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French Researchers Ask Science Minister to Disavow Climate Skeptic

2 April 2010 5:08 pm
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PARIS—More than 400 French climate scientists want science minister Valérie Pécresse to take a clear stand against the country's most vocal climate skeptic, geochemist Claude Allègre of the Institute of Geophysics of Paris (IPGP). On Wednesday, the group sent Pécresse a letter denouncing Allègre's latest book, L'imposture climatique (The Climate Fraud), and asking her to express confidence in the climate research community. Allègre was science minister from 1997 until 2000.

The book—a series of interviews with journalist Dominique de Montvalon—includes a harsh attack on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which Allègre calls a "mafia-like system" that propagates a "baseless myth." Climate scientists and journalists at several newspapers have argued that the book is riddled with errors, distortions of the data, and outright lies.

The dispute has played out for 2 months in raucous TV and radio debates and countless op-eds. French scientists say it's time for the government and several prominent lab directors to take sides. The group also takes aim at IPGP Director Vincent Courtillot, another global warming skeptic. Allègre and Courtillot have made "false accusations" and "have forgotten the basic principles of scientific ethics, breaking the moral pact that binds every scientist to society," Wednesday's letter says. Pécresse has yet to address the letter directly, but on Wednesday, she told the newspaper Libération that she wants the Academy of Sciences to organize a debate about the issue.

"I couldn't care less," Allègre was quoted as saying today by Libération. He called the letter a "useless and stupid petition." Climatologists "have wasted a lot of public money [studying climate change] and they're afraid of losing their funding, afraid of losing their jobs," he said.

Allègre, who won the prestigious Crafoord Prize in 1986, has written many popular science books. He was a combative and at times abrasive figure as minister, and his attempt to reform the French science system triggered massive protests that ultimately helped to sink the plan. There has been speculation that he might join the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he is said to have good rapport.

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