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French Scientists Protest Allègre's Role in New Ecology Foundation

20 October 2011 12:03 pm
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PARIS—Former French Science Minister Claude Allègre is at the center of a new controversy stemming from his role as a prominent climate change skeptic.

Sixty members of the French Academy of Sciences have written to the chancellor of the Institute of France, historian Gabriel de Broglie, objecting to Allègre's position at the new Fondation Ecologie d'Avenir, one of some 100 active foundations sheltered by the institute. The institute is also the umbrella organization for France's five academies, including that for sciences.

The 11 October letter, signed by such luminaries as 1997 physics Nobelist Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and former Academy president and physicist É douard Brézin, complains that several academy members discovered the existence of the foundation from press reports last week. The signatories note that an academy report last year disavowed Allègre's view that industry isn't a significant driver of climate change. In particular, the report stated that the increase in CO2 emissions and, to a lesser degree, other greenhouse gases were "unquestionably due to human activity." That increase, it adds, "constitutes a threat to the climate" and contributes to ocean acidification.

The report reflected the outcome of a debate held by the academy at the request of then science minister Valérie Pécresse in response to the outcry over Allègre's book, The Climate Fraud. More than 400 French climatologists had asked Pécresse to disavow Allègre's book, which they said was riddled with errors, and to express confidence in the climate research community.

Allègre, who was minister from 1997 to 2000, created the foundation, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to addressing major ecological challenges facing the planet. The foundation's home page features an editorial by Allègre and a video by new medicine Nobelist Jules Hoffman, who praises the foundation for bringing together scientists, economists, philosophers, and sociologists to find "a new way for satisfying those who love nature and depend on agricultural output." The foundation held its first conference last week, on bio-inspired technologies, and plans others on new technologies in agriculture.

The French daily Libération reported in an online blog that Catherine Bréchignac, perpetual secretary of the Academy of Sciences, former president of the basic research agency CNRS, and chair of the foundation's executive committee, said in a radio interview last week that the row was a "personal squabble" and that Allègre "would play no role in the foundation." ScienceInsider was unable to reach Bréchignac for further comment. The Institute of France did not respond to a request for comment on the academicians' letter, nor did five other members of the foundation's orientation committee. Hoffman said he was not available for comment today.

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