Should Science be King?

Imagine a discourse:

Unless either scientists be­come kings in their countries or those who are now called kings and rulers come to be sufficiently inspired with a genuine desire for scientific knowledge; unless that is to say, political power and science meet together … there can be no rest from troubles, my dear reader, for states, nor yet, as I believe, for all mankind…. There is no other way of happiness either for the state or for the individual….

Now … we must, I think, define … whom we mean by these lovers of science who, we have dared to assert, ought to be our rulers. Once we have a clear view of their character, we shall be able to defend our position by pointing to some who are naturally fitted to combine scientific study with political lead­ership, while the rest of the world should ac­cept their guidance and let science alone.

Ok, so I switched out philosophers with science and scientists, but Socrates raises an interesting question. Should we be ruled by scientist-kings? Should scientific knowledge be king?

Of course, I’m being deliberately provocative. I don’t really believe that our rulers should be scientists, although I’d be quite happy to elect scientists who ran for public office. I’d hate to see working scientists sully themselves in the mire that is politics and I know — I’ve worked as a writer for a major politician in my province.

.

The thought of a Stevphen Hawking or Michio Kaku or Carl Sagan or *gasp* Richard Feynman having to compromise their scientific standards and love of knowledge in order to campaign for office and try to please the public as well as those who hold the purse strings is too horrible to contemplate. Our lives would be so much more impoverished if they were to do so. So we believers in democracy must keep science and politics as separate as possible because scientists should be doing what they do best — search for knowledge.

However, science should be given a very prominent place in the policy process, and I would hazard to say that in some policy matters, science should trump other concerns. That’s right. Trump other concerns. The difficulty is knowing when it should. I’d say that we are getting to the point where science must trump other concerns when it comes to climate change. I rue the day future generations look back at us and shake their heads in wonder and disgust that we didn’t use our most valuable tool — science — to determine what to do and how to respond to global warming. That we didn’t act sooner because we refused to listen when scientists warned us.

In much of the literature you’ll read on public policy, you’ll come across arguments about “evidence-based decision making”. It’s a buzz-phrase that I see and hear and read all the time in my work – why, even today I wrote those very words into a document that will become the basis for new policy. The claim that good public policy rests on sound science and reliable evidence rather than other interests is almost cliche. I would even venture to say that most policy wonks truly believe in this as a goal, but the reality of making policy and developing programs to implement that policy is very different.

There is a constant battle between political expediency and scientific integrity in the policy process. Put bluntly, politicians try to balance their need and desire to retain power with their ideological commitments, seeing their political and social values implemented with their pledge to serve the public good. You campaign on a platform and then once in power, you try to implement whatever you can of that platform, recognizing that you have to get re-elected and don’t want to win a skirmish only to lose the war. So political expediency wins out over evidence-based policy very often, probably too often if the truth were known. There are some checks and balances in place to try to ensure that public policy is made in a rational manner, but there are many ways to circumvent these checks and balances and get what you want in the end, even if it does contradict or ignore the science.

I would argue that this is the case with climate policy and energy policy today. Recent news items are cases in point:

Polar Bear Science: We all know that oil companies and government agencies that promote economic development hate polar bears. They get in the way of their projects. If the public hears of drowning polar bear cubs, starving polar bear mothers, and other horrors that scientists claim are due to global warming, the public will support policies to protect the arctic wilderness and legislation to enact a carbon tax to fight global warming.

What to do, what to do… Undermine the science. Get some yahoo from blogland to write an FOI request for the scientists’s research and makes claims about numbers being fraudulent and the government sends a schmuck non-expert out to investigate. A schmuck   non-expert who can’t even add, subtract, multiply or divide well enough to do simple percentages. Who isn’t a scientist or even an expert.

You can read the sorry transcript here.

An excerpt:

CHARLES MONNETT: Okay, and, and just so I know how to put my answers, do you have scientific credentials of any sort? Uh, what, what, what level of scientist am I speaking with here that’s going to be evaluating my science?

ERIC MAY: No, we‟re criminal investigators.

CHARLES MONNETT: Criminal investigators.

ERIC MAY: With the Inspector General‟s Office.

LYNN GIBSON: Right.

CHARLES MONNETT: So I assume with no formal training in, in science or biology or –

LYNN GIBSON: That‟s correct.

ERIC MAY: That‟s right.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s an interesting exchange on math that reminds one of Abbot and Costello:

CHARLES MONNETT: 11 percent of the bears. Then you just invert that, and you come up with, um, nine times as many. So that‟s where you get the 27, nine times three.

ERIC MAY: Where does the nine come from?

CHARLES MONNETT: Uh, well 11 percent is one-ninth of 100 percent. Nine times 11 is 99 percent. Is that, is that clear?

ERIC MAY: Well, now, seven of 11 – seven of what number is 11 percent? Shouldn’t that be – that’s 63, correct?

CHARLES MONNETT: What?

ERIC MAY: So you said this is –

CHARLES MONNETT: Seven/11ths this is –

Yeah.

In, in our, in our area there, um –

– and, therefore, we should have seen

ERIC MAY: No, no, no, no, no. This, this is, this is 11 – seven is what number of 11 percent?

