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Entente pas cordiale - The Great Beyond, Nature-blog, 5 février 2009

vendredi 13 février 2009, par Laurence

ntente pas cordiale - February 05, 2009

Posted for Declan Butler
Pour lire ce texte sur le blog de "Nature"

French researchers have replied with a 5-minute video rebuke to a fiery speech by Nicolas Sarkozy where the French president chastised at length the country’s scientists.

As described in an Editorial in this week’s Nature – “No time for rhetoric” – “Sarkozy lambasted the country’s university system as “"infantilizing" and "paralysing for creativity and innovation," and implied that French researchers were fainéants (layabouts) with cushy jobs, and no match for their supposedly more industrious British counterparts.” (See also “French scientists revolt against government reforms”.)

The 5-minute video sets excerpts of Sarkozy’s speech to a jaunty tune and contests his assertions about the performance of French researchers using science indicators spliced in showing that French research is not in such an apocalyptic state as the president infers. I’ve made a similar point in an article published in 2007 – “French election : Is French science in decline...”

To get more details about the video, see this post by my confrère Sylvestre Huet – a journalist at the French newspaper Libération, on his excellent blog Sciences2. The video was posted yesterday and has already attracted almost 50,000 views, a number that is growing by the hour.

Meanwhile “Let’s save research,” a grassroots organization of French researchers, called 1 Feb for researchers to protest Sarkozy’s assertions about French scientists not being productive, by inundating the Elysée president palace with mailed copies of their most recent articles to “improve his understanding of French scientific productivity.”

In a more sober protest at Sarkozy’s speech, the scientific board of the CNRS, the largest basic research agency in Europe, 27 January, said it joined the “strong emotion of researchers that has been provoked by the speech of the President of the Republic,” and was “outraged by the pronouncing of manifest untruths, that drew on partial elements and errors about French research.” The board expressed its “profound disapproval” of what it described as a “provocation”.

Sarkozy should perhaps take a leaf out of Obama’s oratory textbook – here’s a president who clearly knows how to rub researchers up the right way, and get the eyes moist at the lab bench. French researchers can only dream of hearing words from Sarkozy such as those of Obama’s 17 December speech where he wooed researchers thus :

Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone. From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way : leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible ; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Oui, “words do matter.”