On April 22nd, on the eve of the first round of the French presidential elections, an event brought together more than one million citizens worldwide.
In France, it was supported by more than forty scholarly societies, including the Académie des Sciences, dozens of universities, major French research organisations, elite scientists, teachers’ and scientific communication associations, and by major citizen associations.
This gathering, “the march for science”, had a simple objective: to express the attachment of our society to the value of the scientific approach and results, especially in the face of Mr. Trump’s obscurantism. Several thousands “walked” in this direction in over twenty French cities.
Mr. Macron, during your campaign, you yourself called for “walking for the sciences”, promised to “sanctuarize” the research budget, and “defend the knowledge, progress and values of the Enlightenment “. Now, we learnt that your government has decided to cut € 330 million in research and university funding.
You want to make France a “start-up nation”, the country of “innovation”, a refuge for foreign scientists. But you forget what is essential: no country can be that of innovation without investing or attaching a fundamental importance to the preservation and transmission of knowledge, which are the necessary conditions for discovery and critical thinking. By eliminating 330 million euros in research and higher education, you are sacrificing the potential of our country and the future of many students. In France, the universities’ financial situation is already catastrophic as was pointed out a few weeks ago by the national court of audit. Still, each year they recruit tens of thousands of additional students. In addition, more and more universities are adopting a “draw” system to choose between the already too numerous amounts of students. This budget reduction can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to sink French university education.
While you promise to “make our planet great again” by inviting US scientists at great expense, 88% of the projects submitted by French laboratories to The National Research Agency are rejected for lack of resources. Laboratories are, for many of them, unable to pay their bills and maintain their premises. Lastly, the number of teaching and research posts offered to young doctors has declined steadily over the last decade, which is not compensated by the low R & D recruitment of private companies despite the incentives of the expensive Research Tax Credit. The international scientists you invite will find on their arrival a scientific and human environment marked by unemployment and precariousness, very different from the one you promise them.
You, Mr. Macron, can choose to put an end to the sacrifice of talents and knowledge, committed for more than ten years in our country. That is why we, the organizers of the March for Science, professionals from the world of research, education and scientific mediation, ask you to reconsider this decision to remove 331 million euros. Otherwise, the short, medium, and long-term consequences for our country are likely to be dramatic.
Olivier Berné, Margaux Calon, Adrien Jeantet, Patrick Lemaire, Emmanuelle Perez, Arnaud Saint-Martin, initiators of the March for Science in France.
Text adapted to English by Robin Vigouroux (EuroScientist contributor, March for Science committee -France).
Original version published in Le Monde on July 26