CHARLES MONNETT: Seven?

ERIC MAY: Yeah.

CHARLES MONNETT: Is what number of 11 percent?

ERIC MAY: Eleven percent, right.

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I don’t know. I don’t even know you’re talking about. It makes no sense.

Who’s on first? Read it and weep.

In another case in the news, a government scientist is muzzled because her work on salmon health makes politicians uncomfortable.

Munro says the e-mail record shows that the decision to silence Miller was made at the last minute. In messages to and from officials in Ottawa, “you see them getting more and more frustrated,” she says. Right before the Science paper was scheduled to go live online, DFO pulled its name from the joint press release it had written with the University of British Columbia (UBC). Miller was left apologizing to reporters with whom she’d scheduled interviews, leaving co-authors Scott Hinch and Anthony Farrell of UBC to explain to reporters what salmon leukemia and the possibility of a virus actually meant. Some media have become enamored of the idea of a virus, even suggesting a government conspiracy to save itself some embarrassment should its trade practices prove to be spreading it.

Another scientist is muzzled because his work makes them sweat. It has to do with past climate change — flooding in the Younger Dryas.

From that article in Science:

In 2010, National Resources Canada prevented geologist Scott Dallimore from speaking with reporters about his research on a 13,000-year-old flood.

According to the Science Insider, several Canadian government agencies, including National Resources Canada and Environment Canada have muzzled scientists. This is the result of changes in media policy, resulting in a drastic reduction in news coverage of related science.

Climate scientists have also complained of muzzling by the government, and leaked documents from Environment Canada showed that a drastic decline in coverage of climate change by the Canadian press between 2007 and 2010, due to Environment Canada’s own new media policies. “We’ve been dealing with this for years,” says Stephen Strauss, vice-president of the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA).

Scientists are not free to discuss their work with the press and public for fear their findings contradict policy positions – it is inconvenient science. Lines must be prepared for media people so they can answer the questions properly. Talking points must be written just so. The claims are that the scientist is too busy to meet with journalists directly. The report, published in a very reputable journal, is an embarrassment to the government that wants to ignore science.

Finally, funding is cut to the Environmental Assessment Agency of Canada – a 43% cut to spending. The agency involved in assessing large-scale projects to ensure their impacts on the environment are adequately understood and mitigated for, where necessary. That there are several large-scale projects coming down the pipes that have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and bear on the issue of climate change is no coinkydink.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is looking at a 43.1 per cent cut in spending, dropping from $30 million in 2011-12 to $17.1 million in 2012-13, according to the agency’s planning documents.

This cut follows a 6.9 per cent, or $2.2-million, drop in the funds government allocated to the agency in 2010-11.

Along with the budget cuts, the 17-year-old agency is facing a one-third reduction in the number of full-time staff, despite the government’s commitment to improving the environmental assessment process laid out in its June speech from the throne.

With an increasing number of large-scale mining projects coming down the pipe – including Stornoway Diamond Corp.’s foray into Quebec’s first diamond mine, Taseko Mines Ltd.’s gold-copper mine in British Columbia, and the Enbridge oil pipeline – now is not the time to start taking risks, said Stephen Hazell, an environmental lawyer.

The evidence of humanity’s role in climate change is very strong and growing stronger with each year. Yet, we see governments like that of Steven Harper’s Conservatives in Canada deliberately undermining science through funding cuts, through muzzling scientists, and other means in order to either implement an anti-regulation ideological commitment and/or turning a blind eye to the science so that the filthy lucre — and dirty shale oil and gas — can flow.

Despite the majority of Canadians accepting that climate is warming and humans are primarily to blame for a significant portion of it, and despite the fact that they support action, and despite the preponderance of scientific evidence supporting this position, year after year, Canada has failed to meet its own emission reduction targets and has received a failing grade on climate change.

When science says something is an increasingly certain reality and risk, and government ignores that risk, and when the public supports a policy and the government ignores the majority, we can conclude that public policy is not the result of a sober consideration of the science, a review of the evidence, and respect for science.

Instead, it is primarily a political process — it is the exercise of power by those who have it to implement their own political and economic and social agenda – and of course, let’s not forget, get re-elected.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that in the question of whether we should respond to the threat of climate change, science should trump other interests.

Here’s my suggestion — those alligned against political action on climate change — those who want to delay or prevent climate legislation, whether because of financial interest or political ideology, know this. They know that Joe and Jane public have to trust the consensus science and largely do.

What then is to be done about that inconvenient science?

Disable it. Discredit it. Cast doubt on its findings. Push the issue of uncertainty. If that doesn’t work, question the motives and morality of the scientists. Talk about individuals, not theories or facts. Play up the social and personal and talk about motives. The public, unable to judge the actual science, will be equally able to judge the validity of the critique of the science. Plus, they are titiilated by the personal.

Skepticism in science is good. Cynicism towards science isn’t. I would argue it will be our downfall as a species if we squander this marvel of our human mind.

Over time, the scientific method and peer review have been tremendously successful even when there have been wrong turns and dead ends. Pretty much every advance in our modern societies is premised on scientific findings and the use of these findings in the development of new technologies.

