Another round of questions for polar bear researcher

A polar bear swimming

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From National Public Radio

Polar Bear Scientist Faces New Questions

by Nell Greenfieldboyce

A wildlife biologist is continuing to face questions about an influential paper he wrote on apparently drowned polar bears, with government investigators reportedly asking whether he improperly steered a research contract to another scientist as a reward for reviewing that paper.

“They seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of conspiracy that involves global warming and back scratching that appears to be frankly just nuts,” says Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Ruch’s group is providing legal representation to Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with an agency of the Department of the Interior. Monnett was flying over the Arctic in 2004, doing a routine survey of whales, when his team spotted an unusual sight — dead polar bears floating in the water.

Monnett’s report on what he observed raised public alarm about the threat of climate change and melting ice, and the sighting of dead bears was cited by Al Gore in his movie An Inconvenient Truth. The dead bears became a potent symbol of the perils that the bears face as the sea ice retreats.

But now Monett is under an official investigation by the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General.

In February, agents from that office questioned Monnett about the dead bear sightings and his 2006 report on them in a scientific journal. “We’re not sure why the Inspector General felt it needed to open an investigation on this. They indicated there are allegations,” says Ruch. “We don’t know who they’re from or why, after review, they thought this 2006 note was worth assigning criminal investigators to.”

Investigators again quizzed Monnett about that polar bear paper during a second interview on August 9, Ruch says.

As part of his job, Monnett helped manage contracts for government-funded research. Ruch says in this latest interview, the investigators seemed to accuse Monnett of improperly steering a contract for a new study of polar bears to the University of Alberta. They pointed to the fact that a university scientist who got the contract gave Monnett comments on his polar bear paper.

“They asked whether there was a quid pro quo or whether there was some connection between the University of Alberta professor providing some sort of peer review on the polar bear paper and his getting the award of the contract,” says Ruch.

Ruch says the investigators focused on one exchange between the two scientists about the polar bear paper that took place on the same day that the research contract was being finalized. “That was the big A-ha moment for them,” Ruch says. “And if that’s all they have, then this has been a colossal waste of time.”

The research contract had been in negotiations for months and that Monnett’s supervisors had signed off on it, says Ruch, who added that the University of Alberta was the only organization considered for this new polar bear tagging project because the contract piggybacked on research it was already doing.

And while Monnett asked the university scientist to read his soon-to-be-famous paper on dead polar bears, Ruch says others—both agency officials and the scientific journal—reviewed it before it was published.

The University of Alberta research project being funded by the contract in question received a stop-work order around the same time that Monnett was put on administrative leave by his agency last month. But that stop-work order was rescinded and the research is now continuing.

A spokesperson for Monnett’s agency has stated that “the agency placed Mr. Monnett on administrative leave for reasons having nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting, as has been alleged. Any suggestions or speculation to the contrary are wrong.” The Inspector General’s office did not return calls requesting comment.

Some advocacy groups say, this whole episode looks like political interference with science and it will intimidate other government researchers.

“There’s no way this can have anything but a chilling effect on the ability of other scientists to carry out their work,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that campaigned to have the polar bear listed as a threatened species. Her group has teamed up with Greenpeace to ask the administration for an investigation into this investigation.

But others caution against rushing to any judgments.

“We won’t know, until the [inspector general] is done, exactly what the charges are and exactly what they are finding,” says Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

She says in the past, the inspector general’s office has actually uncovered political interference with science. “In previous administrations, we’ve been very grateful for what the inspector generals at Interior have found,” says Grifo. “They’ve brought to light a lot of things that we just wouldn’t have known about or been able to document otherwise.”

Some polar bear scientists worry that, for the public, this investigation has created doubt about both the original observations of dead bears and the threat of climate change.

Steve Amstrup, senior scientist with a group called Polar Bears International, says Monnett wasn’t the only person to have seen those dead polar bears in the water. “But yet, the news that he was being investigated caused some people to right away jump to the conclusion that those observations may be flawed,” says Amstrup.

