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Documentation > Readings > "Skeptics" > A letter to the president of Arte (june 2003)

A letter to the president of Arte

12 june 2003 for the french version - translated august 2004

website of the author : www.manicore.com - contact the author : jean-marc@manicore.com

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Mr. President,

I will probably not be the only one - at least I hope so - to react after the "Thema" evening that Arte broadcasted on June 10, 2003. But abundant reproaches, in the present case, will be salutary. I am surprised - not to say more - by what I saw on your channel, that I thought was aiming at helping people understand how the world operates, not at mixing up their mind by overwhelming them with simplistic arguments, easy slogans, if not shameless lies.

If the mistakes had been about the exact number of feathers attached to the rump of an average guinea fowl, or the precise amount of coffee that M. Chirac drinks for breakfast, I don't think that it would have been necessary to discuss it any longuer, but as the subject was nothing less than a possible climate change under the effect of human activities, I hope you will accept the idea that one should not spread nonsense.

It is mostly the documentary realized by Mrs. Sophie Lepault that will focus my critics. Indeed, this documentary marvelously sustained the confusion between science and media, science and politics, or science and ecologist activism, holding scientists about systematically responsible for the foolish statements (and there are plenty, regarding this point we do agree) made by journalists, politicians or activists of all kind, on the sole grounds that the latter claim to faithfully quote the first. How many "skeptics", believing they criticize science, actually only criticize an incorrect presentation of science in the media ?

If you had taken the pain to read the last IPCC report (Note : The Scientific Basis), which has been directly written by the concerned scientists, you would have realized that it doesn't enclose any of the catastrophist or spectacular declarations that the documentary intended to criticize. Through bringing these statements to trial, Mrs Lepault went after the wrong population : it is mainly some of her colleagues that she should have accused.

But let's be precise : here are a couple of lies (lie : incorrect statement made with the intention of misleading someone, says the dictionnary) that I noted during the broadcasting of the documentary of Mrs. Lepault, or that I read on your website enclosed in the presentation of the programme.

1. M. Lomborg, who is one of the major justifications of the skepticism of Mrs. Lepault, is not a scientist. He is an economist (economy is not an exact science, should it be recalled ?) (actually this statement is inaccurate, see note 1). His activity does not confer him any particular knowledge in thermodynamics, in atmospheric chemistry, in oceanography, in glaciology, or more generally in any of the scientific disciplines involved in the study of climate change.

2. M. Lomborg wrote a book - the skeptical environmentalist - pretending that the "observation of facts" leads to a vision of the world radically different from the usual "catastrophist" one. It would be interesting to know on what objective facts M. Lomborg lies, knowing that this author has been considered guilty, on january 7, 2003, by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty, of dishonesty in the presentation of the scientific results he invokes. Such a ruling is about as ignominious, for someone that claims to spread scientific information, as a sentence for financial fraud for a savings manager. Is it possible to know why your documentary is mute on this essential fact ? (see note 2). Maybe because what Mrs. Lepault did is exactely what M. Lomborg is accused of : carefully cherrypicking sentences and bits of articles, some taken in scientific reviews, or obtained from respectable researchers, but deprived of their background, and others coming from the general press, hence without any scientific value, to support a crazy but cherished thesis (the good question being to know why). If the scientific community is wrong (I don't believe much it could be, but if it were the case I would be the first to rejoice, since outlooks are not the most pleasant) it is not Mr. Lomborg who is able to demonstrate it.

3. Mr. Lomborg is not the director of the "Danish Environment Institute", as stated in the documentary, but of an institute which exact name is "Danish Environmental Assessment Institute" (institute which can't be found by Google, which is exceptional for an organism presented as significant) (see note 3). The role of this institute seems to be to give advice on the financing of public policies regarding the environment, not to say what is the good science, something for which Mr. Lomborg has no particular skill.

4. Your website, in the presentation of the documentary, says that Mr. Lomborg would have been "rehabilitated" by being appointed as director of this institute. What a number of false elements in such a short sentence !

4.1 The appointment of Mr. Lomborg as director of this institute happened one year before the DCSD ruling : the timescale of events does not really allows to see a rehabilitation there !

4.2 Nobody in the scientific world, to my best knowledge, has "rehabilitated" Lomborg. On the opposite, scientists that are competent in the subjects tackled by Lomborg (who does not discuss only climate issues) and that pointed out the errors enclosed in his book are each day more numerous. The only people that praised the book are journalists, politicians, or economists (but once again economy is not an exact science, but a human science).

