The Emmanuelle Ducros affair (1) currently making waves in the French-speaking Twittersphere illustrates two new developments in the controversy that is raging in the pro-science community against the zealots of political ecologism: tongues are becoming loosened and discourse is becoming more radical.
From the attack of pseudo-sciences to the defense against anti-science
Pro-science NGOs have always existed. Since 2006, in the United States, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science has been one of the pillars of rationalist thinking. In France, its counterpart, the Association Française d’Information Scientifique (AFIS), has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. But until the early 2000s, it must be said that most of the efforts of these associations consisted in denouncing the pseudo-sciences. They, therefore, were on the offense to denounce the deceptions and scams of certain irrational speech wherever they may have been found. Unfortunately, it seems that things have changed over the past twenty years.
Today, the “struggle” has changed its nature: as a result of repeated attacks by certain NGOs that promote anti-science discourse and political ecology, it seems that it is more important to persuade citizens of the value of scientific and technological innovation in our contemporary society than to dissuade them from confiding in fortune-tellers. Also, researchers must no longer the only search and discover, but also legitimize the validity of their actions on a whole, because they are attacked from all sides: medicine, biotechnology, nuclear, nuclear, waves, chemistry, agro-industry… science has found itself obliged to defend its turf against the battering of various ideologues. So it’s a whole other kettle of fish.
A revolt ? No, a revolution
Let’s face it: it took the scientific community a little while to realize the gravity of the situation. This is probably due to the fact that science was so certain of its validity that it never imagined that it would have to justify itself one day for all it has contributed since the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, it seems that all this is far from being obvious, and scientists have had to step up to the plate, particularly in France, paradoxically the country of Descartes, where rationality seems to be the most under attack. It has also been almost a year and a half since we announced the revolt of French scientists in the columns of European Scientist, a movement that is constantly growing. First of all, the movement began pianissimo with politicians Bernard Accoyer and Jean-Yves Le Déaut, who tabled a resolution in the National Assembly (2), then we saw the Science technology action (3) collective emerge, which met to take up this initiative and get involved in the cause of scientific rationality. Within this collective, many individuals were already engaged in their blogs or in the media (4) to denounce the biases of a world that had become “post-truth”.
Then, the drumbeat gradually grew louder, and when we did not expect it or at least not to that degree, charismatic influencers arrived on the web. Laurent Alexandre’s chronicles, for example, with his uncompromising discourse, have had a “liberating effect” on scientific speech. The resolute doctor says what he wishes on all topics. Of course, he does have a divisive side; there are those who hate him, but he also has his fan club: he has become the preferred whistleblower of the pro-science and technology community. There is obviously a radicalization of the discourse through the exchanges between Laurent Alexandre and Aurélien Barrau (6).
The scientists’ revolution movement has therefore risen dramatically, finding ever more perceptive angles of attack to denounce the absurdity and contradictions of its opponents. Thus, in the media Rage Magazine, the anonymous author Techno-Prêtre (Techno-Priest) offers long rants in which he pecks about to the right and left at the theses of pro-science authors (7)…..
There would undoubtedly be a thesis to be written on the semantic shift that has taken place. Indeed, for years, scientists have had to struggle with the reversal of the burden of proof and the weight of the precautionary principle, facing a question that is unresolvable–because it is unscientific. Today, the terrain is hardly more favorable to them, but at least they have become aware of the nature of their opponents’ agenda: they want to destroy them. And so a life and death struggle has begun. They are therefore forced to unleash themselves and get to the heart of the matter. No more beating around the bush like they did for years. Fortunately, they received help.
Non-scientists as reinforcements
In this Homeric combat, the Special Envoy show on glyphosate is a memorable battle that science historians will have to mark with a milestone. Indeed, it allowed scientists to realize they were not alone in their struggle but that they had a large community to support them. As Gil Rivière Weckstein showed, a whole community of farmers got involved on Twitter the night of the show and then started holding journalist Élise Lucet to account (8). Again, this is a new phenomenon, because, for years, farmers have been victims of agri-bashing aimed both at the progress of the Green Revolution and at those who implemented it. Also, it is unprecedented for them to rebel and take up the cause of innovation and technology. By extension, the Yellow Vests crisis, in its early stages, can be seen as a form of revolt against punitive energy taxation.
But perhaps the most surprising twist is without a doubt the battle that has begun to be waged among the media themselves. Certainly, there have always been pro-science journalists in the mainstream press who have made themselves the heralds of rationality. However, one of the major problems of scientists is the catastrophist treatment of scientific information: the media prefer trains that do not arrive on time and it is difficult to rid them of this logic. However, the logic in question can also turn against the opponents of science and the conscientious media in search of different angles and begin to investigate in turn the protagonists of anti-science discourse. They do not fail to find juicy stories (9) and, as a result, there are now more and more techno-evangelist media who attack without hesitation the charlatanism of certain NGOs, or even their own colleagues. This is the case, for example, of individuals such as Emmanuelle Ducros or Géraldine Woesner, both of whom have been involved in a controversy with journalist Élise Lucet for several months now. This goes beyond the framework of individual initiative because it is also the editorial angles chosen by entire editorial departments that have made the decision to defend the cause of scientists through special issues, such as Le Point (10) or Valeurs Actuelles (11) recently.
In conclusion, we will, therefore, rejoice at this liberation of speech. The defense of science is no longer the prerogative of scientists alone, and it can thus be said that this is a great step forward. Civil society can now also take on the purpose of that which has presided over its destiny for more than two centuries. However, there remains a somewhat shadowy area: in doing so, we have gone from the discreet scientific controversies that have always dotted the various subjects to a vast general polemic on the role of science, where everyone goes from their ad hominem attack to undermine the credibility of the other and where no one can agree on the validity of their actions. Very clever is he who will be able to predict what will one day come out of all this nonsense.
 « Checknews » et Emmanuelle Ducros : lettre ouverte à Libération et Facebook https://www.lopinion.fr/edition/politique/checknews-emmanuelle-ducros-lettre-ouverte-a-liberation-facebook-191488
 Ne renonçons pas à la science ! https://www.lesechos.fr/idees-debats/cercle/ne-renoncons-pas-a-la-science-130939
 We’re thinking of French science ambassador like Marcel Kuntz, Gérard Kafadaroff ou encore Jean-Pierre Riou
 Écologie : pourra-t-on réconcilier Laurent Alexandre et Aurélien Barrau ? https://e-rse.net/ecologie-collapsologue-rationalistes-laurent-alexandre-aurelien-barrau-273180/#gs.mzc2gz
 José Bové est 100 pour cent OGM (et vous aussi) http://rage-culture.com/jose-bove-est-100-pour-cent-ogm-et-vous-aussi/
 Envoyé Spécial : Élise Lucet face à une avalanche de critiques https://www.agriculture-environnement.fr/2019/01/29/envoye-special-glyphosate-elise-lucet-face-a-une-avalanche-de-critiques
 Thomas Mahler, Écologie : vérités et fariboles, https://www.lepoint.fr/societe/ecologie-verites-et-fariboles-13-06-2019-2318683_23.php
 Les Charlatans de l’écologie, https://boutique.valeursactuelles.com/produit/valeurs-actuelles-n4309/
This post is also available in: FR (FR)