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Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the National Front, celebrating results from the first election round on 23 April.

Charles Platiau/REUTERS

Marine Le Pen is a ‘terrible danger,’ French research leaders say

The French science and higher education community appears virtually united in its opposition against Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who could become France’s next president during the second round of elections on 7 May. In an unprecedented letter issued yesterday, the directors of nine major public research institutes describe Le Pen’s candidacy as a “terrible danger” and call on voters not to support her.

“The program of Ms Le Pen promises recession and decline on all fronts: economic, social, and of course scientific,” the nine say in the statement, which was sent to French news agency AFP yesterday. Among the signatories are the directors of the national research agency CNRS, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, and the National Institute for Agricultural Research.

Le Pen, the candidate of the National Front, won 21.3% of the vote in the first round on 23 April, slightly less than political newcomer and pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron, who got 24%. (France’s traditional parties all did worse, as did a far-left candidate.) Macron and Le Pen have sketchy programs on science, but their world views could not be farther apart. Le Pen’s proposals to curtail immigration and take France out of European treaties are very unpopular in academic circles.

“French science … would not survive a withdrawal behind our frontiers and restrictions to the circulation of brains and ideas. On an endless number of topics, [including] migration, health, the environment, and even the history of our country, the ideas disseminated by the National Front are in open contradiction with undeniable evidence established by research and with the necessary autonomy of the scientific community,” the institute directors write in their statement, which does not explicitly endorse Macron.

Others have sounded the alarm as well. On Tuesday, the Conference of University Presidents called for a vote “against the extremism” of Le Pen’s candidacy, and defended “the values of universality, tolerance, and openness to others.” Several university presidents have encouraged their staff and students to vote against Le Pen, newspaper Le Monde writes today; on Wednesday, the paper reported that four historians and social scientists supported Macron.

Opinion polls currently give Macron a clear but decreasing advantage. But there is a chance that abstention by disgruntled voters could tilt the results in Le Pen’s favor, physicist and CNRS researcher Serge Galam in Paris-who predicted Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump-warned in an interview with Le Point on Wednesday. The nine institute directors agree. “The 7 May election is not a foregone conclusion,” they write.