Charles Monnett, who was temporarily suspended in 2011 after accusations of scientific misconduct, recently settled a whistleblower complaint with the Department of the Interior (H/T Roger Pielke, Jr.). Monnett has officially retired from the Department received a cash settlement, and had a letter of reprimand removed from his file (placed there for supposedly leaking agency documents). The Department does not acknowledge any liability in the matter, and states that the agreement was entered into on their part to avoid the costs of litigation (which may well have influenced Monnett’s decision to accept).
As background and refresher, Monnett worked for the Deparment’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In 2010 a scientific integrity complaint was lodged against him, but the department did not find evidence to suggest scientific misconduct, but reprimanded him for leaking internal government documents. Monnett alleged actions by the Bureau and the Department’s Office of Inspector General constituted misconduct and harmed the integrity of his scientific efforts. The department found (cases 290 and 295) that the actions of both parties were consistent with the nature of such investigations and did not violate the scientific integrity policy.
Arguably the first test case for scientific integrity policies following the big push from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Monnett’s case involved both the scientific integrity policy (which he was accused of violating) and general policies and laws concerning whistleblowing activity (which is mentioned in the scientific integrity policy). While there would appear to be resolution in terms of a partial restoration of Monnett’s status and name following charges that could not be substantiated, I think there’s a reasonable set of questions to ask about what such restoration means in the context of scientific misconduct.
Could scientific integrity policies benefit from stronger language concerning whistleblowing and retaliation? Ultimately these policies will rise and fall based on the people, processes and culture in place to implement them, but the language provides a starting point. Do accusations of scientific misconduct (which are not all the possible violations of scientific integrity policies) warrant the additional scrutiny and protection intended for those trying to reveal other kinds of inappropriate conduct?
I think it’s worth considering how the additional consequences to the accused of claiming scientific misconduct can be handled in a way that’s as fair as possible to all concerned. But since the Office of Science and Technology Policy seems to think they’ve done all they need to do in this area, the consideration will have to come from other interested and/or aggrieved parties. Any takers?