He says there’s no reason to think that, and that other research also shows that climate change and retreating sea ice is a real danger for polar bears.

h/t to reader bollabob

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JOhn

VC Ponsardin (vcponsardin1) wrote:
Fortunately, governments can’t legislate science. It either stands the test of academic scrutiny or it doesn’t through the usual channels of peer-review publications. Conservatives can lock up all the scientists they think are lying about global warming, but they can’t stop the process of scientific review. They simply can’t. Sure, they can try to intimidate those scientists they dislike by accusing them of illegal behavior, but again, the science will stand or fall on its own merits–not on some legislative threat or legal action. Until someone scientifically disproves Monnett’s research, his work and his conclusions stand. Period. Meanwhile, poor Dr. Monnett and people like him will probably face a modern-day Inquisition anytime they publish anything that contradicts the conservatives’ shortsighted and flawed agenda…. unless people start standing up and defending science and scientists.
A post left in the NPR comment section!

Latitude

Has there been any more drowned bears spotted since September 2004?…………..

JimBob

Wow, nothing like polling a bunch of left-wing activist groups to get a balanced take on the investigation. I realize the investgating agency can’t comment while the investigation is ongoing, but there wasn’t much of an attempt to keep it neutral.

Taphonomic

“an unusual sight — dead polar bears floating in the water”
Makes you wonder, how unusual it really is. Do polar bears live forever? If they die in the water don’t they float? The species did manage to somehow survive the Holocene Climate Optimum, which was warmer than present climate. Why should the current bit of warming be killing them off?

Pamela Gray

Committees in charge of allocating research funding are often the recipient of said funding. It goes like this:
1. The grant committee meets to discuss proposed research. The committee is populated by researchers.
2. They discuss dollars available.
3. They determine who on the committee is one of the potential recipients for a proposed research project.
4. The potential recipients excuses him or herself from the voting by leaving the room. The voting is completed as to whether or not that research proposal will get the funding.
5. That person comes back in and the next proposal is discussed.
6. repeat steps 3 – 5
The deal is, if one proposal is voted down, your own pet project stands a lesser chance of getting voted yes for funding. It is very much you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I don’t know if this is still the status quo but I know it used to be.

Tom

We know the paper is, by rigorous standards, an embarrassment. The math estimating #bears drowned/#tswimming bears is a complete mess, and the inference that they were swimming because there was less sea ice that year is entirely unsupported. But whether there is misconduct in the grant awarding process depends on a fact not covered by the story.
If Monnett was in discussions with a polar bear guy at Alberta, and asked, “By the way, would you read my paper for comments before, I submit it to the journal for anonymous peer review,” then that seems like normal collaboration. Scientists often seek the opinions of colleagues who work in the same field, even if they are not co-authors, and the fact that the peer review itself was sloppy and ineffectual does not seem to be a result of the request.
On the other hand, if Monnett said, “I’m submitting a polar bear paper and you’ll probably be asked to review it since you are one of the few experts in the field, plus I suggested your name to the editor so he doesn’t have to work to hard to find someone. By the way, I’ll be making the final decision on your grant next week,” that is clear misconduct.

General Public

What do polar bears that can’t swim have to do with climate? The Union of Unemployed Scientists should start a training program of sorts to educate polar bears. Question – Will a Liberal Arts Degree qualify them as swim instructors?

Latitude

JOhn says:
August 10, 2011 at 8:43 am
A post left in the NPR comment section!
======================================================
The preceding public service announcement was brought to you by……
Scientists Concerned About Money (SCAM)

