Polar bear scientist on thin ice in Arctic imbroglio

Polar bears are at the centre of a scientific fracas in the US. AAP

Something does not add up.

About two weeks ago, a scientist working for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation (BOEMRE), Dr Charles Monnett, was placed on administrative leave.

In effect, he was banned from his place of work and formally placed under investigation.

For what?

This is where things get murky, especially because Dr Monnett apparently has not been informed of the charges against him.

What is known, however, is that Dr Monnett published a paper in 2006 that reported the discovery of several floating bodies of polar bears, presumed drowned while trying to swim across long ice-free distances in the Arctic ocean. This article attracted a lot of attention at the time and helped put the fate of Arctic animals, and the effects of climate change in the Arctic, onto the political agenda.

It is not entirely surprising, therefore, that Dr Monnett’s suspension was greeted with glee and delight by those who deny the fact that the Earth is warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions. Their conclusion, as obvious to them as it was unwarranted by the available information, was that Dr Monnett’s scientific work was under investigation and hence should not be trusted.

The polar bear, the Arctic, and the planet are just fine now, and CO₂ emissions nothing to worry about, because one biologist has been placed on administrative leave.

BOEMRE later issued a statement that Dr Monnett’s suspension had nothing to do with his scientific work in general or the polar-bear study in particular. BOEMRE said that Dr Monnett was being investigated for administrative matters, involving “collateral duties involving contracts.” The investigation, it was said, had “nothing to do with scientific integrity, [nor] his 2006 journal article.”

But why, then, did the same internal investigator who is about to interview Dr Monnett again on August 9 about those contractual matters, quiz him about his polar bear work at great length in February 2011?

And why did this same investigator, a certain Eric May who very evidently has no scientific training or knowledge, interview another scientist on the same issue of polar bear research in January 2011?

(The two transcripts linked in the preceding paragraphs are worthy of study, especially if you are a fan of Franz Kafka.)

BOEMRE’s website clarifies it “is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the safe and environmentally responsible development of energy and mineral resources on the outer continental shelf.”

Accordingly, “BOEMRE is leading the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history.”

Last month, President Obama issued an order to speed up Arctic drilling permits.

Something does not add up.

Or does it?

This piece originally appeared at Shaping Tomorrow’s World.