Category Archive 'Charles Monnett'

28 Jul 2011

Drowned Polar Bears and Scientific Misconduct

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Charles Monnett, the wildlife biologist working for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), who popularized the notion that Global Warming was causing polar bears to drown and endangering the arctic predators, was placed on administrative leave while he is being investigated for scientific misconduct in relation to his drowning polar bears publication.

We might never have heard of any of this, but Monnett is being passionately defended by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and the staff of that organization is so thoroughly infatuated with its own assumptions and perspective that it cannot even imagine what the material it is disseminating enthusiastically in Monnett’s defense would look like to parties less ideologically committed than themselves.

News Agency story

The Inspector General interview transcript (excerpts) had me, for instance, in stitches.

Disclosing as it does the level of rigor of methodology being employed:

ERIC MAY: Well, actually, since you‟re bringing that up, 18 and, and I‟m a little confused of how many dead or drowned polar bears you did observe, because in the manuscript, you indicate three, and in the poster presentation –


ERIC MAY: – you mentioned four.

CHARLES MONNETT: No, now you‟re confusing the, um, the estimator with the, uh, the sightings. There were four drowned bears seen.


CHARLES MONNETT: Three of which were on transects.


CHARLES MONNETT: And so for the purpose of that little ratio estimator, we only looked at what we were seeing on transects, because that‟s a – you know, we couldn‟t be very rigorous, but the least we could do is look at the random transects. And so we based, uh, our extrapolation to only bears on transects, because we‟re saying that the transects, the, the swaths we flew, represented I think it was 11 percent of the entire habitat that, you know, that could have had dead polar bears in it.

ERIC MAY: Um-hm [yes].

CHARLES MONNETT: And, um, so by limiting it to the transect bears, then, you know, we could do that ratio estimator and say three is to, um, uh, “x” as, uh, 11 is to 100. I mean, it‟s that kind of thing. You, you‟ve, you‟re nodding like you understand.


CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, that‟s pretty simple, isn‟t confusing. I mean, it‟s –

ERIC MAY: So, so, so you observed four dead polar bears during MMS –

CHARLES MONNETT: One of which was not on transect.

ERIC MAY: Okay, so that‟s what –


ERIC MAY: So I highlighted under here, and we‟ve got the four, and that‟s what –

CHARLES MONNETT: Oh, here you go. Yeah. Well, I‟m pretty confident that it was four. I mean, that‟s, um – uh, look, look what is in the paper. I mean, it should have the – probably the same information that, you know –

ERIC MAY: Well, it –

CHARLES MONNETT: There‟s a table in there, but does it – it has the dead ones in it, doesn‟t it?

ERIC MAY: Well, and I think you, you explain, so this is the portion where you‟re talking about the 25 percent survival rate.


ERIC MAY: And you‟re talking about four swimming bears and three drowned or dead polar bears.

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah. Yeah, but that‟s because those are on transects.

ERIC MAY: On part of this 11 percent?

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, it says that right in here and, 11 and –

ERIC MAY: Right, right, but that‟s what you‟re talking about. …

How to do things with statistics.

3 CHARLES MONNETT: The paragraph in the left-hand column. Um, God, I‟ve got people here who are second-guessing my calculations. Um, well, um, we flew transects. That was our basic methodology. They were partially randomized. And we, uh, we looked at a, a map. I think we probably used GIS to do it, and we said that our survey area, if you bound it, is so big.

ERIC MAY: Um-hm [yes].

CHARLES MONNETT: And then we made some assumptions about our swath width, and I think we assumed we could see a, a bear out to a kilometer with any reliability, which mean you‟re looking down like that. And, uh, sometimes you might see more; sometimes you wouldn‟t. Sometimes you can‟t see a whale out that far, so it depends on the water conditions. And so we just said that, um, if you add up, we had 34 north/south transects provide 11 percent coverage of the 630 kilometer-wide study area, and that was just to get our ratio of coverage. And then the area we really were concerned about was just the area where the bears were, so we could ignore the area at that point and just go with a ratio, because we assume that‟s the same, because these things are pretty, uh, they‟re pretty standardized. They were designed to be standardized, so in each bloc – have you seen the blocs? Have you seen our design? It‟s in here.

ERIC MAY: I took – yeah, in, in your study.

