More Trouble for “Polar Bear Guy”

Photo by Loozrboy. Some rights reserved.

Wildlife researcher Charles Monnett (or “Polar Bear Guy,” as my boss calls him) has had a pretty crappy couple of months, from what we can tell.

In late July he was placed on administrative leave from his job at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), where he was researching – surprise! – polar bears.

Monnett originally made a name for himself with the publication of his 2006 paper that delved into polar bear mortality as a result of “extended open-water swimming” in the Arctic, presumably triggered by global warming and subsequent melting ice. The sad story of the dead bears was highlighted in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

However, now he’s making headlines for being the subject of what many are calling a witch hunt. Originally, the reason he was put on leave by BOEMRE wasn’t made public, but there’s been plenty of speculation. According to Fast Company, “[m]any environmentalists and scientists suspect that this kind of ‘aggressive’ house-cleaning includes silencing voices from within that may hinder fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic.”

A recent letter made available to NPR gives BOEMRE’s side of the story – whether or not you choose to believe it. Apparently Monnett admitted to assisting another scientist “in preparing that scientist’s proposal for a government contract…[and] then served as chairman of a committee that reviewed that proposal.” Reports are conflicting on who thinks this is a standard practice, and who thinks this is “highly inappropriate.”

Paula Dinerstein, senior counsel at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has been providing legal assistance to Monnett and has recently filed a complaint “of scientific and scholarly misconduct” against BOEMRE for their treatment of Monnett.

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