Longtime polar bear researcher Dr. Charles Monnett may be back at work after being sidelined earlier this year, but his life at a federal offshore oil agency isn't the same.
The man who in 2006 gained overnight notoriety for co-authoring a brief article about drowned polar bears in the Arctic Ocean is now focusing his attention on how many ships are passing through the Bering Strait and the traffic's potential impact on marine life and traditional hunting.
Monnett, who works for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulatory Enforcement, has lost oversight of his prior projects as a result of an investigation by the federal Office of the Inspector General into allegations that he committed scientific misconduct. The inquiry has simultaneously raised questions about the quality of Monnett's work and the motives behind it -- as well as the appropriateness of the inquiry itself, which made national news this summer.
Monnett's attorneys believe the investigation is no less than an attempt to squash scientific freedom and choke the credibility of government scientists whose findings might obstruct oil development.
At issue has been whether Monnett ever fudged his data or improperly abused his position overseeing contracts in order to influence how other scientists rated his work.
But the investigation and repeated questioning of Monnett have so far failed to back up those allegations, said Jeff Ruch, executive director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- a nonprofit that aims to protect government employees who work in environmental agencies, which is providing legal assistance to Monnett.
Photos were taken but were "unrecognizable," he recalled in the 2007 interview.
One of the bears was so bloated that it could be seen for miles. ...
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