This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1” in which we present one of the information manipulation techniques often used by journalists. All quotes are translated (by me), except the ones marked between [ ] in the french version (french quotes are to numerous to be marked in this one).
Foucart creates an alternate scientific reality where the facts he uses to base his argument are credible beyond a reasonable doubt. For this, it uses two mechanics:
- The invention of scientific consensus
- The invention of evidence
3.VI.1. The invention of scientific consensus
Foucart often suggests that there is a scientific consensus on what he describes. I counted 20 articles using this mechanic. Note that I am not discussing here the existence of a scientific consensus that there is a decline in biodiversity or that NNIs are dangerous. I am criticizing here the consensus and the evidence that S. Foucart invents. Indeed, “a decline” is not “the decline described by S. Foucart” and “the dangerousness” is not “the dangerousness described by S. Foucart”.
This mechanism involves, in particular, the evocation of the words of specialists, of “hundreds of works” or of the condemnation of the obscurantism of its opponents. This also involves an absence: S. Foucart never speaks of studies that do not go in his direction (unless to discredit them).
3.VI.1.a. Specialists’ words
Blurred expressions like “the specialists”, will come to give the impression of mass, as if “all” the specialists (or whatever term used) had this opinion. For example, here is a reaction to the EFSA report confirming the risk of the 3 NNIs:
“Nothing very surprising for specialists. “Such risks have already been demonstrated well beyond honey bees or wild bees, since it is the entire biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates that is subject to the deleterious effects of these substances,” says Jean-Marc Bonmatin, researcher (CNRS) at the Orléans Molecular Biophysics Center and author of numerous works on the subject.” (41)
The journalist suggests that the opinion of all specialists (or a majority) is reflected in Bonmatin’s remark.
3.VI.1.b. Hundreds of works supporting his story
As soon as the topic gets a little popular, there are easily “hundreds of works” on it, some going one way, some going another. Here S. Foucart insinuates that all these studies go in this direction, which would characterize a sort of consensus. Here is an example :
“Of course, bees do not forage in beet fields. But this argument, used as a piece of language by the government, masks a reality supported by hundreds of recent scientific works.” (66)
It does so in particular through the Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, in March 2016:
“Scientific studies are piling up. Today, (…) we can say what we want, neonicotinoids are extremely dangerous, they are dangerous for bees, but well beyond bees, they are dangerous for our health, they are dangerous for our environment, they contaminate waterways, they contaminate flora, including wild flora. They stay in the soil for a very long time. (…) We will not be able to say that we did not know.” (65)
We do have a one-sided accumulation effect: scientific studies “pile up”, implied in the case against NNIs, and that would justify their ban. It conceals the fact that many are going in the opposite direction. The invention of consensus is very clear in this paragraph:
“Beyond the effects on bees, however, a considerable scientific literature documents the deleterious effects of neonics on all ecosystems. Hundreds of studies published in recent years show, beyond reasonable doubt, the full extent of the damage that these substances cause not only on pollinating insects, but also, and above all, on all arthropods, on birds in agricultural areas, on aquatic organisms, etc.” (65)
However, nothing could be further from the truth: not all NNIs are equally toxic and the issue of banning NNIs on beets is not the subject of any scientific consensus.
3.VI.1.c. The obscurantism of its opponents
The paragraph following the one just quoted builds on this so-called “consensus” to condemn the “obscurantism” of the decision to allow NNIs on beets.
“This bill is based on a form of obscurantism,” judge Batho. It ignores the scientific data available and in particular ignores the phenomenon of the disappearance of insects that we are witnessing.” (65)
This is the corollary of the invention of consensus: once it has been invented, it can be used to label those who challenge it as anti-science or obscurantist.
3.VI.2. The invention of obviousness
S. Foucart transforms several subjects of study into “obvious facts”, which (this is implied) only a patent dishonesty or total blindness would allow to ignore. Thus, he writes of the flaws in the procedures for evaluating pesticides:
“An elementary school child can figure out the deception in a matter of minutes. But it was not until nearly fifteen years of decline in beekeeping, the first signs of a massive collapse of all the entomofauna and the protests of civil society and parliamentarians, for the European executive to s ‘questions the integrity of risk assessment procedures, and asks EFSA to take a closer look…” (37)
One of the most common obviousness S. Foucart puts forward is that of “clean windshield syndrome” as evidence of a decline in insects, the evidence that “it is now possible to cross France while keeping the windshield of his car almost free of all traces of insects. This comes up in 6 articles (22) (30) (35) (37) (51) (54).
This is presented very seriously by V. Bretagnolle:
“So the existence of large-scale effects would not be surprising. The estimate of the decline remains striking. “This is the translation of what everyone can notice when they get into their car,” concludes Vincent Bretagnolle. Twenty years ago, you had to stop every two hours to clean your windshield because there were so many insect impacts, today it is not necessary at all. »» (35)
This “evidence” is used regularly to “sell” a radical collapse in biodiversity. Here is an example:
“And there is an emergency. Work published at the end of October has for the first time quantified the disaster of conventional farming practices on biodiversity. In thirty years, nearly 80% of flying insects have disappeared from protected natural areas in Germany and everything indicates that this observation is valid elsewhere in Europe. You only have to look at the grilles and windshields of our cars, often free of any insect impact.” (37)
[Note the juxtaposition effect: it suggests that the study results in an effect not only of agriculture, but in addition to conventional agriculture. Two things that Hallman et al. (2017) do not say at all.]
He uses the windshield argument to support the study by Hallman et al. (2017). However, the author offers absolutely no scientific study or collection of testimonies confirming it. It does not even take into account the evolution of road traffic, which has roughly doubled since 1980.
Even if this feeling may be well founded (I was not very old in the 90s), road traffic has increased a lot since the 70s… The insects may have ended up adapting to the increase in traffic road. In short, there are endless reasons other than an 80% overall decline that could explain it. This is why in principle, to assert this kind of thing, we use scientific studies…
- Hallmann, Caspar A., Martin Sorg, Eelke Jongejans, Henk Siepel, Nick Hofland, Heinz Schwan, Werner Stenmans, et al. “More than 75 Percent Decline over 27 Years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas.” PloS One 12, no. 10 (2017): e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809.