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Those Crazy French February 28, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in France, politics.

Ok. We are used to politicians saying crazy things. Science, however, is rarely a direct target of a high level politician – like a president. Not so in France. Sarkozy recently gave a speech about science. He pissed off a few scientists (to put it mildly). Someone right away posted a YouTube parody of the speech, which I’ve linked below. It is like a French version of the Daily show:

What is amazing is he seems to imply the most scientists at the various national labs just show up because they get a pay check. Having worked for a year at CPPM, one of their national labs, I find this statement incredible. Of course, the French national scientists didn’t use the word “incroyable”!! His specific remedy reminds me of the mantra during the Bush years: evaluation evaluation evaluation. So… how do do you evaluate researchers? According to Sarkozy we really don’t have a way.

Riiiight… isn’t that what peer review is all about? Oh wait, he does address that. What a cushy job, he says, we all evaluate each other and give each other passing grades, and kick back and suck down a Pastis. I’d like to see him go through a habilitation! Or perhaps the jury for getting a position in CNRS (the main funding agency for national research laboratories in France). And he quickly dismisses the fact that France has its share of Nobel prizes. If that isn’t external evaluation, I don’t know what is!!

But I do like the way the scientists decided to try to protest this. According to the Nature science blog (and I hear the same thing from friends of mine):

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.”

The beauty behind this act is that by law the French post must transport any letter mailed to the President for free! I hope Sarkozy reconsiders or at least gets some scientists to advise him soon! A few months ago I would have just shook my head and thought “another country has to suffer”… but I’d like to think it is a new day here in the USA.

Another thing to watch in that video – notice how he gives the speech. Someone who gave regular speeches like that would never get elected in the USA (“because the lights are on!?”)! Thanks to my friend Laurent who pointed me to the YouTube video and Nature blog entry.



1. Kevin - February 28, 2009

I don’t know, I was in a CNRS lab for postdoc–a good one. I can see Sarko’s point that there really isn’t much accountability. I worked weekends, and I never saw anyone (there were probably 1000 researchers where I was). The permanent researchers did not need to teach or write grant proposals. I have five grad students three undrgrads and a postdoc in my group now, they had 11 students spread over about 12 permanent staff. There is no comparison between what I experienced there and what goes on at major American universities. I hope for their sake that they don’t try to emulate our system.

2. gordonwatts - March 1, 2009

Wow Kevin – I have to say that the people I worked with frequently work on weekends – at least as much as those that do here at UW. I wonder which is the exception?

3. dorigo - March 5, 2009

Hi Gordon,

thanks for posting this enlightening video!

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