Stephen Skinner

“Monnett was flying over the Arctic in 2004, doing a routine survey of whales, when his team spotted an unusual sight — dead polar bears floating in the water.”
As this comes under science is there any photographic evidence of these bears and how many were there?
How old were they and what was the cause of death?
Was this is one area or many areas?
Does this happen every year and is it increasing?
As polar ice will melt and re-freeze in a non-uniform or erratic way if there were drowned bears this could be similar to the events where whales become trapped by freezing ice and unable to escape to open water. Below are links to two such incidents.
400 whales trapped in Arctic ice
http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=0636fbf5-25c3-424d-affb-25c8ab88443c
Over 200 whales trapped in Canadian ice
http://www.rushlimbaughforum.com/over-200-whales-trapped-arctic-ice-t2547.html
Freeing The Whales – How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event
http://www.highnorth.no/Library/MediaWatch/fr-th-wh.htm
GRAY WHALES TRAPPED IN ARCTIC ICE ARE NEAR FREEDOM
http://www.nbcuniversalarchives.com/nbcuni/clip/5112540592_s01.do

If you’re a public institution, awarding or receiving non-bid contracts should be frowned upon. You simply open yourself up to criticism. Most non-bid contract awards are for three reasons:
a) poor planning – time restraints
b) award is too small to justify the expense of a bidding process
c) desire to steer the award to a specific contractor
Note to Monnett: next time, bid the contract. It’s not your money. It could be a completely legit award, but you placed yourself in a risky position by not following solid contracting governance procedures.

mac

When you consider that polar bears are known to spend an extensive amount of time in the water do they from time-to-time fall asleep in the sea, like a sea otter does?

Steve from Rockwood

“Some polar bear scientists worry that, for the public, this investigation has created doubt about both the original observations of dead bears and the threat of climate change.”
I don’t think people doubt the observations of dead polar bears. Instead they dismiss the immediate association with global warming and the perceived threat of climate change.
“Steve Amstrup, senior scientist with a group called Polar Bears International, says Monnett wasn’t the only person to have seen those dead polar bears in the water. “But yet, the news that he was being investigated caused some people to right away jump to the conclusion that those observations may be flawed,” says Amstrup.”
No. The observations aren’t the problem. The conclusion that they died swimming due to lack of ice is the problem.
“He says there’s no reason to think that, and that other research also shows that climate change and retreating sea ice is a real danger for polar bears.”
If you asked a polar bear what the major problems facing it were, it would likely point to hunting by humans as the number one problem. How can you claim polar bears are facing extinction and not place hunting above global warming?

Kip Hansen

It seems the only news about Monnett is coming from Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. To me this means –> another advocacy group driven story.
In the Green press, this is a scandal in which nasty government attacks righteous green-advocate scientist. In the right wing press, this is a green-advocate scientist caught fiddling the data to push the green agenda.
Another interesting day in science.

Nuke

Somebody saw some dead polar bears. So what? Where is the evidence that polar bear drownings are unusual? Where is the evidence that climate change, whether natural or man-made, had anything to do with it?
As for the Inspector General investigation, I’d like to know whether or not anything untoward happened. I presume there is ample reason to have an investigation and I also presume the investigation will be carried out fairly and honestly, unlike the climate-gate whitewashes.

Duke C.

It is telling that Jeff Ruch is in hyper-drive with the public spin while the investigation is still ongoing. Seems that his client would be better served if he kept his mouth shut until there is an official finding.

“They seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of conspiracy that involves global warming and back scratching that appears to be frankly just nuts,” says Jeff Ruch
There is not a conspiracy when they state their intentions up front and in public (a la the Cancun climate summit). This all has nothing to do with climate, saving the planet, or saving polar bears.
This is a political agenda with a variety of goals. They are out to create a (false) case (by fabricating, adulterating, or simply lying about the science) for a Draconian takeover of the world’s energy and the lives, activities, and products of every individual, vast redistribution of wealth, huge new revenue streams for certain individuals, banks, and governments, deconstructing the Western World economy, preventing third world development by turning them into nanny states with “climate change damage” payments, lowering the world’s population, and creating a one-world government which would have to be socialist, totalitarian, and very oppressive. The new world “citizen” would be expected to do his/her part by “cooperating”, or else!
The radical environmentalists love all of this as they can pretend that everybody, including themselves, are bad for even existing let alone having a good life. Thus, they can go off on anything, even toilet paper rolls, cow farts, and cats, and claim its bad. They pretty much hate every form of energy production except their own hot air. I do suggest that they can lead the way with our population “problem” and off themselves now, setting a good example for us, possibly, or not, but it would improve our world a lot!