When we’ve trusted consensus science, even when its not perfect, we’ve done marvels — we’ve gone to the Moon using Newton’s theory of gravity even though it wasn’t entirely correct – but it was good enough.  Our probes have reached the outer reaches of the solar system, we’ve imaged the echoes of the universe’s birth, harnessed the powers of the atomic forces, cured diseases, understood the workings of our genome, comprehended the origins and evolution of life on our earth. None of these sciences are perfect, nor are their findings 100% certain. Yet they have been good enough and sound enough to do marvels.

As Feynman wrote:

“Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.”

What climate contrarianism and denialism have done by fomenting a war over science is prevent us from getting to a place of action, seeing clearly what we face, and then making the best decisions we can based on the best science at hand. It will never be perfect. There will always be uncertainty because science is always open to new evidence. It is not dogma. It is never finished.

Bogus skeptics, contrarians and denialists have bogged down the debates by focusing on the credibility of the peer reviewed science — the very thing lay people must trust so they can make the best decisions when it comes to electing leaders and supporting public policies.

Whether it’s the questioning of MBH98/99, or of Hansen’s GISS, or Jones’s CRUTemp, whether it’s Watts’s project to review every US thermometer site, or Lucia’s reconstruction of CRUTemp using GHCN raw data, or the errors in the IPCC’s reports, or the hack of the CRU servers, the peer reviewed science consensus is being challenged — not, as it should be, by peer reviewed science and credible scientists, but by laypeople and amateurs and vested interests, on blogs and in non-science and non-peer reviewed journals, by front organizations and scientists for hire.

Unless the skeptical investigation of consensus science takes place using the scientific method and unless their hypotheses and claims are subject to peer review  in legitimate journals, it’s nothing more than a crass move to forestall action, a pleasant form of mental masturbation for its layperson practitioners and potentially damaging to science — and more importantly, to ourselves and our ability to respond appropriately to the threats we face.

ETA: Interesting that someone from the DRE (Defence Research Establishment) seemed interested in this post, according to my webstats IP identification and analysis service. They’ve visited before, but not for quite a while. Hiya!

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About Policy Lass

Exploring skeptic tales.

69 Responses to “Should Science be King?”

  1. As an early career scientist, that transcript has got to be one of the most simultaneously depressing and frightening things I have ever read. Monnett is grilled by investigators who can’t even do simple algebra, but his answers are remarkable:

    MONNETT: “…It’s just an argument. It’s for, it’s for the sake of discussion. See, right here, “Discussion.” ”
    ERIC MAY: “Um-hm [yes]. ”
    CHARLES MONNETT: “That‟s what you do in discussions is you throw things out, um, for people to think about…”

    The Polar Biology paper is here by the way, in case anyone needs the context: http://www.alaskaconservationsolutions.com/acs/images/stories/docs/Polar%20Bears-ExtendedOpenWaterSwimmingMortality.pdf.

    Great post Lass.

    • It’s very scary to see this kind of harassment and intimidation of scientists. Monnett was already aware of how his work was being politicized and so this was just more of the same. It’s chilling.

  2. Is there any information on who sent the allegations of scientific misconduct to the Inspector General’s office to begin with? The ones that the investigator refuses to comment on?

    Monnett asks the investigators this question himself (P86):
    “…And that‟s what you guys ought to be thinking about is that, and why somebody is, is asking these silly questions, why they‟re trying to, uh, make me look bad and undermine this simple paper that‟s an obvious paper, uh, that hasn‟t been subject to any scientific criticism up to this point. And it‟s been out there for a while.”

    More from Monnett on the politicization of his research (P85):
    “…listen, we, we work for an agency that is, especially then, extremely hostile to the concept of climate change, that‟s hostile to the idea that there‟s any effects of anything we do on anything. And we could only write this paper by being extremely conservative, with a lot of caveats. It‟s the only way we could publish it. Because you saw those names on there. They‟re all looking at it, you know, wanting to see whether we‟ve said anything at all.”

    Monnett worked for Minerals Management Services, which is known now as The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (http://www.alaska.boemre.gov/aboutak/).

  3. Hugh Hammond Bennett is a fine example of a scientist mixing it up with politics, in his case tackling the Great Dust Bowl. His story has it all: Climate change; anthropogenic amplification; harsh economic impacts; political and local opposition and indifference to his scientifically based solutions.

    He was the leading scientific expert on the subject, he was right, and he wasn’t afraid to tackle the politics head on. POTUS actively being on his side helped a lot, too.

    A clear example of a scientist being muzzled and threatened for his research and attempts to get commerce and government to actively avoid human tragedy is Dr. Smith Dharmasaroja, …

    “You’d really have to go digging into very old historical records and the scientific literature and extrapolate from what’s there to find that yes, there could be effects (leading to tsunamis) in Thailand,” says Phil Cummins, a seismologist who studies the region at Australia’s national geological agency. “But he was correct.”

    …which had tragic and terrible consequences.

    BANGKOK, Thailand – Seven years ago, Smith Dharmasaroja shook Thailand with a bold and frightening prediction.

    “I reaffirm that a tsunami is going to occur for sure,” said Smith, a government official who had once been the nation’s chief meteorologist.

