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Leave the Polar Bears Out of It

Photonics.com
Nov 2011
Nov. 1, 2011 — There are a number of unanswered questions swirling around the so-called “Polar bear-gate” scientific misconduct case, which involves Department of the Interior researchers who published a report of apparently drowned polar bears in the Arctic. Not least of these: What is the nature of the alleged misconduct, and does it affect the veracity of the researchers’ findings or of climate change science generally?

Last year someone within the Department of the Interior alleged that scientific misconduct may have taken place in relation to the report, by researchers Charles Monnett and Jeffrey Gleason. Monnett was placed on administrative leave in July of this year in the midst of an investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General. He was told to report back to work a little over a month later, but the investigation is ongoing.

Just last week, according to Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is providing legal representation to the researchers, Gleason was asked to take a polygraph test.

It’s not yet clear what the initial charges were; the Office of Inspector General generally does not comment on ongoing investigations. They may have had nothing to do with polar bears, though: According to a letter sent to Monnett by an agent in the inspector general’s office, Monnett admitted to helping a University Alberta researcher prepare a proposal for a federal research contract and then serving on a committee that reviewed the proposal. The same researcher offered Monnett comments on the polar bear report before it was published.

Predictably, while the Office of Inspector General hasn’t reported any conclusions, and though the initial charges may not have involved the findings of the study, folks across the internet are jumping on the investigation as further evidence of some kind of global conspiracy perpetrated by the climate change community. An example from the reader comments of an NPR story about the investigation:

First they [sic] professors lied about the Global Warming weather reports/info at leading Universities...now the whole polar bear thing was a lie...this whole global waerming [sic]/climate change thing is just a bunch of liberal/socialist/Obummer lies to get money and control over industry and people.

The ongoing investigation might very well be warranted. Or it might not; some suggest it is little more than a witch hunt, launched because of the political implications of the study. In any event, such allegations need to be followed up. Along with peer review and replication of findings, for example, investigation of potential misconduct helps to maintain a degree of fidelity in the scientific process. Is the system perfect; do the mechanisms in place catch all instances of erroneous or even fraudulent science? Of course not. But they help to ensure that, at any given time, our body of knowledge is as accurate and reliable as possible.

If only all purportedly factual claims were held to such scrutiny.


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