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The French Path to Climate Skepticism

Jack Hays

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I've been looking for an interesting read in French. This may be it. The French are remarkably immune to anglophone scientific fashion. We should all be grateful. Citing the work of Thomas Kuhn is, in addition, a marker for serious thought.

They Thought They Were Saving the World: Book Review

Posted on 07 Aug 16 by GEOFF CHAMBERS 19 Comments
Our colleague Benoît Rittaud, president of the Association des Climato-réalistes and senior lecturer in mathematics at the University of Paris 13, has a book out: “Ils s’imaginaient sauver le monde: Chroniques Sceptiques de la COP21.” (Books Editions 2016). I recommend it strongly to anyone who reads French, not just for the clarity of its exposition … Cont

Our colleague Benoît Rittaud, president of the Association des Climato-réalistes and senior lecturer in mathematics at the University of Paris 13, has a book out: “Ils s’imaginaient sauver le monde: Chroniques Sceptiques de la COP21.” (Books Editions 2016). I recommend it strongly to anyone who reads French, not just for the clarity of its exposition of the sceptical viewpoint and its ironic comments on the imbecilities of the COP21 conference, but for its frequent illuminating asides, the originality of which stems perhaps from the fact that Benoît is thinking outside the Anglo-Saxon box, drawing on a quite different cultural tradition. I intend to translate a chapter or two, but in the meantime I’ll try and give you an idea of what I mean.
Benoît starts with a reflection on the natural reaction of the normal scientist, (citing Kuhn) which is to trust experts in fields outside his own, and on his first response to his own doubts. He says:

From the point of view of the normal scientist, it’s easy to understand that when you see the epistemological warning light flashing, indicating a problem within institutional science, this is going to provoke a certain mental disturbance. The two main blogs confronting each other at the moment of my conversion were RealClimate, manned by a team of climate scientists, representing the voice of official science as it were, and Climate Audit, run on a shoestring by the Canadian Steve McIntyre, who had no particular scientific status. And yet his site was far more precise, detailed, and factual. Climate Audit displayed scientific rigour; RealClimate offered personal attacks. In this case, it was the amateur who was following the path of true science.

He gives a long account of his inner conflict which would be most unusual in an English-speaking author, I think, but which harks back to Socrates’ dictum “know thyself”, and to Descartes’ use of introspection to free philosophy from its scholastic bounds.
The main bulk of the book consists of a beginner’s guide to scepticism, with references to Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts (and Josh!), as well as to two distinguished French scientists who have dared to express their scepticism – Vincent Courtillot and Claude Allègre – interspersed with a caustic day-by-day running commentary on the unfolding COP21 circus. There are quotes which English-speaking readers won’t be aware of, like President Hollande in Manila attributing earthquakes to global warming, or ex-Minister of the Environment Corinne Lepage calling for a register of climate sceptics to be made for some later unspecified use. . . . .

 

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I can read technical French, but I am painful slow at it.
 
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