French science revolts on net

January 23, 2004

President Jacques Chirac's promise of a new national research programme and denials by prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin that research funding has decreased have failed to stem a revolt by French scientists.

Thousands of research workers have signed an internet petition threatening a collective boycott of administration duties if the gravity of the situation is not acknowledged, particularly by the government.

Alarm has been growing among researchers since 2003, when public research organisations, such as the multidisciplinary CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) and the health and medical research institute Inserm, faced severe budget cuts after freezes of 2002 funds.

Crisis was averted when research minister Claudie Haigneré lifted budgetary restrictions imposed by the finance ministry.

Now, despite a budget increase of 3.9 per cent over 2003, researchers have condemned the virtual stagnation in funding for the big research organisations, as well as the replacement of 550 tenured posts by limited contracts.

Last week, all 31 chairs and vice-chairs of the 16 scientific committees of Inserm sent an open letter to Mr Raffarin, Ms Haigneré and health minister Jean-Francois Mattei, expressing anxiety for the future of scientific research.

Bernard Larrouturou, director-general of the CNRS, said the centre would "avoid crisis" this year when €172 million (£119 million) dating from 2002 was unfrozen.

In his new year speech to the nation, President Chirac promised to give "impetus to the research and development effort".

Ms Haigneré met a delegation on Friday for discussions she described as "very positive". But the researchers said the minister had promised nothing concrete.

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