Let Them Debate!

Like outlaws itching for a showdown with the sheriff, angry French scientists have been gunning for research minister Claude Allègre ever since he proposed controversial reforms of the nation's research agencies last year (Science, 23 October 1998, p. 607). Allègre has spurned scientists' demands for a formal national debate on the future of French science. Now, the scientists are plotting the next stage of their insurgency.

Last week, presidents of the 40 sections within CNRS, France's basic research agency, and other science VIPs issued a communiqué insisting that "the circumstances demand" a national debate. The research ministry's answer came swiftly: Non. Instead, the ministry wants to continue ongoing discussions of Allègre's plans within its science agencies. "We don't believe a national debate is the best solution," says the ministry's director-general for research, Vincent Courtillot.

The next move is up to the scientists, who have already shown some fighting spirit. "We all agree changes are necessary, but there is no reason not to [debate]," says neurophysiologist Rose Katz, president of the French biomedical agency INSERM's scientific council. CNRS historian Denis Peschanski vows that his colleagues will organize a national debate--"with the agreement of the minister or without it."