Philosophical element added to periodic tables

March 3, 2000


Scientific and medical studies in France will gain an ethical dimension with the introduction of a compulsory course in the philosophy of science.

Education minister Claude Allegre has ordered that the module, generally to be taught by philosophers, must be incorporated into all science DEUG (diplome d'etudes universitaires generales) and engineering and medical schools' courses within the next three years.

Students taking master's and other postgraduate science degrees will have to attend a seminar delivered jointly by a philosopher and a scientist.

Mr Allegre's decision follows recommendations of an inquiry led by Dominique Lecourt, professor of philosophy at the University Denis Diderot in Paris.

Mr Allegre said: "We are in a period when science is advancing very rapidly. The interval between theoretical discovery and practical application is getting shorter, and the difference between basic science and applied science is blurring." It is necessary to train the minds of scientists, doctors and engineers "who do certain things without thinking about the consequences," he added.

The minister said five lecturers' or professors' posts a year for the next three years will be created and reserved for philosophy of science, and allocated according to the needs of higher education establishments. Science teachers will be able to take sabbatical years to work on dissertations about the philosophical aspects of their particular disciplines.

Mr Allegre also plans to promote the teaching of history of science at secondary school, as well as in higher education, to explain how past scientific discoveries were made.

He is setting up a new national research institute, to be based at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, which will coordinate and direct activities of the universities, engineering schools and medical faculties in the fields of philosophy of science and history of


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