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Jean-Michel Bélouve: French Academy of Science Allows Science Debate

Two days ago, the French Académie des sciences organised a closed-door meeting on climate change: only scientists were invited. Le Monde had announced the secretive event two days earlier. The list of participants was published only after the meeting. The secrecy of the meeting has been criticized by media outlets given that the Academy’s main goal is to convey accurate knowledge and scientific understanding among the public. It seems that this choice was due to conditions of privacy requested by some attendees to allow a genuine debate between proponents and critics of the conventional global warming theory.

On September 21, the Academie des sciences has published a short one page press release, the programme, and the list of participants. It seems that the panel was more or less balanced between advocates of the conventional view and climate sceptics. Among the critical speakers, among others, were Professor Richard Lindzen and Professor Vincent Courtillot. They were able to exchange their views with fellow climate researchers such as Jean Jouzel, Hervé Le Treut, Sandrine Bony (IPSL modeling specialist), Edouard Bard and others.

In its statement, the Académie points out that there are differences of opinions regarding the extend of solar influences. It also states that while there is general agreement about the fact that greenhouse gases have an impact on the climate, their indirect effects is controversial. In addition, the impact of clouds on the climate remains poorly understood and further research is required to improve understanding. A full report about the meeting will be published before the end of October.

Since no journalists were allowed to attend, the media could just report comments and assertions by some of the participants who generally chose to remain anonymous (which shows the climate of fear and suspicion among French climate researchers). This allowed the media to select statements which emphasised the conventional views and messages.

Le Monde, which is one of the most biased newspapers on global warming, writes that it was a serious and fair debate. However, it also choses to quote some participants who claim that the meeting was a “trap” against climate scientists, a “malicious venture… aimed at a part of the French scientific research”.

Many French papers just published the AFP wire story or the article in Le Monde. Some interesting comments were posted on websites. An anonymous scientist is quoted as saying that he regrets that the issue of oceans was not discussed at the meeting. This seems to be a relevant criticism since oceans play such an important role in a climate system that remains insufficiently understood.

Overall, I think that approach by the Academie des sciences is a positive development, even if it appears to be somewhat timid and lacks transparency. For a start, this is a serious attempt to foster a genuine scientific debate between opposing scientists – and that is really new in France. What is more, the Academy is trying to stand clear of supporting the claims and accusations that numerous climate scientists have made against climate sceptics. We have to wait for the full report to be issued in October to know whether or not it will commission a review of the state of science for the French public who have become less certain and more doubtful over the last couple of years. I am not convinced it will go that far. Nevertheless, I hope that it won’t shut down what looks to me like the beginnings of a real scientific debate.