4.3 It is no more required to be scientifically competent in environment related disciplines to be appointed as director of "Danish Environmental Assessment Institute" than it is necessary to be a competent journalist on climate matters to realize a documentary on climate change aired on Arte.

5. Lomborg never published the slightest article on climate matters in a peer-reviewed scientific paper (such as : Science, Nature, Physics Today, The Holocene, Quaternary Science Review...), which is the only normal way, regarding scientific theories, to validate a new idea, or refute an old one. His legitimacy in this field, supposing the above paragraphs were not explicit enough on this point, is therefore non existant.

6. The influence of the sun suggested by Svensmark had already been quoted in a previous documentary that you aired (Conflits climatiques, february 1st 2001). It happens that Svensmark published, in 2000, that is much before your first documentary, an article in which he clearly indicates that he does not pretend to have discovered a process allowing to link in a direct way the climatic variations of the past century to the variations of solar activity (Reply to comments on "variation on cosmic ray flux and global cloud coverage - a missing link in solar-climate relationships", Svensmark & Friis-Christensen, Journal of Atmospheric and solar-terrestrial physics, 62 (2000), 79-80). Here again, how should one interpret that your documentary is mute when the author himself has written an article to warn against exagerated interpretations of his words ?

7. Mr. Lenoir, quoted by the leader of the debate (debate that followed the documentary) as a professor with Ecole Polytechnique, and a researcher with an authorized opinion on climate issues (two things that weight a lot for the general public), is neither professor with Ecole Polytechnique, nor a competent researcher on climate issues (here again that's a lot of mistakes for a single sentence, and one might wonder whether it was not deliberate lying). Mr. Lenoir is working on robotics at Ecole des Mines de Paris, which is not linked in whatever way to climate research. He hasn't published the slightest article on climate evolution in a peer reviewed scientific paper either. But he is notoriously known on internet forums as a "climate change skeptic", and as a promoter of his book (Climat de Panique), that comprises statements that are surprinsing even for an amateur scientist.

8. Mr. Lindzen, quoted a number of times in your documentary, is on the opposite a competent scientist. He is, though, one of the authors of the last IPCC report, that describes the possible evolutions of the climate system in the future under the effect of human activities. Mr. Lindzen also signed in mid-2001, along with other american scientists (belonging as he does to the National Academy of Sciences), a report to president Bush (Junior), that confirms all the major conclusions of the IPCC report, and that also confirms that the IPCC reports offers an accurate vision of the current scientific knowledge (and of its lacks, of course). Presenting him as a "skeptic" of the whole file is hence totally inappropriate. Discussing some aspects - and there are plenty of aspects that require discussion, it's even what research is all about - doen't mean that Lindzen questions the influence of man on the climate system (that, by the way, he does not question). That he is personnally opposing Kyoto is not a proof that he denies the influence of men on the climate system. It can just mean that he considers that his country will be able to adapt to whatever evolution that might happen.

9. According to your documentary, Kyoto would cost a thousand billion dollars to avoid a temperature increase of 0,15°C in 2100. This fantasy affirmed by Lomborg is based only on various reasoning errors (which is a debatable scientific basis). This statements assumes, among other things, that we may already know, with absolute certainty, what will the world CO2 emissions be from now until 2100 if Kyoto comes into force, and what they will be if Kyoto remains unenforced. Being able to know what will our future be up to 2100 whether we enforce Kyoto or not, Nostradamus had better go home ! No article published in a scientific paper allows to give such comparative figures, and this affirmation of Lomborg rests on wind.

10. Both the documentary of Mrs Lepault and the debate that followed have let the audience believe that it is necessary to be certain that the climate system has already changed because of us in the past to be able to conclude that it will do so in the future. It is obviously a wrong statement : anything that starts one day didn't happen before.

11. At least twice (average temperature over Greenland, and behaviour of the glaciers in the Chamonix valley) you heavily insist on local evolutions, that by defintion do not represent average evolutions. Highlighting that the temperature is decreasing in a given place is not proving the absence of a global warming, of course. This was said, but so fast, and after insisting so much on the opposite direction, that here again I don't know what information exactely you wanted people to remember.

12. Why on earth did you invite M. Mamère, who is not a scientist, to "speak for science", during the debate that followed ? Here is a superb confirmation of what is stated above : you manage so that an ecologist militant comes to speak on science, almost "in its name", and after science will be accused of collusion with ecologist activists : easy !

