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Inspector General Investigated For Muzzling Inconvenient Science 276

Posted by Soulskill
from the better-be-able-to-take-what-you-dish dept.
Layzej writes "Federal biologist Charles Monnett was placed on administrative leave July 18 pending final results of an inspector general's investigation into integrity issues. The investigation originally focused on a 2006 note published in Polar Biology based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears. The investigators acknowledged that they had no formal training in science, but later demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of science, the peer review process, and at times basic math with questions like 'seven of what number is 11 percent?' They also expressed concern over the fact that the note was reviewed by Monnett's wife prior to submitting the paper for peer review. When nothing turned up, the investigation turned towards Monnett's role in administering research contracts. But documents released by PEER, a watchdog and whistle-blower protection group, suggest even that investigation is off base. Monnett has since been reinstated, albeit in a different position. Now the IG handling of this case is itself under investigation following a PEER complaint that the IG is violating new Interior Department scientific integrity rules."
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Inspector General Investigated For Muzzling Inconvenient Science

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  • thing I ask is, who appointed this IG?
    • The Oil Corps (Score:5, Informative)

      by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:52PM (#37429474) Homepage Journal

      If you click through the links in the Summit County Voice articles that have been covering this story, you get to
      "Feds may be muzzling scientist over Arctic research [summitcountyvoice.com]":

      We think they’re [Interior Department investigators] nervous about his portfolio of science in the Arctic,” said [watchdog org] PEER [peer.org] director Jeff Ruch, explaining that there’s enormous pressure to move ahead with offshore drilling in the [Arctic] region.

      It's obvious what's going on here. The Interior Department, which under Bush/Cheney took cocaine and hookers [nytimes.com] from drilling, other oil and other energy corps who are supposed to pay (minimal) royalties to the Department, is totally corrupt. That is the agency that pretended to regulate BP and other drillers, allowing the Mocambo blowout to poison the Gulf last year (and generally, in less reported ongoing operations). Obama hasn't worked hard enough to replace the crooks running that department. But it's much harder when the Senate's Republican minority abuses the filibuster to block any useful replacement of the crooks, installed by Bush/Cheney when Republicans had the monopoly over all 3 branches. Specifically here Republican senator James Inhofe, paramount climate change denier, is wrangling the scientist witchhunt to protect the oil corps. Not to mention the lockstep loyalty Republicans practice in opposition to anything Obama does. Especially when it might interfere with oil corps' vast, subsidized profits protected from the consequences of their epic destruction.

      I don't know why we even have to ask "who's responsible?" Of course it's the oil corps and their wholly owned assets in the government. The government should run real investigations, try and convict the people making and executing these plans. Then anyone asking the question will have to be an obvious employee of the oil corps, making their living by trying to make it somehow questionable who's doing this to us.

      • It's obvious what's going on here. The Interior Department, which under Bush/Cheney took cocaine and hookers [nytimes.com] from drilling, other oil and other energy corps who are supposed to pay (minimal) royalties to the Department, is totally corrupt. That is the agency that pretended to regulate BP and other drillers, allowing the Mocambo blowout to poison the Gulf last year (and generally, in less reported ongoing operations).

        For what it's worth, two terms that apply to this phenomenon are iron triangle [wikipedia.org] and regulatory capture [wikipedia.org].

      • Re:The Oil Corps (Score:4, Informative)

        by catmistake (814204) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @06:31PM (#37431132) Journal

        The Interior Department ... is totally corrupt.

        It is accepted that the Minerals Management Service [wikipedia.org] was corrupt (some thin front to give Big Oil permission to do whatever they wanted). But I seriously doubt the National Park Service, the Geological Society or the Fish and Wildlife Service are "totally corrupt."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:00PM (#37429130)

    They're a lobbying group for public servants who work in environmental fields, with a very obvious stake in the outcome of this case. It'd be like the American Petroleum Institute complaining about the BP investigation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by esocid (946821)
      How are they equivalent? PEER offers avenues of support to whistelblowers who witness violations within their field. In this case, there was a deliberate effort to defame the work of scientists, and the scientists themselves. Of course they have an obvious stake in the outcome of this case, their integrity, as well as jobs, are being called into question. And by they, I mean the scientists.
  • Summary (Score:5, Funny)

    by rossdee (243626) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:04PM (#37429154)

    "The investigation originally focused on a 2006 note published in Polar Biology based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears. The investigators acknowledged that they had no formal training in science"

    So the headline would be "Dead Polar Bears had no formal science training"

    We must ensure better education for the bears so they can understand the climate changes and so adapt to the conditions.

