Scientists make peace with the government, but turn on each other.

Scientists make peace with the government, but turn on each other.

The demands of over 3000 leading French researchers who resigned their positions in March look likely to be met following a French Cabinet re-shuffle, but rifts are beginning to emerge.

The main issue raised by the protesters was the threat of short-term, temporary research contracts over secure permanent positions, says Didier Chatenay, a research director at the country’s national research agency CNRS. That’s fine for post-docs, he says, but unacceptable for established researchers.

’The situation’s changed,’ he noted. ’We have a new minister for education and research.’

Chatenay, head of Strasbourg University’s Laboratory of Complex Fluid Dynamics, is a mouthpiece for the nationwide campaign Sauvons la Recherche (Let’s save research) formed in light of what many saw as a crisis facing French research (Chem. World, March 2004, p10).

New minister Fran?ois Fillon has met with Sauvons la Recherche representatives and assured them their problems will be addressed. ’Most of our demands have been met,’ a relieved Chatenay told Chemistry World. His and his colleagues’ resignations were not accepted by CNRS, so plans were underway to reaffirm their position.

He attributes the success to Sauvons la Recherche. ’If we hadn’t done anything, probably we wouldn’t have got anything.’

But the campaign wasn’t universally welcomed. Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn of the Universit? Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg neither signed the petition nor offered his resignation.

It would have been irresponsible in his position, he says. ’Of course we need some change in structure in our research organisation,’ he agrees, ’but not this way.’

Lehn, together with three other professors of the Coll?ge de France, put together a list of recommendations for reforming French research. Donner Un Nouvel Essor ? la Recherche Fran?aise (’Du Nerf, it means "have nerves"’, explains Lehn) is published by the Institut Pasteur.

Chatenay has little time for Du Nerf. ’Nobody cares about what they have proposed!’ he huffed. The document represents the views of only four researchers, he notes, arguing that Sauvons la Recherche is more democratic. ’We represent the whole community,’ he said.

Bea Perks