    His warning, made first in a speech and picked up by newspapers in the summer of 1998, quickly spread throughout the country, setting off panic – and outrage. Villagers along the country’s western coast thought the threat was imminent and ran into the hills, causing traffic accidents as they fled. Tourists checked out of their hotels.

    Government officials, fearful of a washed-up tourist season, branded Smith a dangerous man with a screw loose. Authorities on the resort island of Phuket fastened loudspeakers to pickup trucks to broadcast a mollifying message to beachgoers – and warned Smith not to come to town.

    “Everyone said I was crazy; a mad, mad dog,” Smith recalls. “If they had just listened.”

    Monett and Gleason didn’t even go as far as Dharmasaroja and simply published a note based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears, but its implications were picked up by the press. It gives a sense of how threatened by a simple observation some must feel, and how far they’re willing to go to protect their own interests.

  4. Steven Hawking ?

  5. “simply published a note based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears”

    untrue

  6. Susan,
    He did not simply publish a note of 4 dead bears – so it’s untrue.

  7. “CHARLES MONNETT: If we correct for the area. And we went out there later, a week to two weeks later, and then we saw the dead ones, the three dead ones in the same area, which could have been 27. And then we said let‟s make the further assumption that – and this, this isn‟t in the paper, but it‟s implicit to this argument –

    ERIC MAY: Um-hm [yes].

    CHARLES MONNETT: – that right after we saw these bears swimming, this storm came in and caught them offshore, all right? And so if, um, if you assume that the, the, the 36 all were exposed to the storm, and then we went back and we saw potentially 27 of them, that gives you your 25 percent survival rate.”

    So no, Susan, he did not just note that they saw 4 dead bears.

  8. Gavin's Pussycat Reply August 7, 2011 at 6:53 am

    That’s pretty desperate even for a denialist, to flatly lie about a paper linked to in the first comment for everyone to read…

  9. It’s pretty desperate to imply that all he did was report 4 dead bears seen.

    • This would be the published literature that’s linked to here in the very first comment. Sorry if I didn’t satisfy your need for being completely literal, but I reckoned adults would grasp what I was saying (not “implying”), especially given the publication is linked to for reading at the start of comments (did I and GP mention that already?). My bad.

  10. They seem to have

    1/ made assumption that the dead bears were the same 4 bears seen previously
    2/ extrapolated for the larger study area.
    3/ concluded on survival rate
    4/ attributed cause of death

    ….which adds up to … NOT just a simple notation of 4 bears seen floating dead.

    • That’s what scientists do.

      What’s your point?

    • 1/ nope… semi-illiterate in addition to dishonest

    • No to #1. They saw a sample of the bear population in the water (and on the ice) on both days. They figured that the number of bears they saw swimming on the first day was 11% of the bears in the water because they only surveyed 11% of the block. They saw 3 dead bears in the water on the second flight after the storm. They assumed that that number was representative of 11% of the dead bears in the water. They saw a fourth dead bear in the water on the second flight, but it was not on a survey track, so they did not count it for their extrapolation.

      This is a very different thing that your #1

  11. I’ve edited a few spam comments, folks.

  12. Susan :
    That’s what scientists do.
    What’s your point?

    Susan :
    That’s what scientists do.
    What’s your point?

    That they did not SIMPLY report 4 dead bears seen. They went much further.

    • They did what scientists do. They made an observation and extrapolated to the rest of the region. It’s quite common in science. I think they even do it in mining surveys. 😉

      • Susan, you seem to agree that they did some of “what scientists do”… they did not just note 4 dead bears floating.

        Therefore, since they “did science” using the observation, I am correct to say that they did not simply report 4 dead bears seen.

        • I’m already tired of your comments, wordhound. If you have something interesting to contribute, please do but otherwise, stop with the splitting of hairs. You’re on moderation now, but if you keep it up, you’ll end up in the penalty box and banned.

        • You appear to be confused about what a “note” is. In most journals I read, a “note” is a shortened research article, based on initial observations and/or results. From the official complaint lodged on Monnett’s behalf (in the link J Bowers provides below):

          “In 2005, they decided to author a “note”, an anecdotal account of their observations with a short scientific discussion of possible implications of these sightings.”

  13. Some news:

    National environmental groups challenge federal investigation of Arctic researcher Charles Monnett

    I love Greenpeace.

    ( I don’t want babies with Greenpeace, just to clarify for Wordhound)

  14. Susan.

    You may see it as “hair splitting”, but it’s no such thing.
    It’s not a disagreement about something non-material to the case. You simply classify it as “hair-splitting”, when it’s no such thing. It’s an important distinction.

    That you are being so defensive, when you yourself indicated that it was not a simple notation of the 4 dead bears, says a lot about your fears.

    No need to ban me, I’m tired of your game already !

    • Wordhound, you point out a spelling mistake — whoah — big deal that! You challenge the statement that Monnett published his observations of dead bears as a “note” claiming that it is not just a note. Which it clearly was, as defined in the peer reviewed literature. You seem to be the one defensive about the implications drawn about those dead polar bears.

      I have no fears about this matter other than for the ability of scientists to be free from interference by politicians and their paymasters who are fearful of the implications of the science.

      I am merely trying to keep my blog free of useless junk.