CHARLES MONNETT: It‟s right at the beginning here. Um, every map in here has got it on it. Um, there, those are our blocs. And so, uh, this one would have four pairs. This one would have probably three pairs. I don‟t know, there will be later maps. Um, and there, you can see the flights. Uh, well, yeah, they‟re in here. Um, so we‟re flying these transects, and we‟re assuming we can see a certain percentage or a certain, certain distance. Therefore, we can total up the length and the width and come up with an area. And so we calculated that
our coverage was 11 percent, plus or minus a little bit.

ERIC MAY: Okay. And I believe you rounded up, too. It was 10.8 and you rounded up to 11?

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah. Well, that‟s a nothing. Um, yeah, 10.8. And then we said, um, four dead – four swimming polar bears were encountered on these transects, in addition to three.

ERIC MAY: Three dead polar bears?

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, three dead.

ERIC MAY: Right.

CHARLES MONNETT: But the four swimming were a week earlier.


CHARLES MONNETT: And, um, then we said if they accurately reflect 11 percent of the bears present so, in other words, they‟re just distributed randomly, so we looked at 11 percent of the area.

ERIC MAY: In that transect?


ERIC MAY: Right.

CHARLES MONNETT: In, in our, in our area there, um –

ERIC MAY: Right.

CHARLES MONNETT: – and, therefore, we should have seen 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? …

LYNN GIBSON: I think what he‟s saying is since there‟s four swimming and three dead, that makes –

ERIC MAY: And three dead.

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, you don‟t count them all together. That doesn‟t have anything to do. You can‟t – that doesn‟t even –

LYNN GIBSON: So you‟re not saying that the seven represent 16 11 percent of the population.

CHARLES MONNETT: They‟re different events.

ERIC MAY: Well, that‟s what you try – we‟re trying to –

LYNN GIBSON: You‟re talking about they‟re separate?

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, they‟re different events.

ERIC MAY: Right, so explain to us how –

CHARLES MONNETT: On one day – well, let me draw. I, I, I don‟t have confidence that you‟re understanding me here, so let me (inaudible/mixed voices). …

CHARLES MONNETT: It makes me feel more professorial if I write it on the blackboard.

LYNN GIBSON: Okay, go ahead.

CHARLES MONNETT: No, that‟s okay.

ERIC MAY: (Inaudible/mixed voices)

CHARLES MONNETT: If you could see it, I wanted you to see it was why I was going to do it there.

ERIC MAY: (Inaudible/mixed voices)

LYNN GIBSON: We‟re your students today.

CHARLES MONNETT: Uh, well, this has transects on it, doesn‟t it, guys?

LYNN GIBSON: Yes, it does.

CHARLES MONNETT: I mean, look right here. So here‟s our coastline right here, this red thing.

ERIC MAY: Okay, yep.

CHARLES MONNETT: And here‟s our, um, our study area. We go out to whatever it was. I don‟t remember, 70, 71 degrees or something like that. And, um, around each of these things, we survey a tenth of the distance between, basically.


CHARLES MONNETT: And so if you draw these lines here, and this is – you‟re just going to have to pretend like I did this for all of them. And you calculate the area in here.

LYNN GIBSON: Um-hm [yes].

CHARLES MONNETT: And you total them all, and then you calculate the whole area. This – the area inside here was 11 percent.


CHARLES MONNETT: Okay? Now what we said is that we saw three, three bears in 11 percent.

ERIC MAY: Three dead bears?

CHARLES MONNETT: Three dead, yeah, dead –

ERIC MAY: Right.

CHARLES MONNETT: – in the 11 percent of the habitat. And so you could set up a, um, a ratio here, three is to “x” 25 equals 11 over 100, right? And so you end up with – you can cross-multiply. You know algebra?

ERIC MAY: Um-hm [yes], yeah.

CHARLES MONNETT: You can cross-multiply. Okay, so you end up with 300 equals 11x, and I am sure that that‟s – equals 27, okay?

ERIC MAY: Right, right, got that.

CHARLES MONNETT: And if you stick four in here instead, you end up with –

ERIC MAY: Thirty-six.

CHARLES MONNETT: – whatever that number was, yeah, 36. Now, um, those numbers aren‟t related, except we made the further
assumption, which is implicit to the analysis. Seems obvious to me. We went out there one week, and we saw four swimming on the transect, which we estimated could have been as many as 36.


