France's new prime minister, Lionel Jospin, announced today that his longtime science and education adviser, geochemist Claude Allegre, will become minister of science and education. French scientists hope that the upset victory last Sunday of France's Socialist Party will lead to better support for research.
Many French researchers had come to view the outgoing conservative government as hostile to basic science. During the tenure of the outgoing science minister, François d'Aubert, research was demoted to a subministry, for example. Researchers hope that Allegre will restore it to full ministerial status and shore up France's flagging research effort--especially by stepping up recruitment of young researchers to replace senior scientists facing retirement. "This is a real crisis," said one leading French scientist who asked not to be identified. "We are in danger of losing a whole generation of researchers." Allegre, a scientist at the Institute of the Physics of the Globe in Paris, himself has also recently stressed the importance of beefing up research at universities.
But others caution that the new government may not have the means to give more than a limited boost to research. "There will be the same economic problems as before," says AIDS researcher Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. At the same time, adds Montagnier, who a few months ago accused the conservative government of "holding researchers in contempt": "We are hoping for somewhat less contempt from the new government."