(some translations not yet done)
This page does not offer any original research, but simply reproduces interesting French articles, mainly from Le Monde, the excellent daily which puts most other serious world newspapers to shame. The French media debate about le réchauffement climatique (global warming) is far more grown-up than the sensationalised news and comment that passes for debate in the British broadsheets. I have translated these articles into English, in the hope that the French media perception might be better appreciated - and admired - by non-French-speaking scientists, and also because this debate seems to be largely ignored in the anglophone world. I exclude articles covering subjects which are well covered in the anglophone press, unless the French take on them is significantly different.
The first thing to note is that science in general, and climate change in particular, gets far more prominence than in the UK media. I cannot imagine an article about possible abuse of the peer review process and editing of academic papers even appearing in the UK press, far less being introduced on the front page, as published in Le Monde at the end of 2008. This story centres mainly around Vincent Courtillot, a solid-earth geophysicist who is a climate-sceptic. In 2010 Courtillot also appeared on the front cover of the weekend colour magazine, which accompanies the printed copy of Le Monde every Friday.
In case you think that the climate mavericks are getting too much attention, it should be stated that the articles are far from flattering - they are damning. A glance at the headings below, translated from those of the original newspaper articles, will confirm this. One of them, Global warming: 400 researchers against Allègre, even made the front page headline; unthinkable in the UK or USA.
There is a political dimension, in that Claude Allègre, a distinguished solid-earth scientist, is both a climate-sceptic and former minister of education in the socialist government from 1997 to 2000. However, criticism of his sceptic views can hardly be ascribed to a right-wing political agenda, because Le Monde is broadly left-wing, and Libération even more so.
Here is a résumé of the articles, in chronological order, and using the article titles in translation. There are links to archived copies of the original French, in htm format; the translations are pdfs, normally with the accompanying photos or cartoons, and laid out in the style of the print copy.
How to influence the debate on climate evolution
This article appeared in Le Monde on 20 December 2007, under the heading above. I already knew of Vincent Courtillot as a fellow solid-earth geophysicist, having once cited him in a paper published in 1995. The article is very short, so here is a full translation:
Vincent Courtillot, president of the geomagnetism and palaeomagnetism section of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), sits on the council of that organisation, which carries great weight on the global scientific scene. Thus he has the right to vote on its official declarations. During its last autumn meeting held in San Francisco from 10-14 December, the learned society had to renew the text of its official stance on global warming – signalling its influence on the research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the conclusions of which provided the basis for the discussions begun at the Bali (Indonesia) conference. “M. Courtillot made it known to us that this declaration [of the AGU] was a problem for him”, reports a council member of the AGU. He was informed that there was no serious scientific research that was in a position to put our text in question. Then we held a discussion on his import, a discussion at which M. Courtillot was not present. The council members voted in favour [of the text], with the exception of M. Courtillot, who abstained.
Fraud suspected in climate-sceptic study
Article in Le Monde, 20 December 2007 (comment and translation in preparation)
The initial report in Le Monde in December 2008, entitled Backroom deals between geologists (translated here), aroused suspicion that scientists at the Institute of Physics of the Globe in Paris (a prestigious research centre, of which Courtillot was director at the time) were receiving unwarranted favouritism in getting their work published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Their own colleagues are, or were, on the editorial board, but did not step down from reviewing their colleagues' submissions, as would normally be the case. Courtillot was given a right of reply. The paper stated that the "virulence" of his response surpassed the norms expected, but that his response would nevertheless be published more or less in full, but with editorial comments interjected (translation here).
The hundred faults of Claude Allègre
Page 3 of the weekend edition of Le Monde on 28 February 2010 was devoted entirely to Claude Allègre and his latest book, "riddled with errors". A bold highlight text box in the body of the article (translated here), written by Le Monde's scientific journalist Stéphane Foucart, states: "The author has confounded the name Georgia Tech, short for Georgia Institute of Technology, with that of a person", so that even a casual glance at the page, with its title and large photo of Allègre, will get the message across.
A second article beneath the first, The imaginary list of scientific 'support' recruited by the former minister (translated here), goes into even more detail. Allègre was immediately given the opportunity to reply, which he did on 4 March in Climate: the questions which remain (translated here).
The Mediator of Le Monde published The climate war on 13 March, in response to a barrage of correspondence from readers (equally divided, apparently, into pro- and anti-Allègre). This excellent piece (translated here) justifies the paper's stance, noting that no-one, not even Allègre, himself actually refuted a single one of Stéphane Foucart's assertions of error. The editorial director had the final word, explaining what is the duty of a responsible newspaper.
Global warming: 400 researchers against Allègre
The front-page headline Global warming: 400 researchers against Allègre, and lead story of Le Monde on 2 April 2010 (translation here) demonstrates the attention that science gets in France. Half of page 4 inside the same edition is devoted to a more detailed article, More than 400 climate scientists appeal to the minister (translation here), plus a short column on the findings of the 'Climategate' parliamentary inquiry in the UK.
2 more in preparation:
The orphans of progress
Who finances climate scepticism?
Chers lecteurs - si vous tombez sur des erreurs de traduction, veuillez avoir la gentillesse de me les signaler, afin que je puisse les corriger dès que possible.
27 March 2010
2 April 2010