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 aument –

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 tentially 27 of them, that gives you your 25 percent survival rate. Now that‟s, um, statistically, um, irrelevant. I mean, it, it‟s not statistical. 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. And so what we said is, look, uh, we saw four. We saw a whole bunch swimming, but if you want to compare them, then let‟s do this little ratio estimator and correct for the percentage of the area surveyed. And just doing that, then there might have been as many as 27 bears out there that were dead. There might have been as many as 36, plus or minus. There could have been 50. I don‟t know. But the way we were posing it was that it‟s serious, because it‟s not just four. It‟s probably a lot more. And then we said that with the further assumption, you know, that the bears were exposed or, you know, the ones we‟re measuring later that are carcasses out there, it looks like a lot of them, you know, didn‟t survive, so – but it‟s, it‟s discussion, guys. I mean, it‟s not in the results. …

The reliability of the calculations used and the scrupulous oversight of the peer-review process.

ERIC MAY: So combining the three dead polar bears and the four alive bears is a mistake?

CHARLES MONNETT: No, it‟s not a mistake. It‟s just not a, a, a real, uh, rigorous analysis. And a whole bunch of peer reviewers and a journal, you know –

ERIC MAY: Did they go through – I mean, did they do the calculations as you just did with us?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I assume they did. That‟s their purpose.

ERIC MAY: Okay. Right, and that‟s – again, that‟s why I was asking peer review.


ERIC MAY: Did they do that with that particular section of your manuscript?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I don‟t, I don‟t remember anybody doing the calculations but, um, uh, there weren‟t any huge objections. There weren‟t a – let‟s put it this way, there weren‟t sufficient objections for the journal editor to ask us to take it out.

ERIC MAY: Right. Well, let me, let me read you what – the four bears – and representing what we were just talking about, this section.


ERIC MAY: So just let me, let me read what I have here, okay?


ERIC MAY: “If four swimming bears, if four bears represent 11 percent of the population of bears swimming before the storm,” –


ERIC MAY: – okay? “Then 36 bears were likely swimming.”

CHARLES MONNETT: Yeah, maybe, I mean –

ERIC MAY: Okay, but I mean –

CHARLES MONNETT: No, we didn‟t say “likely.” I think we said “possibly,” or did you say “likely” or –?

ERIC MAY: Well, or this – again, as you just stated earlier, this is Discussion, so –

CHARLES MONNETT: I‟d be surprised if we said “likely,” but mostly we were saying “possibly.”

ERIC MAY: Okay, so let me – let, let me continue, so –


ERIC MAY: – so you have that. “If three bears represent 11 percent of the population of bears that may have died” –


ERIC MAY: – right?


ERIC MAY: I think those are your words in your manu- – “may have died.”


ERIC MAY: “ – as a result of this storm, then 27 bears were likely drowned.” Okay, so far, so good?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, if I used “likely.” I don‟t know if I did. …

And, then, the interview really gets humorous. “I mean, the storm had nothing to do with it!”

ERIC MAY: Isn‟t that stretching it a bit, though, saying – making that conclusion that no dead polar bears were observed during these years, and then, all of a sudden, 2003, you guys are – you observe dead polar bears?

CHARLES MONNETT: I don‟t think so.


CHARLES MONNETT: Well, if you ask me, I would know, I mean, what I saw, I mean, if I saw something weird like that.

ERIC MAY: So as a scientist, if another scientist made these conclusions based on the information, you would be okay with that as a peer reviewer?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, yeah, I would, I mean, if, you know, if they told me that. They keep notes. I mean, they did this – every, everything like we do, so –.

ERIC MAY: And that‟s a, that‟s a – and it‟s a stretch, isn‟t it, though, to make that statement?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, no, I didn‟t think so. I thought that was perfectly reasonable to ask them, since it isn‟t something – remember, the reason it‟s not in the database is because it, it doesn‟t happen. You know, you don‟t see it, so – and there‟s a reason, uh, why it‟s changed, which is in, in, in a lot of the early years, there was a lot of ice out there, and there just weren‟t opportunities for there to be dead bears. You know, bears don‟t drown when there‟s ice all over the place.

