Les Scientifiques français invitent à voter Royal

Publié le par LV

French scientists urged to vote Royal
Science activist group says presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy will not ease the current crisis in the French research system

A French science group is exhorting researchers and the public to vote for Ségolène Royal during this week's Presidential election. They argue her opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy -- who leads Royal in the polls -- will draw funds away from basic research, turning the system into a tool to reach the country's short-term economic objectives.

"Sarkozy's plan will divert science from its fundamental goal, which is the disinterested improvement of wide-scale knowledge. We are afraid his system will sacrifice entire disciplines that are not considered useful," mathematician Bertrand Monthubert, president of the association Save the Research (SLR), told a press conference yesterday (April 30). "On Sunday, researchers will have to use their ballot papers to save our research system."

This week, French citizens will vote in the second round of elections, between the two most popular candidates. Sarkozy dominated the first round with more than 30 percent of the votes, leading left-wing candidate Ségolène Royal by five points.

This has many scientists concerned, since they believe Sarkozy's program will exacerbate problems in the already-troubled research system.

As early as 2003, researchers and the government started discussing ways to mend an under-staffed and under-funded system. In response, Chirac's government established new evaluation and funding entities that support projects that meet the government's strategic goals, such as increasing patents and boosting France's international standing. This system has diminished the authority of traditional research funding organizations, which are less subject to the government's short-term economic objectives. Many in the scientific community argue that the new system favors applied research over basic studies, and have taken to the streets on several occasions.

Both candidates have placed research at the top of their list of priorities, promising to inject more funds into the system. However, scientists are concerned that Sarkozy will not allocate enough of that increase to basic research. His involvement with the current system -- he was minister of finance during the troubled reform period, and is the interior minister of Chirac's government -- suggests he will not make the changes scientists have requested, said Alain Fischer, head of the Pediatric Immunology Department at Necker University in Paris.

Sarkozy has proposed remedies to change the system, but scientists are not pleased with his ideas. Looking to "the Anglosaxon model," he intends to increase competition between laboratories, supporting projects based on merit, further decreasing the role of traditional funding agencies. While this system has proved successful in most leading countries, the researchers who gathered yesterday say it won't work in France, where, for instance, there are fewer sources of funding to compete over than in other countries such as the US.

Royal has suggested reinforcing the role of traditional funding agencies, "which are central to the French system," she wrote in a letter to SLR. She also plans to revert some of the Chirac government's recent reforms that angered researchers. "If you're not voting for Royal, it's at least important to vote against Sarkozy," said André Brahic, an astrophysicist at the French Atomic Energy Commission.

Clementine Wallace

Links for this article:

Bertrand Monthubert

Save the Research - Savons la Recherche

C. Wallace, "French government approves research bill," The Scientist, December 5, 2005

J. Burgermeister, "8000 scientists protest," The Scientist, March 10, 2005

Alain Fischer

National Reaseach Agency

Candidates letters to SLR

André Brahic

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