    • We need not only better educated bears, but bears trained to swim.

      It appears that these polar bears could only dog-paddle. If polar bears are to survive the coming anti-ice age, we must be prepared to send Red Cross-approved instructors to graduate these bears for Swimming and CPR.

      http://www.bearplanet.org/polarbear.shtml [bearplanet.org]

      • Re:Summary (Score:5, Informative)

        by tragedy (27079) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @05:10PM (#37430768)

        If you read the transcript (admittedly a bit of a read), the implications are that these polar bears probably drowned attempting a long swim right when a storm came along. The scientist discusses how, during the 26 years of the surveys in the area, there has been a stark change in the characteristics of the area. The lack of ice forces the polar bears to swim further between rests and also allows the waves to get much higher during storms. That wasn't actually in the journal article he was being investigated in, but he discusses it with his interrogators near the end of the transcript where he's clearly getting some of his frustrations out about the ridiculousness of the particular situation and about the situation with his employer overall. The stuff about the high turnover rate of scientists is interesting. Apparently to even publish in the first place he has to go through what amounts to an official censorship system.

  • by Sporkinum (655143) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:05PM (#37429158)

    This proves it! It's all a lie. Fox news is right! ;)

    • If it was up to people like Al Gore we'd be up to our necks in Polar Bears and without jobs.
  • Context is nice (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:06PM (#37429168) Homepage
    It does look like the IG investigators were way over their heads. But the point about "seven of what number is 11 percent?" seems to be taken out of context. The full section of the transcript where that occurs

    CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah. Well, thats a nothing. Um,

    23 yeah, 10.8. And then we said, um, four dead – four swimming

    24 polar bears were encountered on these transects, in addition

    25 to three.

    26 ERIC MAY: Three dead polar bears?

    1 CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, three dead.

    2 ERIC MAY: Right.

    3 CHARLES MONNETT: But the four swimming were a week earlier.

    4 ERIC MAY: Okay.

    5 CHARLES MONNETT: And, um, then we said if they accurately

    6 reflect 11 percent of the bears present so, in other words,

    7 theyre just distributed randomly, so we looked at 11 percent

    8 of the area.

    9 ERIC MAY: In that transect?

    10 CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah.

    11 ERIC MAY: Right.

    12 CHARLES MONNETT: In, in our, in our area there, um –

    13 ERIC MAY: Right.

    14 CHARLES MONNETT: – and, therefore, we should have seen

    15 11 percent of the bears. Then you just invert that, and you

    16 come up with, um, nine times as many. So thats where you get

    17 the 27, nine times three.

    18 ERIC MAY: Where does the nine come from?

    19 CHARLES MONNETT: Uh, well 11 percent is one-ninth of

    20 100 percent. Nine times 11 is 99 percent. Is that, is that

    21 clear?

    22 ERIC MAY: Well, now, seven of 11 – seven of what number is

    23 11 percent? Shouldnt that be – thats 63, correct?

    24 CHARLES MONNETT: What?

    25 ERIC MAY: So you said this is –

    26 CHARLES MONNETT: Seven/11ths this is –

    1 ERIC MAY: No, no, no, no, no. This, this is, this is 11 –

    2 seven is what number of 11 percent?

    3 CHARLES MONNETT: Seven?

    4 ERIC MAY: Yeah.

    5 CHARLES MONNETT: Is what number of 11 percent?

    6 ERIC MAY: Eleven percent, right.

    7 CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I dont know. I dont even know

    8 what youre talking about. It makes no sense.

    9 LYNN GIBSON: I think what hes saying is since theres four

    10 swimming and three dead, that makes –

    11 ERIC MAY: And three dead.

    12 CHARLES MONNETT: Well, you dont count them all together.

    13 That doesnt have anything to do. You cant – that doesnt

    14 even –

    15 LYNN GIBSON: So youre not saying that the seven represent

    16 11 percent of the population.

    17 CHARLES MONNETT: Theyre different events.

    The confusion here seems to be about what metrics are being used. It looks like the IG people didn't look at things in much detail before the interview which is clearly bad. But if I'm reading this correctly the actual context of the 11 percent line seems to be a unit confusion of an easy form to occur if one isn't that used to handling percentages and isn't actually writing things down. The section does make the IG look pretty bad and like they haven't done their research. But it doesn't look as incredibly bad as the summary suggests.

