When the news first came out that Charles Monnett, observer of the famous drowned polar bear, was under investigation by the Obama Administration, I cautioned that:
- If you read between the lines in the news articles, we really have no idea what is going on. The guy could have falsified his travel expense reports
- The likelihood that an Obama Administration agency would be trying to root out academic fraud at all, or that if they did so they would start here, seems absurd to me.
- There is no room for fraud because the study was, on its face, facile and useless. The authors basically extrapolated from a single data point. As I tell folks all the time, if you have only one data point, you can draw virtually any trend line you want through it. They had no evidence of what caused the bear deaths or if they were in any way typical or part of a trend — it was all pure speculation and crazy extrapolation. How could there be fraud when there was not any data here in the first place? The fraud was in the media, Al Gore, and ultimately the EPA treating this with any sort of gravitas.
As I expected, while the investigation looked into the polar bear study, the decision seems to have nothing to do with polar bears or academic fraud. The most-transparent-administration-ever seems to be upset that Monnett shared some emails that made the agency look bad. These are documents that, to my eye, appear to be public records that you or I should have been able to FOIA anyway had we known they existed. But despite all the Bush-bashing (of which I was an enthusiastic participant), Obama has been far more aggressive in punishing and prosecuting leakers. In fact, Monnett may be able to get himself a payday under whistle-blower statutes.