  15. Susan, I am pointing out an inaccuracy that is of importance. You take great exception to my posts, suggest they are ban-worthy. This while you allow someone to suggest I am a liar. I’ve done none of that kind of thing.

    I do believe that you have every right to make your blog a one sided affair !

    Cheers

  16. Even scarier, the IG is STILL claiming its investigation is NOT related to Monnett’s science, even after the transcript became public.

  17. joe :
    You appear to be confused about what a “note” is. In most journals I read, a “note” is a shortened research article, based on initial observations and/or results. From the official complaint lodged on Monnett’s behalf (in the link J Bowers provides below):
    “In 2005, they decided to author a “note”, an anecdotal account of their observations with a short scientific discussion of possible implications of these sightings.”

    HI Joe.

    I am not confused as to the “field” understanding of what a note is.
    I think it’s lending a false impression to say “simply published a note based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears ”
    The “note” contained much more than that, as you say…listing what they think is the cause of death, the implications for the future, etc..

    • “The “note” contained much more than that, as you say…listing what they think is the cause of death, the implications for the future, etc..”

      Yes, just like a ‘note’ is supposed to do. I did say ‘note’, right? Can you point to where I call it anything other than, accurately, a note?

      (I have now changed my mind. I want babies with Greenpeace)

    • I think most people understand what publishing a note means. You seem to be the one taking offence at the fact Monnett did and are the one in fear of the implications.

      As to my blog being one sided, yes, it’s on the right side.

  18. Lost interview: Alaska scientist described how he discovered ‘drowned polar bears’

    As [it] is today, Royal Dutch Shell was facing environmental opposition to its drilling plans for the Arctic. MMS was caught in the middle. And the survival of the polar bear — now listed as a threatened species — was at the center of the debate. Monnett seemed to indicate that he was already on thin ice as a result of his research. Thus, an MMS spokeswoman was there to monitor my questioning of Monnett. That’s how it seemed, at least.
    Here are some selected transcripts from my July 2007 interview with Dr. Monnett

  19. Susan :
    You seem to be the one taking offence at the fact Monnett did and are the one in fear of the implications.
    As to my blog being one sided, yes, it’s on the right side.

    Wrong, Susan. I do not take offense at what he did. There may be gross political interference going on, or not. There may have been gross violations of his duty, or not.

    I see problems with the interview, just as you do. I may not be offended as you are , but I would say it seems possible that he is being unfairly treated. I don’t know that though.

    • This is something that seems quite easy to evaluate. You can use your common sense to do it.

      Here are the relevant facts:

      1. Monnett worked for a government agency — BOEMRE — which oversees “the safe and environmentally responsible development of energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.”

      2. Dead polar bears in the area where development is to scheduled to occur would raise concerns about future development.

      3. The public is sensitive to dead polar bears.

      4. He was being investiated because of his note on the number of dead polar bears.

      I feel pretty safe concluding that he was being investigated because of his note on polar bear deaths made some people in government afraid and in industry defensive because it would lead to bad publicity and a tendency for the public to reject economic development in the area and support conservation.

      This kind of Cuccinelli-like harassment of scientists casts a chill over science.

      If you can read that transcript and related materials not be willing to draw a conclusion about whether this is harassment, it speaks volumes.

      And you spend your time here complaining about spelling and debating the definition of “note” and what they do.

      Next…

  20. J Bowers :
    “The “note” contained much more than that, as you say…listing what they think is the cause of death, the implications for the future, etc..”
    Yes, just like a ‘note’ is supposed to do. I did say ‘note’, right? Can you point to where I call it anything other than, accurately, a note?
    (I have now changed my mind. I want babies with Greenpeace)

    The word “note” and it’s meaning, is not an issue. They did much more than note 4 dead bears floating. To offer that

    “… simply published a note based on a unique observation of four dead polar bears, but its implications were picked up by the press.”

    Is to say that M&G simply noted the “all alive then some later found dead” bear observations, and the press went from there with it.

    They did much more than simply note 4 presumably drowned polar bears, and it’s what they did other than that, which seems to be what may be questionable. Perhaps it’s harassment…perhaps not.

  21. Susan :
    I think most people understand what publishing a note means. You seem to be the one taking offence at the fact Monnett did and are the one in fear of the implications.
    As to my blog being one sided, yes, it’s on the right side.

    WRT one-sided; I mean I’m accused of being a hair splitter and so will be banned, whereas
    someone is allowed to call me a liar, dishonest, and semi illiterate ( though I’d have to say, that if I felt compelled to write such things, I’d call the person “semi-literate”, being a “cup half full rather than half empty 🙂 )

    So that kind of one sided blog, Susan.

    I’m to take it that your blog is on the right side of every argument. But is it right to allow that kind of abusive language to other posters ?

    • I used to try to be more even-handed with posters, but I confess I’ve lost patience with deniers and their various sub-species and now, I wholeheartedly support being outright rude when they post drivel.

  22. “Wordhound, you point out a spelling mistake — whoah — big deal that! ”

    No big deal is true. I never said it was a big deal. You did not know Hawking’s name, and it needed a correction, so no big deal ! That’s settled then.

