Call for more cooperation

November 10, 2000

French scientists say research must be far more interdisciplinary. Jane Marshall reports.

Public research in France must forsake its rigid compartmentalisation to become more multidisciplinary, the universities and public and private sectors should collaborate more, and the transfer of basic research to industrial innovation must be improved, say members of the French Academy of Sciences.

After two years of inquiries and consultations, the committee of eminent academics last week presented 12 reports covering 11 fields of science and technology to research minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg.

Areas to be investigated include genome and post-genome development and applications; animal and human physiologies and their integration; medicine; radiochemistry; analytical chemistry; nuclear materials; organised molecular systems; statistics; sciences of ultra-short times; plant science; and systematics.

These were chosen because they were emerging fields or because their progress had been blocked. A big obstacle identified in the committee's conclusions was the "European paradox" - high-quality basic research but very weak commercial application of that knowledge.

In future, multidisciplinarity will be the main challenge, the report says. "For half a century, public research has been formed of independent entities that have built up their own cultures, statutes and rules, which differ very much from each other."

The major research organisations, such as the National Centre of Scientific Research and Inserm (health and medical research), the universities and industry must cooperate under contracts specifying objectives, finance and methods of evaluation, the report says.

The academics say that any consideration of French research must include the "major asset of a scientific and technological European community", in which freely mobile researchers from different countries can collaborate.

They said the private sector should contribute more to achieving European Union research spending equal to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010.

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