05 August 2011

Update on a Polar Mystery

Last week I commented on the very odd situation of a US government scientist who was suspended from his duties and also extensively interviewed by officials from the DOI IG office about a 2006 paper of his on polar bears. Now the agency says that the suspension had nothing to do with the 2006 paper which was a central subject of the interview. If so, then that's odd given the IG's line of questions.  I suspect that there is more to learn here.

Also in the very odd department, consider how AAAS Science Insider responds to this news:
"Polarbeargate" may not be the gold mine that climate change denialists had hoped for.
AAAS, Climate change denialists? Really?  And people wonder why leading institutions of science have been diminished in the eyes of many people (the most fervent partisans excepted).

On a more positive note several environmental groups have kicked into gear on this issue with a focus on issues of scientific integrity (even if placed in the political context of Arctic drilling).  Greenwire reports today that the CBD and Greenpeace have sent a letter to Ken Salazar, head of the Department of Interior, and John Holdren, president's science advisor, demanding a response under President Obama's science integrity guidelines. From the Greenwire story:
In their letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies and CBD Senior Counsel Kassie Siegel pointed to Interior's decision yesterday to grant Shell approval to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

BOEMRE, they wrote, "seems determined to restrict scientists from engaging in or disseminating research that provides critical information on the potential impacts of oil drilling in a rapidly changing Arctic."

Davies and Siegel also claim that the investigation violates the spirit of President Obama's 2009 executive order on scientific integrity, which directed agencies to develop policies to prohibit political interference in research. They point to the transcript of Monnett's interview with IG investigators, in which he was asked about his 2006 research. Publicized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the transcript reveals a seemingly tense interview in which Monnett explains the math behind his calculations.

"Based on the transcript of that interview, it appears that Dr. Monnett is himself being subjected to precisely the type of political interference in his work that the Executive Order and scientific integrity policy are designed to prevent," they wrote. "This apparent interference is originating not only from the IG, which has sent agents with no scientific training to ask decidedly unscientific questions about bizarre allegations relating to the polar bear paper, but also, as it emerged during the interview, from BOEMRE managers themselves."

The groups are requesting copies of any correspondence between BOEMRE and Shell on Monnett and his research.
Of course, let's not lose sight of what really matters here -- what does this episode mean for battles with climate change denialists?