    “You challenge the statement that Monnett published his observations of dead bears as a “note” claiming that it is not just a note. ”

    False, Susan. I did not claim that at all.

    • I did know Hawking’s name. I miss-spelled his first name.Hardly something of importance, given the subject matter. Everyone else understood who I meant.

      You seem to want to argue something without providing a substantive analysis. That’s what people are responding to. It’s not enough to say “no you didn’t” like a little kid arguing with his brother, and leave it at that.

      Or, if you insist on acting like a child, better be prepared to be given the old shepherd’s hook off the stage and treated like an annoying brat.

  23. I think “what M & G did” is or more particularly what “M” did, is seemingly NOT unimportant to this case.

    I will not consider the case starting from the viewpoint of ” ‘M” only noted that they saw 4 dead bears” – and everything spiraled from there.”

    They did some crude science which does not seem well-founded to me . What else he did I have no idea.Now, I don’t see some sloppy science being handed in as particularly alarming or extremely unusual, either.

    I don’t usually like to see people going rabid when there is mild disagreement.I see no need for that.

  24. “I did know Hawking’s name. I miss-spelled his first name.Hardly something of importance, given the subject matter. Everyone else understood who I meant.”

    I knew who you meant5, of course.
    That’s why I drew your attention to your error.

    “You seem to want to argue something without providing a substantive analysis. That’s what people are responding to. It’s not enough to say “no you didn’t” like a little kid arguing with his brother, and leave it at that. ”

    Rubbish. I do not have a substantive analysis. However, I do refuse to start out with a false proposition….that they did nothing but note an observation of 4 dead bears, and the press took it from there.

    It’s one thing to be “on the right side” but quite another to be right, Susan !

    • If you don’t have a substantive analysis, there is no reason to post at all. We don’t care about your one-off lines rejecting something without substantive analysis supporting it.

      If you want to make such meaningless proclamations, do it on your own blog and quit littering up mine.

  25. “The word “note” and it’s meaning, is not an issue. They did much more than note 4 dead bears floating.”

    Actually, it is THE issue. You didn’t understand what a note is.

  26. J Bowers :
    “The word “note” and it’s meaning, is not an issue. They did much more than note 4 dead bears floating.”
    Actually, it is THE issue. You didn’t understand what a note is.

    That’s not true, JBowers.

    The issue is the contents of the note – whether they just reported the observations, or did much more than that.

    • They did what scientists do in a note. The report an observation and then in the discussion, they discuss the possible implications. Scientists are interested in the implications of observations. It’s why they make them. They like to think about what those observations might mean.

      Observation, extrapolation, discussion of possible implications. That’s science.

      Here from Polar Biology is the note in question:

      Short notes report on research results or discoveries, which merit more rapid publication than usual articles, because they contain information or preliminary results of immediate interest. The reasons for the exceptional urgency and priority should be described by the authors in the cover letter. The length of Short notes should not exceed 6 printed pages, including tables and illustrations.

      Here from the abstract:

      In addition, four polar bear carcasses were seen floating in open water and had, presumably, drowned. Average distance from land and pack ice edge for live polar bears swimming in open water in 2004 (n=10) were 8.3±3.0 and 177.4±5.1 km, respectively. We speculate that mortalities due to offshore swimming during late-ice (or mild ice) years may be an important and unaccounted source of natural mortality given energetic demands placed on individual bears engaged in long-distance swimming. We further suggest that drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues.

      I can see how this could make industry and government nervous and might make them want to deny the observation, challenge the discussion, muzzle the scientist, and sweep it all under the rug.

      That’s politics.

  27. Susan :
    I did know Hawking’s name. I miss-spelled his first name.Hardly something of importance, given the subject matter. Everyone else understood who I meant.
    You seem to want to argue something without providing a substantive analysis. That’s what people are responding to. It’s not enough to say “no you didn’t” like a little kid arguing with his brother, and leave it at that.
    Or, if you insist on acting like a child, better be prepared to be given the old shepherd’s hook off the stage and treated like an annoying brat.Susan, if you make a false accusation, I need not respond with more than telling you it is false.

    If you were to insist thereafter that it was true, even though unable to ever provide evidence and proof of it, in any way ( as it’s totally false ) – that indeed would be childish.

    It’s not childish at all to call a false accusation “false” – and leave it at that.

    • If you were to insist thereafter that it was true, even though unable to ever provide evidence and proof of it, in any way ( as it’s totally false ) – that indeed would be childish.

      It’s not childish at all to call a false accusation “false” – and leave it at that.


      It is childish to call something a false accusation and leave it at that. One could throw that claim at every statement made in every forum. It’s meaningless without elaboration and justification.

      What counts is whether there is any evidence or substance behind the accusation and claim. You provided none. As such, your claim has about as much value as any other baseless claim — none.

  28. J Bowers :
    “The word “note” and it’s meaning, is not an issue. They did much more than note 4 dead bears floating.”
    Actually, it is THE issue. You didn’t understand what a note is.

    Sure I understand – and did understand, what a “note” is.
    What happened here is that you seem to mistakenly believe *if* a scientist may crudely analyze and offer opinion. that you would then be correct to say that any note MUST, of course, contain what that note did.