DesertYote

Time to defund NPR, along with the EPA.

Dodgy Geezer

The paper is obviously dodgy. I should know!
But I can’t see what the Inspector General hopes to uncover. Unless there is CLEAR evidence of misconduct (which there never is) all that will happen is that the research will be smeared a bit, and the warmistas will all rally round and say he has been vindicated.

jorgekafkazar

mac says: “When you consider that polar bears are known to spend an extensive amount of time in the water do they from time-to-time fall asleep in the sea, like a sea otter does?”
Very likely. They have nostrils that seal off. I doubt if a polar bear can drown, given the amount of body fat they carry.

Betapug

Interesting network involved here:
” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, …”
http://www.peer.org/index.php
They apparently do independent PEER review of government as well:
“OBAMA WATCH, Change we STILL need”
http://www.peer.org/campaigns/index.php
“PEER allows public servants to work as “anonymous activists” so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger”
Sounds like a plan.

Wait… He’s getting questioned about that 2006 paper? I thought this had nothing to do with the 2006 paper???
I love this line:
Steve Amstrup, senior scientist with a group called Polar Bears International, says Monnett wasn’t the only person to have seen those dead polar bears in the water. “But yet, the news that he was being investigated caused some people to right away jump to the conclusion that those observations may be flawed,” says Amstrup.
He says there’s no reason to think that, and that other research also shows that climate change and retreating sea ice is a real danger for polar bears.

Last line should read:
He says there’s no reason to think that, and that other computer models that run contrary to actual hard data concerning polar bear populations also shows that climate change and retreating sea ice is a real danger for polar bears.
PS. I miss being able to post as Sonicfrog. Will have to find a way to return to my roots!

In the know

Something of interest?
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Working Group-James Boswell House 118-122
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Ph: +44 703 596 6942

Don E

Where do the seals go when there is no ice?

Ed Kal

“As a service organization assisting federal & state public employees, PEER allows public servants to work as “anonymous activists” so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger”
It’s nice for PEER to tell everyone up front that their mission is to subvert public policy by corrupting it anonymously from the inside…

Rob Potter

I think we are now beginning to see the point of the IG investigation – I said at the time that a dodgy paper wouldn’t have been justification to fly two agents to Alaska and now it appears the issue is more likely to non-competitive grant awarding.
Having worked for an arm of the US govt and been in a small way responsible for sub-contracting, I know that there are a whole lot of rules and policies and at some stage pretty much all agencies in receipt of big grants will get audited – with a big emphasis on transparency of the funding process. If someone has complained that projects were awarded without tender (to a non-US recipient at that) then this may have sparked the investigation. Once Dr Monnett pretty much admitted the paper was dodgy, but still got published, focus may well have shifted to who reviewed it and were they in receipt of funds from his group. I can’t remember the timing exactly, but wasn’t the interview quoted at lenght by PEER the other week done earlier this year, but Dr Monnett’s suspension only began in July? This would seem to suggest that further investigations took place after the initial interview before his responsibility for grants was rescinded.
While it is fun for those of us who are fed up of Chicken Little’s claiming the sky is falling, I don’t think the veracity of the paper is the issue here. In the words of Deep Throat, “Follow the money”.

C Porter

There’s not a cat in hells chance that this will lead to any disciplinery action if the likes of Jones and Mann can get away with what they did and with documentary evidence as well.

John Brisbin

The paragraph in the article text: “A Polar Bear walks on the edge of Hudson Bay ahead of the full freeze-over Nov. 14, 2007, outside Churchill, Mantioba, Canada. Polar Bears return every year to Churchill, the Polar Bear capital of the world, where they remain hunting for seals on the icepack until the Spring thaw.”
Appears to be a caption from a picture not shown. Perhaps it might be removed?
[Thanks, paragraph removed. ~dbs, mod.]