    • by mestar (121800)

      So, Who's on first?

    • When describing a ratio, 7 of 63 is about 11%,
    • by jbengt (874751)

      But it doesn't look as incredibly bad as the summary suggests.

      Actually, it's worse than the summary. I could take the summary to mean that someone had to take a second to get their bearings straight about figuring how many polar bears there are when 7 bears is 11% of the total.
      The real problem is that the interviewer thought that if you surveyed 11% of the area one day and saw 4 swimming bears, and surveyed another 11% of the area a week later and saw 3 drowned bears, that you should add the two number

      • by lucm (889690)

        > The real problem is that the interviewer thought that if you surveyed 11% of the area one day and saw 4 swimming bears, and surveyed another 11% of the area a week later and saw 3 drowned bears, that you should add the two numbers together to get 11% of the total population of bears.

        Technically it does not matter, because whether you add those or not, it brings the number of defective bears above 3.4 per million, meaning that by using Six Sigma highly scientific calculations there is a global warming p

    • if one isn't that used to handling percentages

      Sorry but percentages are primary school maths. We are exposed to them frequently in the news, with interest rates etc. I'm sure the investigators in this case are well equipped to handle the average idiot criminal but if you are going to investigate a science-based case you should send someone with at least a basic grasp maths and some clue as to how science works if for no other reason that you have no context in which to evaluate the statements made by the person being investigated. It is not a proper i

      • by geekoid (135745)

        It's not about percentage, it was about the percentage of what. THAT was the confusion not percentage calculations.

    • Re:Context is nice (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cats-paw (34890) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @02:10PM (#37429868) Homepage

      But it doesn't look as incredibly bad as the summary suggests.

      Did you stop reading the transcript at some point ?

      The investigators were using the Richelieu technique, just trying to get Monnett to say enough so they could find something with which to hang him. I'd really like to know why Monnett didn't tell them to fuck off.

      The investagiators clearly had no fucking idea what they were talking about. They spend pages asking him how he knew the polar bears were dead. they spent pages asking him more questions about the dead polar bears. Monnett responded in detail, and in exactly the fashion I would expect an experienced researcher to answer in. Details about how they gather the data, details as to how he came to the conclusions that he did. Deails, not generalizations. All they did was badger and needle him - it's like a 5 year old asking "why ?" all the time.

      There's nothing here to suggest any wrong doing on Monnett's part.

      So instead of the FBI going after the fucking banksters they're spending time and money going after a guy who made a valid and reasonable claim about the significance of dead polar bears in the artic.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        " They spend pages"

        pages is an irrelevant metric, especially when its a large font triples spaced document.

        There questuions was perfectly normal.

        This is blown way out of proportion. His polar bear paper has no bearing on global climate. Global warming is a tool PEER os using to distract from the actually methodology of the report... and they are right to do so because the paper wasn't very good, and there methodology was sloppy.

        And no, I ma not a denier, I have read a lot of studies and papers on this, and

        • Re:Context is nice (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tragedy (27079) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @05:56PM (#37430980)

          It's very clear from the interview though, that the paper wasn't meant to be some big significant thing. It was meant to be a report to a nature journal that they saw more polar bears swimming than typical, then, shortly after, they saw more dead, apparently drowned, polar bears than they'd ever seen. That's the sort of thing you write small papers about to journals. He mentions a paper a colleague wrote about seeing mallards eating salmon. This is just reporting on observations they've made tangential to their actual mission, which is observing whale populations (and as he points out during the interview, concluding that they're doing just fine and that human development isn't affecting them is pretty much part of the job even when it isn't really true).

    • I am guessing that Dr. Monnett was extrapolating the total number of polar bears. He estimated he flew over 11% of the area that he wanted to cover and saw 7 polar bears total (4 swimming, 3 dead). Extrapolating there should be (7 /0.11 or 7 *9 as 1/0.11 =9) approx. 63 bears in the total area. Mind that extrapolation is not always 100% certain. But it seems the investigators did have trouble with math.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:41PM (#37429388) Journal

    'seven of what number is 11 percent?'