    : )

  29. You almost had him right, Susan. I know who I’m dealing with when my opponent tells me that Richard “Dawson” is a bad evolutionist.

    Don’t take correction so hard, Susan.
    Just say “thanks” and be done with it.

    • I am pleased to have people point out mistakes when I make them. I note that you are the only one to see a need to correct my mis-spelling and then you follow it with a baseless and empty claim so I suspect that you are a tone troll, more interested in mucking up discussion than arriving at some insight.

      You could have made a substantial comment about whether Monnett and co-authors were justified in drawing the conclusions they did about the four polar bears and the potential meaning of the observation for the mortality of the species. Instead, you made an empty claim. Now, there have been dozens of posts about nothing other than form rather than content. You, my dear, are a troll of the worst kind. Self-absorbed and without adding any value. Noise vs. signal.

      Tell me, do you dispute the science? Do you deny that there are risks posed to polar bears from development in their habitat or from global warming and the loss of sea ice?

      What are your scientific credentials?

      Do you think that the scientific peers who reviewed his note are all in cahoots and gave his note a pass because they want one world government and are godless socialists?

  30. Susan :
    This is something that seems quite easy to evaluate. You can use your common sense to do it.
    Here are the relevant facts:
    1. Monnett worked for a government agency — BOEMRE — which oversees “the safe and environmentally responsible development of energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.”
    2. Dead polar bears in the area where development is to scheduled to occur would raise concerns about future development.
    3. The public is sensitive to dead polar bears.
    4. He was being investiated because of his note on the number of dead polar bears.
    I feel pretty safe concluding that he was being investigated because of his note on polar bear deaths made some people in government afraid and in industry defensive because it would lead to bad publicity and a tendency for the public to reject economic development in the area and support conservation.
    This kind of Cuccinelli-like harassment of scientists casts a chill over science.
    If you can read that transcript and related materials not be willing to draw a conclusion about whether this is harassment, it speaks volumes.
    And you spend your time here complaining about spelling and debating the definition of “note” and what they do.
    Next…

    Susan, Here I would draw your attention to your transition; from from presenting the facts, as in 1/ and 2/ to presenting your opinions as in 4/. “Cucinelli-like harassment” becomes quite a subjective interpretation of events, indeed.
    That your portray these latter accusatory interpretations as “facts” is telling.

    …And so you’re always right ( when clearly subjective stuff is called “fact”, it’s a delusion ).

    • Well, of course, it is my opinion that the public is sensitive to dead polar bears, but the amount of space and energy denialist organizations and their shills devote to disputing the science that points to a threat to polar bears is pretty much proof that they are running scared. It’s completely understandable, even predictable, that any science that links or even hints at a link between polar bear mortality and global warming or minerals/fossil fuel development would become subject to attack. Just google polar bears and global warming. Most of the top posts are from denialists and their shills in the mining public relations industry.

      Running scared and spending lots of effort to try to deny.

  31. ETA: And now that I know who you are and what your project is, goodbye! You’ve wasted enough of my time.

  32. Really trying to not feed the troll. For Monnett, there’s no reason to get into the science because (as Bob Berwyn pointed out) the science is not in question right now. Apparently, what is in question are Monnett’s activities covered by the (US) Federal Acquisitions Regulations. This covers things like accepting meals, passing along information, influence – that sort of thing.

    This does not mean that the reason he was put under the microscope had nothing to do with his earlier science.

    • My boss once told me that he could always find a reason to fire anyone, if he really wanted. No one is perfect and everyone at some time slips up and makes a mistake, knowingly or unknowingly.

      This investigation of Monnett is McCarthy-esque and is clearly a fishing expedition, just as the investigation of Mike Mann is — search around long enough to find a mistake in math or judgement and then you can discredit them and the science at the same time.

      Like I said Cuccinelli-esque.

      • Gavin's Pussycat Reply August 8, 2011 at 4:18 am

        > My boss once told me that he could always find a reason to > fire anyone, if he really wanted.

        So did one of my bosses twenty years ago… it is true.

  33. Here’s what a troll like wordhound does:

    Comes to a blog that is in opposition to her own views, posts something that has no substance, and then when people criticize her for it, she claims she’s been mistreated.

    She’s taken up far too much time and space on this blog. There are three posts waiting in moderation in which she complains that she’s been misrepresented and attacked and is only trying to defend herself from it.

    I’ve had enough. There was a time when I honestly did want to speak with skeptics and try to understand what their problem was but not any longer. None of them have provided any convincing evidence to challenge the scientific consensus on AGW.

    Until they do, I’ve had enough of the whole lot of them.

  34. I would have cut her off after five or so. That would have been just an attempted thread hijacking, whereas now it’s a successful thread hijacking (IMHO).

  35. BTW, the situation with Monnett is a great example of screwed-up press coverage. BEOMRE mostly got away with misleading the press into reporting that the suspension wasn’t related to the note. This is despite the fact that the BEOMRE statement pretty much admitted that the whole investigation was a fishing expedition, as according to them the suspension was based on new information turned up ~six months into the investigation, uncoincidentally shortly after Monnett’s computer and files were seized. The assertion that Monnett’s administration of the UA contract wasn’t part of his “scientific work” is just plain sophistry. Otherwise, why have a scientist doing the administering?