 

I could go on and on for a long time, but as even the best things must come to an end, I will stop here, while noting that it is the third time at least that Arte sustains - voluntarily ? - some confusion on climate issues. The first time relates to the above mentionned documentary (Conflits climatiques, February 1st 2001), insisting on the works of Svensmark on the role of the sun, without mentioning that the same author had written later on (but much before the broadcasting of the documentary, of course) that the implications of his works had been exagerated. The second time relates to a commentary heard during the evening devoted to ice ages (I do not recall the date, was it in 2002 ?), explaining that the present warming might well be the prelude to a new ice age, which is the true menace for the future (this affirmation is totally false, at least for the coming centuries).

I have not seen entirely the documentary that preceeded that of Mrs. Lepault (a documentary on the discussions surrounding the Kyoto protocol), but just the final part that insisted on the weight of the "lobbies" in the opposition to the protocol. One should not forget that works such as that of Mrs. Lepault, based on lies to name them, play also a role, because the skepticism of part of the population, and of part of the elected people that frequently inform themselves only through TV, generate consequences of the same magnitude than the lobbyists' activity (or rather allow that the latter thrieve on a favourable ground).

Is it your sincere desire to encourage the spreading of false or simplistic ideas on a channel like Arte, that got us used to much better ? May we know what game you are playing at exactely ?

Please accept, Mr. President, my perplex feelings.

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Answer received from Arte on june 27, 2003

Sir,

We thank you for your letter and your plain speaking.

Your critics regarding the thematic evening « Climate : everything is hidden, nothing is said ! » (10/06/2003) has been forwarded to the Program Direction and to the editorial staff of the «thematic evenings» that took note of your remarks.

We hope that in the future our programs offer you a better satisfaction and remain open to further notes and suggestions.

Sincerly

 

Signed : Béatrice MULLER, telespectator service

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Notes of your humble servant on the above answer

When sending a letter such as the one I sent to Arte, the most frequent case is that one receives no answer. When there is an answer, it is almost always a polite and neutral one, explaining in 5 lines that good note was taken of your remarks, and, as the case may be, that the letter was forwarded to such or such service (the answer I received perfectly fits in this category). Then you never hear of the said service.

Receiving a circumstancial answer is an extremely rare exeption, because it requires that there is, within the body to which we write, someone that has altogether the time to reply, the competence to discuss the subject in detail, and that happens to know of the existence of the initial letter. It's a matter of probabilities : meeting these three conditions is not frequent.

When there is an answer, the person who signs is generally the person you wrote to if (s)he is a politician (but it is not him(her) that writes the answer, of course), but very rarely the case if you write to a company executive.

My experience and that of individuals that, just like me, write here and there to complain about everything, allows to say that the distribution function of the answers (>50% without answers, the remainder in polite acknowledgments, and peanuts in letters that precisely answer the initial remarks) is about the same for all the "big shots" to whom one can write (ministries, congressmen, presidents of this and that, etc).

Journalists are a different lot : if one writes directely to a given journalist (and not to the editor in general), not receiving any answer is what happens 90% of the time, but when there is an answer it is very often down to the point (a basic acknowledgment just to be polite is very rare). Then one agrees or not with what is answered, but this is another point.

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Notes (march 2004)

1 - This affirmation is a big mistake of your humble servant : Lomborg is not an economist, but a statistician. Why did I write "économist" ? Because the climate change chapter of Lomborg's book lengthily discusses the economic reasons for which we should not implement Kyoto or, more generally, prioritarily bother about climate change. In my momentum, I mixed up the occupation with the purpose. However if, in the letter, I change "économist" by "statistician", it is of little consequence for the rest of the text : Lomborg never published any article in a scientific paper with a peer reviewing process (which is the only action that defines a competent scientist on a given topic) regarding the subjects he criticizes .

2 - In december 2003 (thus long after my letter), the danish minister in charge of Science, Technology and Innovation considered that the ruling of the DSCD was not correctlty motivated and asked to the DCSD to go through the process again (what the DCSD will eventually not do). But :

it was not the case at the time of the documentary : when the press relates a case in which a first ruling has been made, it is surprising not to mention it, even though there is an appeal going on,

the ministry's opinion (http://www.imv.dk/Default.asp?ID=233) certainly states that the DCSD did a bad job, but it says nowhere that Lomborg did a good one ! This text mostly insists on the fact the the ruling is insufficiently motivated. I do not have the slightest doubt that if the DCSD (re-)did the hearings of scientists competent regarding climate change (see some examples), it would have more that sufficient matter to sustain the same conclusion....

Let's recall that, in science, not being convicted of fraud does mean one is right. It just means that one is not of bad faith (but it is perfectly possible to be wrong and of good faith !).

3 - At the time I wrote this letter, this statement was right. It is now false, and the website is http://www.imv.dk

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