The eye of Sauron has cast its gaze on Dr. Charles Monnett, the fellow who had the misfortune to be footnoted by Al Gore on the polar bear question.
Becky Bohrer provides a nice report in Huffington’s, which is better on climate change than it is on medicine. A couple of quotes:
The federal investigation into suspended wildlife biologist Charles Monnett has focused on the scientific merit of a 2006 article in which he and a colleague recorded their observations of apparently drowned polar bears in the Arctic
The article, published in 2006 in the journal Polar Biology, is based on observations that Monnett and fellow scientist Jeffrey Gleason made in 2004. At the time, they were conducting an aerial survey of bowhead whales, and saw four dead polar bears floating in the water after a storm. In the peer-reviewed article, they said they were reporting, to the best of their knowledge, the first observations of the bears floating dead and presumed drowned while apparently swimming long distances.
The bunkosphere, of course, sees it differently.
First of all, this is not the sort of thing the administrative branch of the government should be focusing on.
If Monnett’s reasoning about the observation is wrong, so be it. Do you expect a wildlife ecologist to simply ignore an observation like that? Surely it is his obligation to report on it. It would be hard to convince him not to think about what it means.
Being wrong is part of advancing hypotheses. It’s part of science. It may be more fun to be right, but being wrong is not something you expect to bring down the Spanish Inquisition.
Now, I suppose this doesn’t obviate the possibility of some gross misallocation of funds that Monnett manages, as has been darkly hinted. But the interrogation really doesn’t seem to go to that point at all. Indeed, the transcript is quite funny in spots, in a sad and outrageous sort of way. It is the usual sort of nonsense that you can see everywhere on the internet, a person with vastly less knowledge making nonsensical allegations about a scientist’s work in an arch tone suggestive of malfeasance, but in addition to the usual intellectual mismatch (Monnett can’t seem to hide a sneer at one point) there is also the peculiar intrusion of legal authority into the life of a scientist.
As you consider the innuendo, consider in addition to the ludicrous transcripts of the intrepid gumshoes grilling the poor guy, the bizarre Bush-administration-science-commisars episode. (Also a minor echo here.) Lomborg goes on endlessly about them too. It is clear that the bunkosphere, the Bush administration and various career appointments they made to the executive branch, and the Inhofe-Perry axis, have an absolutely ridiculously huge and mean bug up their butts about polar bears.
Consider also that Monnett is under a gag order while the bunkosphere is not.
Also consider the Texas lease contingency scam. Scientists, even many of those who manage large budgets, are not trained or experienced administrators. Like Texas deeds of title, a flaw can always be found in how a project was managed if one has the heart to throw an innocent scientist and his entourage onto the fire. The acceptance or rejection of any particular management style is almost a matter of taste.
Thus if someone in authority wishes to hang aspersions systematically on results one dislikes and not on results one likes, for reasons which may have little to do with the underlying truth of the matter, there is plenty of rope around. Of course, once can resort to this extreme course only very rarely, as one does not actually want to have one’s entire scientific community pack their bags for some less dangerous country. At least, one hasn’t until now.
Real crimes should be prosecuted, of course, but neither hackers nor government appointees should be encouraged to go on vast fishing expeditions on the basis of accusations of marginal transgressions and judgment calls blown out of any reasonable proportion. This applies to Monnett, and applies to Sauron’s previous and ongoing victims as well, notably Mike Mann who amazingly still manages to get some work done despite the constant harassment of (what I certainly hope is) the biggest fishing expedition in the climate world.
Update: For some reason (grumble) much of the conversation is happening at Eli’s. Fair enough, but please, if you haven’t looked at it before, don’t miss the aforementioned bizarre Bush-administration-science-commisars episode. Polar bears make those people especially crazy for some reason.
Image: Union of Concerned Scientists. More here. (I also really like #6.)