    Even this science journalism monitor missed the story.

    • Steve, a Project Officer has a number of administrative duties that aren’t scientific in nature. There is also a whole host of guidelines and rules that must be followed in order to ensure that the contracting process is fair and open.

      My guess is that he was put under the microscope because of his scientific views and something related to his administrative duties was uncovered in the process. What is worrisome is that even the appearance of impropriety is frowned upon, so there is plenty of opportunity to find reasons for disciplinary action. Bosses do find a reason . Been there, done that; didn’t even get the t-shirt.

      • Deech, my point is that if there’s any scientific component to the contract management, then it’s part of his “scientific work.” Otherwise why have a scientist doing it? Probably it would have have been accurate for BOEMRE to say that the award and administration of the contract were incidental to his scientific work, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

        It’ll be interesting to see what BOEMRE tries to get away with on this. It sounds as if the focus is on the award process and his prior relationship with the UA researchers, and since he was only a recommender on the award things may come down to the relationship. Do you now what the rules are on that?

        • Steve, I also look forward to more specifics and I am speculating a bit, but I do know something about the rules and the FAR. The rules on contract award depend partly on what kind of proposal (RFP) they had and how they do their reviews. The PO (Project Officer) has some influence, but the Contract Officer has the only real authority. Unfortunately, a PO can get into trouble for a number of things that are purely administrative.

          (BTW, I have a scientific background and my day job is serving as a PO and COTR (you can look up the terms ;-)) and we get lots of training on ethics, conflict of interest (COI), appropriations law and the like.)

          Having a prior relationship can result in a finding of COI, but there are guidelines that determine whether a COI exists. COIs are a part of life and there are many ways that a COI is managed, including excusing oneself from deliberations, having another level of decision making and the like. There are COI gray areas – authorship on a meeting abstract vs authorship in a manuscript, for example – one may be OK, the other, not.

          What is interesting is that he provided some scientific services but would not accept authorship; not sure if that would trigger anything. It shouldn’t, but there may be some strange interpretations out there.

          Anyway, to get to your point, a scientific background is necessary in pre-award (PO): writing the RFP, coming up with an Independent Government Cost Estimate, helping in the peer (or technical) review, evaluating the Offeror’s responses to reviewer’s questions and in post-award/administration (COTR): evaluating the periodic reports, and advising the CO on the appropriateness of expenses.

          Oh, and sorry about the long and acronym-laced post, but it’s my day off and I got the yard work done.

  36. Given it looks like the Department of Interior didn’t collect billions in oil royalties, I’m wondering why the investigators aren’t using their time on other matters.

    US government department criticised for failing to collect oil revenues

    But while the interior department has been focusing on polar bears, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has faulted the department for failing to collect billions in royalties from oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

    The GAO designated the department at “high risk” of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement in a report to Congress in February 2011.

  37. Monnett reported dead polar bears observed in the course of other work and speculated on the impacts of loss of sea ice and storms on the population. This was in 2006 and it became and important part of the public’s conception of the threat to polar bears and the link to global warming. Polar bears are only one very visible species that will be affected by a changing climate. Ecologists and zoologists understand that species are adapted to their environments and it takes a very long time to adapt to new conditions. So while over the long term, species will adapt or die off, the kind of change humans are inducing is very rapid in geological terms. Far faster than normal.

    This kind of rapid change can’t help but threaten species.

    Here’s the conclusion to Hunter et. al. in Ecology (2009):

    We have shown that global warming is likely to have profoundly negative effects on future growth rates of polar bear populations. A warmer world will have less sea ice and hence less polar bear habitat. Geographical variation in the nature of sea ice and in predictions of the retreat of sea ice habitat (Durner et al. 2009) suggests that polar bears in different parts of their current range will be affected at different rates. Nonetheless, our analyses, which incorporated sea ice and other uncertainties, projected that by mid century, the effects of global warming on polar bears will be severe. If current GCM outcomes are correct, there is a high probability that the Beaufort Sea population of polar bears will disappear by the end of the century. Because all polar bears are dependent on sea ice for securing their prey, it is reasonable to expect that the effects of global warming on polar bears of the southern Beaufort Sea will ultimately extend to polar bears throughout their range. This and other related findings provided the primary motivation for listing polar bears, in May of 2008, as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008).

    The study predicts the possible disappearance of the polar bear population in the area of study by the end of the century if climate model projections with respect to global warming are correct. This is the kind of research that government departments involved in economic development in the region are concerned with because the public tends to favour conservation over development when threats to species are identified.

  38. I’d say it’s likely that the Harper government shares the US government’s indifference to polar bear survival, since it also shows no concern for the survival of caribou which are threatened by the tar sands.

    http://www.pembina.org/blog/558

    And they don’t brag about the Canadian Wildlife Service conserving the whooping cranes anymore, perhaps because the cranes also may be threatened by the tar sands:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2011/07/15/whooping-cranes-oilsands-report.html

    The Canadian Wildlife Service apparently still exists within Environment Canada but I wonder if it has any influence, as it has a website for Ontario but not for other parts of Canada:

    http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/wildlife/wildlife_e.html

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