This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart et les néonicotinoïdes. The World and disinformation 1“ where I show the journalist misinforms (= false or misleading statements) the reader. Specifically, we show that his presentation of the ban on beet NNIs as obvious is misleading. 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).

The journalist implicitly constructs the idea of a scientific consensus around an apocalyptic decline of insects (and especially pollinators) and that researchers contradicting him would be a minority who should be suspected of conflicts of interest. This claim is explained in the article of May 24, 2021, which I did not include in the corpus studied because it does not directly evoke the NNI: “The “biodiversity-skepticism”, more discreet than that against the climate change, is in a sense much more worrying”.

Here are some excerpts:

“The relativization and denial of the collapse of biodiversity are now being built in the most highly rated scientific journals,” observes Stéphane S. Foucart, journalist at “Le Monde”, with concern in his column. […]

A new ‘skepticism’ is emerging. It is tackling the other great environmental crisis, that of biodiversity; it is undoubtedly already at work in the government’s choice to sharply reduce its support for organic farming. More discreet than its climate twin, this “biodiversity-skepticism” is in a sense much more worrying. Because it is rooted in scholarly literature itself. It is not in the talk shows of the 24-hour news channels that it is built, but in the most highly-rated scientific journals.”

The author explicitly draws a direct parallel between climate skepticism and challenging declining biodiversity. However, the decrease in biodiversity is an extraordinarily complex subject (how to reduce it to a single indicator?) And far from being consensual. He will nevertheless defend this idea by briefly evoking studies published in prestigious journals contesting or relativizing the decline of biodiversity, then opposing them an argument that he presents as sufficient to relegate them to the rank of quibbles.

In November 2020, Nature published, for example, a study relativizing the Living Planet index, developed by researchers in partnership with WWF, and according to which 68% of vertebrate populations have disappeared from the surface of the Earth in half a century. The authors argued that this was an alarmist presentation, with the trend being pulled down by only a small proportion of sharply declining species, on the order of 3% of vertebrate species. By removing these species on the verge of extinction from the analysis, the catastrophic decline disappeared!

We are perhaps there, in reality, on the borders of science and the game of bonneteau. Because, as my colleague Perrine Mouterde noted in the article she devoted to the debate, the authors of the study were much more discreet about the fact that, if we also remove the species from the analysis which proliferate in contact with humans, we see that the fall in vertebrate populations remains very strong, over 40% in half a century. Should we really put the disappearance of the common snipe, the European greenfinch or the white wheatear into perspective on the grounds that pigeons and crows proliferate, thriving on our waste? “

Thus, the author presents the Living Planet index (the creation of an NGO) as having a scientific authority superior to a meta-study published in Nature and discards the latter’s conclusions into… a paragraph. You saw above that, to be taken a little seriously, even the Hallman et al. (2017), which nevertheless has serious and obvious flaws, requires a certain deepening. In this case, the study is much more complex, using different sets of statistics and complex calculations, and yet the reporter discards it in one paragraph …

Above all, he presents as a strong argument the fact that a colleague had made calculations and showed that by excluding not only species in strong decline, but in addition those which proliferate near humans, the decline of populations would be greater than 40 %. However:

1 / He presents the article of a journalist as being a force of contradiction such as to suggest that the many scientists who took part in the study would be “bonneteurs” (that is to say basically crooks in gang).

2 / The origin of this 40% figure is unknown. The article the journalist is referring to does not contain this information at all.

3/ 40% being well below 68%, it would still be justified to criticize the Living Planet index (and therefore to incur the qualifier of “biodiversity-skeptic”).

4 / It does not specify how it defines the species “proliferating in contact with humans“, not why it refers to “common snipe, European greenfinch or laughing wheatear” (are they part of the 3 % of rapidly declining species excluded by the Nature study?), nor why pigeons and crows would be representative of all “species proliferating in contact with humans” or why the latter would be less of “biodiversity” than the others.

5 / To finish, let us simply quote the paragraph which summarizes the problem highlighted by the said study:

« [Le calcul de la moyenne géométrique entre les populations est l’approche la plus courante et la plus simple, mais elle est fortement influencée par les extrêmes. Par exemple, imaginez un écosystème dans lequel une population a diminué de 99 %. Même si une deuxième population était multipliée par 50 ou si 393 populations augmentaient de 1 % (c’est-à-dire une augmentation nette importante), une moyenne géométrique montrerait un déclin catastrophique de 50 %]. »

Leung et al., 2020

In short, the journalist in fact makes no argument and is in fine simply denigrating scientists who do not agree with him.

You can clearly see here that he is trying to create a scientific consensus from scratch, claiming to be the arbiter between science which is sincere and that which simply seeks to deny the obvious for occult reasons. All with absolutely ridiculous arguments. The danger of S. Foucart’s approach appears in this article: he seeks to define science, to claim this power.

To detail how manipulative this article is would, I think, be superfluous. The rest is of the same ilk as the passage we commented on and we have already shown that it makes explicit the construction of a false consensus by the journalist, which was implicit in the corpus commented on. I will simply end with the conclusion proposed by Seppi, which sums up the article well:

“Barded by his activism, the author of the column is the arbiter of elegance when it comes to the truth about the decline of biodiversity; rejects studies – which are themselves syntheses or meta-analyzes of studies (166 long-term studies with 1,676 sites in the case of van Klink et al., more than 5,300 time series for Crossley et al.) – because they do not support the “collapse” thesis; vituperates journals that published ecologically and politically incorrect articles.
And qualifies as “biodiversity-skepticism” which is nothing other than the scientific approach.”

Seppi, Le « biodiversité-scepticisme », la nouvelle trouvaille savonarolesque de M. Stéphane Foucart

Thus, S. Foucart takes advantage of the consensus invented by him and uses manipulation mechanisms to defend the total ban on NNIs and put pressure against the re-authorization of NNIs on beet (voted at the end of 2020).

Page bibliography:

  • Leung, B., Hargreaves, A.L., Greenberg, D.A., McGill, B., Dornelas, M., Freeman, R., 2020. Clustered versus catastrophic global vertebrate declines. Nature 588, 267–271.