    Is that way of asking the question confusing to anyone else? Guaranteed if someone asked me that out loud I would wallow in confusion. It's taken me several times reading it to figure it out even here, I believe they are asking .11 * x = 7, which I would have phrased in words as '7 is 11% of what number?' Maybe in other parts of the country people talk like that, but it sounds very awkward to me.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      No, they were asking "7 / x = 11%" which yes, is mathematically identical to your phrasing, but when one literally translates the divide and equal sign to English one gets "seven of what number is 11%"

      The problem isn't you, and it isn't them; English just sucks in general for expressing mathematics.

  • by markhahn (122033) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:46PM (#37429424)

    What's odd in this case is there there's so little respect for science and the scientists that do it. and the idea that the government should hire its own scientists is just absurd - scientists need to report to an academic institution. the interview demonstrates that the agency involved (and this Eric May character) has a giant axe to grind - a political agenda.

    agenda is corrosive to science.

    but why do so many people feel that they're being misled by scientists? is it just that they don't want to believe what science says?

    it's also kind of appalling that they still do these transects with some guys in a bush plane: no continual video record, no constant gps track, etc.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      because unlike government, academic institutions aren't driven by politics, agendas, contributors and don't have cronyism and nepotism? Bwahahahaha!
    • >but why do so many people feel that they're being misled by scientists? is it just that they don't want to believe what science says?

      The people who make their living or get their authority from telling other people what to think are directly threatened by science, so they tell the people under their control not to trust science and scientists.

    • What's odd in this case is there there's so little respect for science and the scientists that do it.

      The first clue would be that less than 40% of Americans believe in 'the natural selection of the species' (a.k.a. evolution) [gallup.com]. If people reject something that is so widely accepted in the scientific community, it isn't surprising that they will willingly choose to ignore scientists in other areas when it suites them. Especially if the people they elect (e.g. George W. Bush) are proud of the fact that they are uninformed or selective in what they want to hear. [slate.com]

      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @02:13PM (#37429884)
        Sometimes the truth is just so inconvenient, people choose subconsciously to reject it. Climate change is a very good example of this. If the claims of scientists are true, then something has to be done - and whatever the something is will be horribly expensive, economically disadvantagious, personally inconvenient for millions of people and politically difficult in a time when any form of regulation meets with popular resistance. Far easier simply to deny anything is wrong, and thus remove the need to do anything. It isn't even something people realise they are doing.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Sometimes the truth is just so inconvenient, people choose subconsciously to reject it. Climate change is a very good example of this. If the claims of scientists are true, then something has to be done - and whatever the something is will be horribly expensive, economically disadvantagious, personally inconvenient for millions of people and politically difficult in a time when any form of regulation meets with popular resistance. Far easier simply to deny anything is wrong, and thus remove the need to do anything. It isn't even something people realise they are doing.

          There are several reasons that people are skeptical of global warming:

          1. The current global warming evangelists are the equivalent of a Christian televangelist who gets caught with hookers and blow. If you believe that carbon is killing the planet, then don't buy giant mansions and yachts and have Global Warming conferences in Cancun. Live in modest houses and teleconference.

          2. Environmentalists should go out of their way in supporting every alternate energy source, including nuclear. However, instead of

          • by blueg3 (192743)

            Climate science seems like a bit circular---All scientists believe in AGW, but to be accepted as a scientist you need to believe in AGW.

            Sure, except that the latter isn't true at all.

            And it isn't a "hard" science in that you can experiment and see the results because, well, if AGW is occurring you can't wait till everyone is dead.

            Science is all about developing models in order to make useful predictions. You don't need to do full-scale experiments of exactly what you're looking for in order for it to be "science". That's just called "observation" at that point.

            On the other hand, we are aware of significant climate change in relatively recent human history (Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age, etc) that are not related to humans.

            Not surprisingly, climateologists know about these too. It's a logical fallacy, by the way, to suggest that because A causes C, it cannot be the case that B causes C.

            And AGW isn't a new idea--Edward Gibbon blamed deforestation for Germany's warming in HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

            Not only is that a different effect, it's also not global.

