Yes, There is a Pattern

By Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol
Posted on 27 August 2011
Filed under Media

It’s beginning to add up. After some period of uncertainty, the picture that emerges is beginning to fit into the neo-McCarthyite pattern of attack on scientists that has become all too common in the United States.

It’s been nearly two months since a scientist working for the “U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation” (BOEMRE), Dr Charles Monnett, was placed on administrative leave after an ongoing investigation.

An investigation of what? Well, no one quite knows, least of all Dr Monnett, who was kept in the dark about the nature and source of the allegations against him.

What we now know for sure is this:

Dr Monnett published a paper in 2006 that reported the discovery of several floating bodies of polar bears, presumed drowned while trying to swim across long ice-free distances in the Arctic Ocean. This article was only one of hundreds that have attested to the perilous decline of Arctic eco-systems resulting from global warming, but it attracted a lot of attention at the time and helped put the fate of polar bears onto the political agenda.

Earlier this year, the investigating officer, full of bravado but devoid of 5th-grade arithmetic, repeatedly quizzed Dr Monnett about this particular paper, trying to find fault where peer review had found none. Following the earlier release of written transcripts, a video recording of this investigation has now also been made available.

When this affair became known to the public, BOEMRE issued a statement that Dr Monnett was being investigated for administrative matters, involving “collateral duties involving contracts.” The investigation, it was said, had “nothing to do with scientific integrity, [or] his 2006 journal article."

Notwithstanding this public statement, a subsequent interview of Dr Monnett again focused on the 2006 journal article.

In the meantime, representatives of Dr Monnett lodged a complaint with the U.S. Department of the Interior about this Kafkaesque investigation. The Department’s Scientific Integrity Officer has therefore now in turn launched an inquiry of BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich and others.

And now, Dr Monnett has returned to work after 6 weeks on administrative leave without any charges being leveled against him. Oh, and a stop-work order issued by BOEMRE against a Canadian university they had been funding to conduct research on … guess … polar bears has also been rescinded.

So the “case” against Dr Monnett is imploding and the folks who pushed this “case” are now being asked to explain themselves. Sadly, those explanations may be delayed or compromised by the purported fact that a hard drive of a key BOEMRE manager was found to have been wiped clean after the investigator sought his files.

Definitely time to settle in and get some more popcorn.

What are the important lessons to draw from this?

Irrespective of the final outcome of this affair, it is abundantly clear that a U.S. government scientist was interrogated repeatedly and thoroughly over a purely scientific matter, notwithstanding the agency’s public rhetoric invoking contract management. The transcripts of the interviews simply permit no other conclusion.

It is also abundantly clear that when Dr Monnett’s administrative leave was first announced, it was pounced upon with glee and delight by those who deny the fact that the Earth is warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions.

Neither of those facts is new.

It is all beginning to add up and it fits into a pattern that has now, sadly, become routine:

Somehow someone manages to launch an “investigation” of a scientist or group of scientists with great public fanfare about “scientific misconduct.” There are numerous ways in which this can be achieved, for example by stealing people’s emails or by just sending a sufficiently large number of abusive emails to a university, or by issuing legal threats, or by filing frivolous FOI requests.

The denialist echo chamber on the internet recycles and amplifies the story until it is reported by the “mainstream” media. Pliable politicians and vested interests keep the story alive with dark mutterings that are dutifully reported by the media. Eventually, however, public interest subsides and the next “investigation” must be manufactured. So the cycle resumes with step 1 above.

In the meantime, the investigation finds no impropriety among the scientists. So another investigation is requested and launched, until that also completely exonerates the scientists involved. Needless to say, those serial exonerations usually fail to be widely reported because for our gullible media it is so much more interesting to froth over the next manufactured “scandal” involving an inconvenient scientist, rather than to face up to the fact that there is a pattern here.

The pattern is a systematic McCarthyite assault on climate science and climate scientists.

Anyone who continues to ignore this pattern will have to explain themselves.

To their grandchildren.

Because for them the laws of physics will not be something that can be denied but will be the challenge dominating their lives.

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1 Comment


Comments 1 to 1:

  1. The most amazing thing to me is the clumsy ham-handedness of the 'investigation'.

    In the Kafkaesque fog of the transcripts of interviews, one thing was absolutely clear. The investigators had not been properly briefed. They would never have got into those weird exchanges about numbers, ratios, percentages if the person who'd come up with the figures disputing Monnett's results had explained what the calculations represented.

    Seems to be yet another example of contrary views being based on facile reconstructions of numbers (number-crunching is too sophisticated for what happened here). A presumption that simple-minded jiggery pokery of adding up apples and bicycles and calculating this as a percentage of lawnmowers can challenge a routine scientific statistical result of clearly defined observations is just mind-boggling.

    Though I do think the truly weird interview was of Gleason and the mystery of how and when the photos were processed takes the investigative cake.
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