Rick K

If the Arctic were littered with the carcasses of polar bears… wouldn’t the pictures be plastered all over the internet?

Jordan

Latitude says: “Has there been any more drowned bears spotted since September 2004”
If you are careful to replicate the exrapolaton, the bear in the above photo has a good chance of being dead.
Relies on principles of physics colloquially known as “Schroedinger’s Bear”.

Schaeffer

Polar bears cannot be all dying naturally on land. Dying at sea must be far more common than is discussed. The assumption of polar bears drowning due to lack of sea ice is deeply flawed on many, many levels. Where does one even begin…? Would it not be unreasonable to believe that polar bears do die at sea, reasons completely urelated to climate change…? Oh silly me, probably not.

Mike Jackson

Reading between the lines of Ruch’s and Siegel’s remarks, are we to take it that any scientist involved in research with an environmental angle is supposed to be left strictly alone to get on with it regardless?
That’s certainly the way it reads to me.

I think Rob Potter is correct. Follow the money. Dr Monnett wasn’t very smart putting his wife in her position. That smacks of nepotism and would look dodgy to any outsider. It’s similar to Sen. Dianne Feinstein awarding her husband’s companies $billions in no-bid contracts when she was Chair of the Senate’s powerful Military Appropriations subcommittee (she was forced to resign in disgrace as subcommittee Chair because of that wrongdoing. But because she’s a Senator, she didn’t go to prison).
I suspect Monnett started treating the $50 million he controlled as his personal assets, instead of as public funds, which he had a fiduciary duty to administer responsibly and ethically. The investigation is probably due to a routine audit or to a whistleblower; maybe both. But the polar bear aspect isn’t why the AG would assign investigators to fly to Alaska, and it wouldn’t explain the length of this investigation, or Monnett’s suspension. Misappropriation of public funds would.

Bruce

“Steve Amstrup, senior scientist with a group called Polar Bears International, says Monnett wasn’t the only person to have seen those dead polar bears in the water.”
No cameras? I find that strange.

Grizzled Bear

The number of “interested” parties in this is staggering. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Climate Law Institute with the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Polar Bears International… The number of professional mouthpieces speaks volumes for how seriously they’re circling the wagons to protect this single, solitary, soldier for the cause. When the number of loudmouthed spin-meisters reaches this level of ridiculousness, you just KNOW you’re getting too close to the truth. Me thinks they doth protest way too freaking much.
Duke C – You hit the nail straight home with one shot.
jorgekafkazar – It isn’t just their blubber that keeps them afloat. Their guard hairs are hollow and act like the cells of a cork. I doubt it would be unusual for a polar bear to drown if caught in open water during a serious storm. But Monnet’s assumption that they drowned because they had to swim so far between ice floes was pure conjecture from a preconceived agenda.

t stone

DesertYote says:
August 10, 2011 at 9:30 am
Time to defund NPR, along with the EPA.
You got that right. This is a prime example of the propaganda supported by our taxes. What’s really amazing is what was left out of this report. Was Monnett studying whales? Polar bears? A little of this? A little of that? And of course this report forgets to mention the storm that blew through the area 24 hrs previous.
De-fund NPR indeed! Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining (family friendly version). They can propagate all the crap they want, just don’t do it with my money.

Larry

I wonder how many drowned polar bears there were during the medieval warming period? Oh that’s right, mankind didn’t have the internet, and cameras to record it, therefore it must not have happened.

Ulrich Elkmann

It would also explain why he sounded so completely at sea (no pun intended) in the protocol that you posted. He might have been prepared on his handling of funds, but not for something that was unrelated to these issues, while the investigators were looking for instances where Monnett demonstrated clear signs of incompetence and/or groundless overconfidence.

Nuke

The claim is the researcher is being investigated for reporting seeing some drowned polar bears? And people buy that? How gullible can these people be? Do they ever question anything?

