I was avoiding posting about the case of Charles Monnett, a government scientist working for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. Since July his name has popped up in The New York Times, ScienceInsider and other places in connection with an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department. There are at least two distinct issues involved. One concerns contract management, and the other deals with a 2005 paper in which Dr. Monnett observed polar bear deaths.
The press coverage and Department of Interior statements within have whipsawed back and forth over whether or not the investigation of Monnett dealt with possible fraud with that paper. Even Senator Inhofe, no friend of the policies associated with Monnett’s finding, is confused on the issue. This is where the Department’s scientific integrity policy comes into play.
In late July, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a complaint with the Department alleging that Department employees violated the Department’s scientific integrity policy. Specifically, that the process of the investigation subjected Monnett to outside interference in his work and serious departures from accepted practice where scientists are concerned. The Department’s Scientific Integrity Officer responded to the complaint indicating that he would investigate the allegations.
Earlier today, Monnett’s suspension was lifted and he is back at work. His duties will be changed, pending the investigation. While there is no indication that the scientific integrity inquiry will find that violations of the policy occurred, it is encouraging to see these policies being put to work.