ERIC MAY: Well, so let me elaborate what I just asked you. Wouldn‟t you, wouldn‟t you notate that as a – like maybe a – you know, your statement kind of is stretching it, and you would say, “Well, based on my conversations with individuals during these surveys, although they weren‟t supposed to look for dead polar bears, they did not” – I mean, because you‟re making a very broad statement by, by that, saying that no dead polar bears were observed during those years. …

ERIC MAY: Well, and based on, based on what I just said, in terms of the, you know, your statement, would it not make more sense, too, because there was a major windstorm during this period of time, which you do mention, but you didn‟t talk too much about that as in 2004 regarding these dead polar bears.

CHARLES MONNETT: What do you mean (inaudible/mixed voices)?

ERIC MAY: Well, you‟re saying that from 1987 to 2003, there was no dead polar bears.


ERIC MAY: Did you discuss the storm conditions during those period, period of years as well? I mean, you‟re extrapolating a lot to make such, you know, scientific findings.\

CHARLES MONNETT: You mean, the storms are increasing up there?

ERIC MAY: No, you‟re saying that there was no dead polar bears during those years.


ERIC MAY: Yet in 2004, you, you observed four dead polar bears.


ERIC MAY: Yet you didn‟t really elaborate on why you believe those dead polar bears died or drowned.

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, yeah, we did actually. I don‟t know why you‟re saying that. We‟ve got an extensive section in the paper talking about the, uh, you know, the wind speeds and out there, and we looked into that very hard. And, and we, um, we‟re very, very careful in this manuscript to, um, write it so that it, uh, reflects uncertainty, uncertainty about the extent of what happened, the uncertainty of why it happened, the uncertainty of what it meant in a, in a broader context.

We knew three things: That we had seen a bunch of swimming bears and that that was unusual in the context of the whole data stream. We knew we saw some dead bears, which had not been reported before and that we had been assured, you know, was new to the study. And we saw, uh – we experienced, we were there, a, a, uh, high wind event, which was actually not a, a very severe high – and it wasn‟t, you know, one of the really severe high wind events, but it was enough to shut us down, which meant that there were some pretty good waves breaking, you know, out at sea, which, um, is pretty easy to imagine would be, uh, challenging, you know, for a bear swimming. And a good bit of that, there‟s a whole section in the paper that talks about the windstorm.


CHARLES MONNETT: Um, right here, there‟s a map, you know, of the wind speeds and all that and, uh, you know, it shows that it just fits right in there. Um –

ERIC MAY: When I was relating to th

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, I don‟t know, we, we had complete confidence in it. Um, people worked extensively with, with the database and, and, uh, so we were totally comfortable with the swimming ones, um, which, you know, were rarely seen. And it‟s a small thing I think to assume that a, um – you know, the person managing the survey would know and – ….

And here comes Jeff Ruch of PEER to the rescue.

1 JEFF RUCH: This is Jeff Ruch. We‟ve been at this for an hour and 45 minutes, and I‟m curious, are we going to get to the allegations of scientific misconduct or, uh, have – is that what we‟ve been doing?

LYNN GIBSON: Actually, a lot of the questions that we‟ve been discussing relate to the allegations.

ERIC MAY: Right.

JEFF RUCH: Um, but, uh, Agent May indicated to, um, Paul that he was going to lay out what the allegations are, and we haven‟t heard them yet, or perhaps we don‟t understand them from this line of questioning.

ERIC MAY: Well, the scientif- – well, scientific misconduct, basically, uh, wrong numbers, uh, miscalculations, uh –

JEFF RUCH: Wrong numbers and calculations?

ERIC MAY: Well, what we‟ve been discussing for the last hour.

JEFF RUCH: So this is it?

CHARLES MONNETT: Well, that‟s not scientific misconduct anyway. If anything, it‟s sloppy. I mean, that‟s not – I mean, I mean, the level of criticism that they seem to have leveled here, scientific misconduct, uh, suggests that we did something deliberately to deceive or to, to change it. Um, I sure don‟t see any indication of that in what you‟re asking me about.

What is downright scary is the way these bozos think that dressing up wildly extravagant theories resting on baseless extrapolations of insignificant anecdotal-level observations with jargon and a few formulae in order to reach preconceived and intensely desired conclusions is perfectly legitimate scientific activity.

If anybody wonders how junk science can become established science and the accepted basis for fabulously costly governmental programs and polices, just look at the work of Dr. Charles Monnett and at PEER.

Al Gore’s Drowning Polar Bear

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