    • by esocid (946821)
      Because other people say they should be mistrusted, and fools listen. If you've ever looked into the numbers of people fabricating evidence, it's very few and far between, but people are often led to believe it's so common, and that scientists create some sort of money circle. See our research means we need more money to do this! If people understood the funding process, and how little most scientists get paid, I don't think they would have the same view. The easier method would be to get an MBA.
    • It's absurd for the government to hire its own scientists? How will we replace the government scientists employed by the NIH, NSF, FDA, USDA, DOE, DOD (uniformed services and civilians both), NOAA, NASA, EPA, and many other agencies? For that matter why must any scientist report solely to an academic institute? Are the tens of thousands of PhD's employed in research capacities in private enterprise not scientists?
    • Simple answer - most Americans are at the point where they can no longer distinguish science from magic.
  • The Auditor General of Victoria Australia just released a paper showing that the local traffic cameras are working as desired and there is absolutely no question of their accuracy at all. I found 17 technical errors on 7 pages that I can cite counter evidence from their own sources and I expect there are hundreds of errors in the document. They are supposed to be auditors yet their statement about the money seems to indicate they forgot who gets lots of the cash.

  • by Torodung (31985) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @07:26PM (#37431372) Journal

    This is a terrible submission. There is a link to a 96 page transcript. I'm guessing it's a deposition, as there is allusion to consequential perjury charges if the interviewees are found to be lying. No summary of the bulk of its contents is given. It is being used as material evidence for some lame jokes at the expense of the Interior Department.

    It's a classic fishing expedition. But it clearly demonstrates that Monnett's counsel willingly let them go on that fishing expedition, and I'm left wondering why. One of the lawyers present on this transcript says this on p. 83:

    We've been at this for an 1 hour and 45 minutes, and I'm curious, are we going to get to the allegations of scientific misconduct or, uh, have – is that what we've been doing?

    He's on Monnett's side, supposedly. The Agents clearly identified themselves as criminal investigators. That strikes me as a good deal worse than asking (rephrased) "11% of what number is 7" without a calculator on hand. 63.63 repeating doesn't exactly leap to the brain. It's like he wanted this to be a fiasco, and he let it happen.

    And then guess who the source is that claims that "the IG is being investigated?" Same guy that complained at 1:45. Jeff Ruch, the Executive Director of PEER. The only source claiming an "investigation" is PEER. For all we know, the investigation ended 15 minutes after PEER made a complaint to the proper office. There is no mention if this is an ongoing investigation.

    Point of fact: All that is present in TFA is an unconfirmed allegation of an investigation. The only person claiming any "muzzling" is PEER, who represents the person being "muzzled." Any journalist worth a damn would investigate that allegation further before proudly proclaiming "Inspector General Investigated For Muzzling Inconvenient Science."

    Sure. By whom? Which Inspector General, the current (acting) one, Mary L. Kendall [doioig.gov]? Is the investigation current? Is it backed by any sort of suit, law, evidence, or legal authority? Near as this summary and the links show, none of those facts are present. Fox News does better hit jobs.

    And to be completely fair to the IG, Monnett did actually lose his position over this. That's what "BOEM immediately issued a stop-work order for the study and put Dr. Monnett on administrative leave" means. He was reinstated, but not in his original position. So he lost his job. It's not just IG monkey business, if there is any at all, it's Monnett's own administration at BOEM "muzzling" him, and his own attorneys who let "criminal investigators" go on a fishing expedition for nearly 2 hours before demanding the charges. Effectively providing fodder for years of investigation of, and vulnerability to, perjury charges.

    None of this is the IG's problem. An investigation, especially one as unfocused as the transcript implies, doesn't have to mean forcibly interrupting the study and switching the good doctor to a new position after a period mandatory leave. It just does at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The combination of sheepish counsel and cowardly administration is what brought this man down.

    Point of fact 2: The links aren't as advertised. The first purports to be "documents released by PEER" but instead links to a PEER press release, a press release is not documentation of this purported investigation. The second purports to show that "the IG handling of this case is itself under investigation " but that's only a claim by Jeff Ruch, in paraphrase, in the summation paragraph of an article about the investigation of Monnett. It does not link to an article that has any facts to support the link text.

    Yikes. If you take up the methods of your enemy, you become the enemy, guys. This is a sleazy, bad submission.

    • you have obviously never worked in the military or government. Here are some ideas you might be unfamiliar with...

      1) It is standard procedure to remove someone under investgaiton from their post. Pretty much ANY investigation, criminal, civil, related to their job or not.

      2) Is it very posssible the reason why he did not get his old job back was because it was filled during his leave. If a position is considered critical it would be filled ASAP. (It is also possible there are other reasons, but to assume he

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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