Climate change scientist faces lie detector test

Fears of US witch-hunt over wildlife researchers who highlighted the deaths of polar bears

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy, the Independent's Environment Editor, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has three times been Environment Journalist of the Year (1991, 2003 and 2006) and in 2001 was Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards. In 2007 he was awarded the medal of the RSPB for "Oustanding Services to Conservation" – the first time in the medal's 100-year history that it has been given to a journalist – and in 2009 he was given the Marsh Award for Lepidoptera Conservation. In 2009 he published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain's declining migrant birds.


Articles from Michael McCarthy

Suggested Topics

It's the next step in "Polarbeargate" – one of two scientists whose report on dead polar bears in the Arctic helped make the animal a potent symbol of climate change has been asked to take a lie detector test as part of an investigation by US agents.

The 2006 report from American wildlife researchers Jeffrey Gleason and Charles Monnett told of dead bears floating in the Arctic Ocean in 2004, apparently drowned, and focused attention on the vulnerability of the animals to the melting of the Arctic ice, which they need for hunting. Widespread references were made to the dead bears and they figured in the film An Inconvenient Truth, made by Al Gore to highlight the risks of global warming.

But earlier this year, allegations were made within the US Department of the Interior that acts of scientific misconduct might have been committed in relation to the report, and the Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) began an inquiry.

Mr Monnett, who works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, a Department of the Interior agency, became the focus of the inquiry and was interviewed several times by OIG agents; in July he was suspended.

The OIG said the suspensions followed concerns about a research contract he had been involved in awarding, and not his polar bear article. But some pressure groups alleged the episode represented political interference with science and was a witch-hunt, or at least an attempt to intimidate researchers whose studies might affect the politics of climate change. The issue became known in some quarters as "Polarbeargate".

Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute with the Centre for Biological Diversity, a charity that campaigned to have the polar bear listed as a threatened species in the US, said at the time: "There's no way this can have anything but a chilling effect on the ability of other scientists to carry out their work."

Mr Monnett has now returned to work but the investigators are now focusing on his colleague and fellow author of the report, Mr Gleason, who has already been interviewed, earlier this year. This week Mr Gleason was interviewed intensively by investigators and asked if he would take a polygraph (lie detector) test; he responded that he would only take such a test if the agent interviewing him took one as well.

"There appears to be kind of a desperate, almost fierce nature to pursue this until they find something," said Mr Gleason's lawyer, Jeff Ruch, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Mr Ruch accuses the investigators of taking issues raised during the normal scientific peer-review process and acting as though they constitute evidence of wrongdoing.

He has filed a complaint with the department under its new scientific integrity policy, saying these issues should be investigated not by the Office of Inspector General, but by a review performed by other scientists.

Polar bears are the world's largest land carnivores and it is widely believed that extensive melting of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will seriously compromise the bear's ability to hunt the seals which are their principal food.

Independent Comment
blog comments powered by Disqus

Day In a Page

Show us you care: the rise of good cause labelling

Go on... show us you care

Ribbons, pins, noses, a 'tache: the rise of good cause labelling
The ballad of Rasha and Devorah

The ballad of Rasha and Devorah

The blind, mentally disabled piano virtuoso from the West Bank and her Jewish teacher
Tributes to Philip Gould, a giant in life and in death

Tributes to Philip Gould, a giant in life and in death

Philip Gould will be mourned by the party he helped into power
Olympic athletes to train on timber from 'endangered' forests

So much for a "truly green Games"?

Olympic athletes to train on timber from 'endangered' forests
Google doodle honours Marie Curie's 144th birthday

Who is today's Google doodle of?

Marie Curie's 144th birthday is celebrated by the search engine
Endurance events: Going beyond the burn

Going beyond the burn

Why are we pushing ourselves harder, further and faster?
The ten best health monitors

The ten best health monitors

From Tens machines to head lice combs
The rise of the super tutor

The rise of the super tutor

Competition for school and university places causes rise in 'super tutors'
Sergei Polunin: One giant leap for British ballet

Sergei Polunin: Jumping for joy

How the dancer combines stardom with plans to open a celebrity tattoo parlour
The ten best new men's scents

The ten best new men's scents

Discover brand new blends and imaginative twists on time-honoured classics
David Abraham: 'Channel 5 thinks it's clever, but we're still the No 1'

'Channel 4 is still the No 1'

Channel 4's chief executive tells Ian Burrell about the fight for young viewers
Gareth Pugh: His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials

Gareth Pugh's dramatic designs have long wowed the fashion follower. Now he's moving into make-up
Picture gallery: Haj pilgrims perform devil stoning ritual

Haj stoning ritual

Pilgrims commemorate Abraham's stoning of the devil
'Carlos the Jackal' faces new trial over terrorist attacks in France

'Carlos the Jackal' faces new trial

Venezuelan-born 'celebrity terrorist' will face court over 1980s killings
Leonardo da Vinci: A brush with genius

Leonardo da Vinci: A brush with genius

These awe-inspiring paintings make this an unmissable exhibition