Science is increasingly part of the public domain : scientific controversies, previously well protected from the public eye by the tacit rules which organise scientific communities since the XVIIth century, are more and more open to public inquisitiveness. There is a growing interdependence between science and politics. Political decisions must rely on scientific expertise while scientific and technological options and choices are evermore subject to political bargaining. The debate on climate change and global warming is a good example of
this new direction in science history (history of science).

This paper will deal with the most recent media events concerning the "climategate" in France. We shall start with the analysis of Claude Allègre’s L’imposture climatique ou la fausse écologie, which was published in February 2010 and triggered a number of responses of all kinds in the media. C. Allègre is a well known geophysicist and former minister of education and research in the last socialist government. His climatoskeptical views were already well known and widely discussed in the media but his book appeared as the last straw. The french community of some 400 scientists, as different from each other as the disciplines and the specialities they represent, but all involved in the French branch (GIEC) of the IPCC, published a petition against the « lies » of Claude Allègre, asking their minister, Valérie Pécresse, as their employer, to reassert the scientific status and the seriousness of their work and to prevent futher public diffusion of additional «lies» by Claude Allègre and his colleague, Vincent Courtillot. Allègre‘s crime according to the signatories of the petition is to have published under the cover of scientific background without peer control. This petition, in turn, was followed by numerous reactions in the media, generally condemning this appeal for a political intervention in what was considered by most journalists and popularisers as a scientific debate between experts. The petition also showed the difficulty for these scientists, highly specialised in various fields, to accept their position as lay people in relation to each other’s narrow competence over this or that aspect. The general issue of climate change and global warming with its political overtones leaves them helpless within the public debate. Hence, this curious demand of the community to reaffirm the necessity of a clear cut separation between science and politics in order to recover an autonomy which would be provided by a politician! Such a move is contradictory as many debaters like Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond or Benoît Rittaud have pointed out in the media. Bruno Latour’s position presented in Le Monde (22nd of May, 2010) is also ambiguous. Recognizing the impossibility to disentangle expert’s science from politics, Latour advocates for a new distinction between science and research. While the former is an area of undisputable facts prone to be popularized in a traditional way (reinforcing autonomy and control of the scientific communities on the public divulgation of «their» knowledge!), the latter integrates uncertainties within the field of scientific experimentation as well as within the field of political action. According to Latour, the «good» link between science and politics should involve a confrontation with uncertainties in both areas under the arbitration of the cautionary principle. How could the media deal with such a «proposal» which would radically change its role in the management of the relationship
between science and society ? It is within such a media turmoil that the journalist Sylvestre Huet from the newspaper Libération, published his response to Claude Allègre (L’imposteur, c’est lui, Paris Stock, April 2010) pointing out all the scientific mistakes and inaccuracies in the book in order to discredit the political argument of the geophysicist. The journalist is attacking Claude Allègre as a scientist with scientific arguments while the latter is dismissing these arguments by relying on the global political relevance of his argument against the anthropic origin of global warming. Within this paper, we seek to identify the scientific and political stakes of this strange controversy.

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science, politics and the media
The climategate disputes in France

Baudouin Jurdant   University Paris Diderot

Elsa Poupardin   University of Strasbourg

Science is increasingly part of the public domain : scientific controversies, previously well protected from the public eye by the tacit rules which organise scientific communities since the XVIIth century, are more and more open to public inquisitiveness. There is a growing interdependence between science and politics. Political decisions must rely on scientific expertise while scientific and technological options and choices are evermore subject to political bargaining. The debate on climate change and global warming is a good example of
this new direction in science history (history of science).

This paper will deal with the most recent media events concerning the "climategate" in France. We shall start with the analysis of Claude Allègre’s L’imposture climatique ou la fausse écologie, which was published in February 2010 and triggered a number of responses of all kinds in the media. C. Allègre is a well known geophysicist and former minister of education and research in the last socialist government. His climatoskeptical views were already well known and widely discussed in the media but his book appeared as the last straw. The french community of some 400 scientists, as different from each other as the disciplines and the specialities they represent, but all involved in the French branch (GIEC) of the IPCC, published a petition against the « lies » of Claude Allègre, asking their minister, Valérie Pécresse, as their employer, to reassert the scientific status and the seriousness of their work and to prevent futher public diffusion of additional «lies» by Claude Allègre and his colleague, Vincent Courtillot. Allègre‘s crime according to the signatories of the petition is to have published under the cover of scientific background without peer control. This petition, in turn, was followed by numerous reactions in the media, generally condemning this appeal for a political intervention in what was considered by most journalists and popularisers as a scientific debate between experts. The petition also showed the difficulty for these scientists, highly specialised in various fields, to accept their position as lay people in relation to each other’s narrow competence over this or that aspect. The general issue of climate change and global warming with its political overtones leaves them helpless within the public debate. Hence, this curious demand of the community to reaffirm the necessity of a clear cut separation between science and politics in order to recover an autonomy which would be provided by a politician! Such a move is contradictory as many debaters like Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond or Benoît Rittaud have pointed out in the media. Bruno Latour’s position presented in Le Monde (22nd of May, 2010) is also ambiguous. Recognizing the impossibility to disentangle expert’s science from politics, Latour advocates for a new distinction between science and research. While the former is an area of undisputable facts prone to be popularized in a traditional way (reinforcing autonomy and control of the scientific communities on the public divulgation of «their» knowledge!), the latter integrates uncertainties within the field of scientific experimentation as well as within the field of political action. According to Latour, the «good» link between science and politics should involve a confrontation with uncertainties in both areas under the arbitration of the cautionary principle. How could the media deal with such a «proposal» which would radically change its role in the management of the relationship
between science and society ? It is within such a media turmoil that the journalist Sylvestre Huet from the newspaper Libération, published his response to Claude Allègre (L’imposteur, c’est lui, Paris Stock, April 2010) pointing out all the scientific mistakes and inaccuracies in the book in order to discredit the political argument of the geophysicist. The journalist is attacking Claude Allègre as a scientist with scientific arguments while the latter is dismissing these arguments by relying on the global political relevance of his argument against the anthropic origin of global warming. Within this paper, we seek to identify the scientific and political stakes of this strange controversy.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

BACK TO TOP