Paddy

1. Don E says:
August 10, 2011 at 10:23 am
Where do the seals go when there is no ice?
Beaches and islands.
2. Is is time for a little speculation about research conspiracies. I read among other things that Monnett’s wife is one of the reviewer of his 2006 paper, and that a researcher from U of Alberta is another reviewer. Following publication, Monnett received and manages $80 million in federal research funds to further investigate the impacts from global warming on polar bears. Some of those funds apparently went to the U of Alberta reviewer.
There is enough to suggest that Monnett maybe part of network that promotes pro-global warming research. It is also reasonable to suspect that Monnett’s investigation also inquires into his potential misuse or mis-management of the research grants.
These are truly interesting times.

The good news is that any changes in the polar bear population will not negatively or positively effect penquin populations. But I suspect the alarmist models will show they will.

Gus

“They seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of conspiracy that involves global warming and back scratching that appears to be frankly just nuts,” says Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The sheer audacity!
/sarc

Michael J. Dunn

Polar bear in extremis climbs out of water onto ice floe and drops dead. Ice melts. Dead bear becomes flotsam. I’m just sayin’….

KnR

Just a quick question is there any reliable measurement for the number of Polar bears that have drowned over the years other than model speculation and this one accidental and very limited fly bye ?
‘Some polar bear scientists worry that, for the public, this investigation has created doubt about both the original observations of dead bears and the threat of climate change’ and of course the danger to the fat or even very fat grants this scare has created .
Monnett could of course be totally innocent it could just be cock=up in finical control or a COI issue due to poor management, becasue lets face scientists can still be idiots when it come dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s
But the original research was poor making large assumptions on little evidenced and if it had not ,like the hockey stick, become a icon of the AGW fatih would probable have been quietly forgotten or changed thanks to further research .

DonS

@ Don E:
To the beach, where the polar bears are waiting to dine.

Coalsoffire

How about this? Some polar bears are rooting around making a nuisance of themselves in an Inuit hunting camp along the edge of shore ice that extends somewhat out into the sea. Someone fixes the problem with a rifle. The campers depart on their snow mobiles or whatever and a chunk of the ice along the shore breaks off and floats out to sea taking the dead bears with it. Later on the ice floe melts and Voila dead (drowned!!!) bears in the water. I’m just sayin’….

DCC

The original paper was junk science on the face of it. Unless he has done an autopsy and determined the cause of death, he’s jumping to conclusions. And if they drowned, he still needs to show that it wasn’t caused by a polar bear fight in the water or some other damage to the bear.
As for Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – do you suppose he has a dog in this fight?

Gary Pearse

“A Polar Bear walks on the edge of Hudson Bay ahead of the full freeze-over Nov. 14, 2007, outside Churchill, Mantioba, Canada. Polar Bears return every year to Churchill, the Polar Bear capital of the world, where they remain hunting for seals on the icepack until the Spring thaw.”
Here in the “polar bear capital of the world” the ice doesn’t just recede, it disappears for thousands of kilometers for about 5 months!! The bears seem to like this and a large population has developed here. What qualifications do I need to write a paper that says less ice means more polar bears
Oh, and another thing – if it is true that the Alberta contract was subject to stoppage at the time of the beginning of the investigation then its hard to not see the polar bear connection.
Such investigation could necessarily become the new “peer review” procedure if these guys don’t get their acts together. You almost have to commit treason for the government to suspend you. While on leave, Monnet should have been sent for remedial statistics as well. Shocking.

Stephen Skinner

Steve from Rockwood says:
August 10, 2011 at 9:15 am
“If you asked a polar bear what the major problems facing it were, it would likely point to hunting by humans as the number one problem. How can you claim polar bears are facing extinction and not place hunting above global warming?”
Apart from hunting I understood the number one problem to be the build of heavy metals, particularly mercury, in polar bears. It is interesting that the EPA has not banned mercury or the fish that have high levels of mercury but instead set a ‘safe’ limit.

old44

“Jeff Ruch, a lawyer with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility”
Could I take a wild stab at guessing which side of the fence he is on?

Steven Kopits

According to polarbearsinternational.org, “legal hunting continues to kill more than 700 polar bears a year” throughout the Arctic.