducted with Monnett and fellow researcher Jeffrey Gleason, in which they were questioned about the observations that led to the article.
Whatever the outcome, the investigation comes at a time when climate change activists and those who are skeptical about global warming are battling over the credibility of scientists’ work.
Members of both sides, however, said that it was too early to make any pronouncements about the case, particularly since the agency has not yet released the details of the allegations against him.
Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the case reinforces the group’s position that people should be more skeptical about the work of climate change scientists.
Even if every scientist is objective, “what we’re being asked to do is turn our economy around and spend trillions and trillions of dollars on the basis of” climate change claims, he said.
Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she’s not alarmed by the handling of the case so far.
Grifo said the allegations made in the complaint filed by Ruch’s group are premature and said people should wait to see what, if anything, comes of the inspector general’s investigation.
Beyond the climate change debate, the investigation also focuses attention on an Obama administration policy intended to protect scientists from political interference.
The complaint seeks Monnett’s reinstatement and a public apology from the agency and inspector general, whose office is conducting the probe.
The group’s filing also seeks to have the investigation dropped or to have the charges specified and the matter carried out quickly and fairly, as the Obama policy states.
BOEMRE, which oversees leasing and development of offshore drilling, was created last year in the reorganization of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversaw offshore drilling.
The MMS was abolished after the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The agency was accused of being too close to oil and gas industry interests.
A congressional report last year found MMS Alaska was vulnerable to lawsuits and allegations of scientific misconduct.