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Scientist Cleared In Polar Bear Controversy

A long, controversial investigation of a polar bear scientist has ended with his government employer saying it does not look like he engaged in any scientific misconduct.

Charles Monnett is a wildlife researcher with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, part of the Department of the Interior. He and a colleague, Jeffrey Gleason, wrote an influential 2006 report describing apparently drowned polar bears floating in the Arctic, which they saw during a routine aerial survey of whales.

Those dead bears became a symbol of the threat of climate change and melting ice, and Al Gore mentioned them in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

But the sightings were called into question in March 2010, after officials with Interior's Office of Inspector General received allegations of scientific misconduct.

Monnett spent more than two years under investigation, and agents repeatedly asked him detailed questions about the dead-polar-bear paper.

Cleared Of Misconduct

The final report on that investigation was delivered to BOEM about three months ago. On Friday, the agency told Monnett that no action would be taken against him — except for an official reprimand for an unrelated matter, the improper release of internal government documents back in 2007 and 2008.

"We have confirmed that the [inspector general's] findings do not support a conclusion that the individual scientists involved engaged in scientific misconduct," BOEM press secretary Theresa Eisenman said in a written statement.

"Sound science is the foundation of BOEM's decision-making, and therefore we take the integrity of our scientists and the reliability of their analyses extremely seriously," the statement added.

Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is providing legal representation for the scientists, said that when he spoke to Monnett on the phone about this outcome, the scientist was "a mixture of relieved and confused."

"This is an anti-climactic and kind of wacky ending to all this," says Ruch.

Ruch says the documents Monnett released were intended to reveal his agency's suppression of scientific concerns related to proposals for Arctic offshore drilling.

"It takes a lot of nerve to reprimand someone for disclosing official improprieties," says Ruch. "But on the other hand, given that they've been investigating him for a long time, and this is all they can find, we're fairly relieved. It's almost like we've been waiting for the Sword of Damocles to drop and when it did, it turned out to be a butter knife."

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