Federal biologist who reported polar bear deaths now under (deeply weird) investigation
Back in 2006, Dr. Charles Monnett published an article that included observations about polar bear deaths in the Beaufort Sea. In the report, co-authored with another scientist, Monnett reported seeing four dead polar bears in 2004. Monnett works for the federal government, and this month he was put on administrative leave while the government investigates "integrity issues" connected to that report. Administrative leave means he has to put all current research on hold.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog organization, has formally complained about the investigation. In its complaint, the group includes portions of an interview the Department of the Interior inspector general conducted with Monnett. From the transcript, it appears that they were concerned about the method Monnett and his colleague had used to achieve a rough estimate of the mortality rate. The group writes that "it became clear that the IG agents were focused on what in their mind was a disparity but was, in fact, their inability to understand the note.”
And, if you read the transcript, the investigators do seem tangled up. Here's a sample:
CHARLES MONNETT: Uh, well 11 percent is one-ninth of 100 percent. Nine times 11 is 99 percent. Is that, is that clear?
ERIC MAY: Well, now, seven of 11 – seven of what number is 11 percent? Shouldn’t that be – that’s 63, correct?
CHARLES MONNETT: What?
ERIC MAY: So you said this is –
CHARLES MONNETT: Seven/11ths this is –
ERIC MAY: No, no, no, no, no. This, this is, this is 11 – seven is what number of 11 percent?
CHARLES MONNETT: Seven?
ERIC MAY: Yeah.
CHARLES MONNETT: Is what number of 11 percent?
ERIC MAY: Eleven percent, right.
CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I don’t know. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. It makes no sense.
It can be hard to talk about math without a pen and paper in front of you, but this conversation is not reassuring on the count of the investigators’ math skills (they also told Monnett they had no formal training in science or biology). In the transcript, Monnett indicates that he'd gotten flack from his superiors for the report. He worked for the agency then known as the Minerals Management Service, which is known for being chummy with the extraction industries, and according to the New York Times Monnett said that his bosses "don’t want any impediment to, you know, what they view as their mission, which is to, you know, drill wells."
It's unclear why the IG is investigating Monnett at this particular moment. It’s even less clear after you read PEER’s transcript excerpts, which are fucking bananas.
Get Grist in your inbox