A fortnight ago Virginie Tournay, of CEVIPOF, a scientific research institute at the famous Science Po [Paris Institute of Political Studies] published the following article on her Huffingtonpost blog “Reconquering scientific culture” . A week later, the Science Technologies Action group ,published an article on the website of the business newspaper Les Echos entitled : “Don’t give up on science!” Each of these two texts was signed by forty opinion leaders: scientists, heads of laboratories, academics, politicians close to the scientific community … It’s worth noting that the authors were from both public and private sectors. While the style of the two texts is very different, they both refer to the same piece of legislation “A Resolution on National Science and Progress“, which was tabled on February 21st, 2017, at the initiative of Bernard Accoyer (LR) and Jean-Yves Le Déaut (PS). To summarise the text: it starts with the principle that: “France, heir to a long scientific, rationalist and Enlightenment tradition, has always stood for progress and the ideals of science at the service of humanity” and that, as stated in a 2016 UNESCO report, “Science, technology and innovation have game-changing abilities to address virtually all of the world’s most pressing challenges.” Also, rather worryingly, “Partisan or even sectarian discourse, based on a growing mistrust of scientific expertise are mounting a serious challenge to the spirit of the Enlightenment by attacking the very rules on which the institutionalisation of science is based.” On the basis of this observation, “The National Assembly and the Senate desire that the action and decisions of Parliament should be informed by awareness of the consequences of decisions of a scientific and technological nature, set out in ten points: science is a vector of innovation; science education should be strengthened and the government should ensure that it is taught in schools; there needs to be more interaction between science and humanities courses in the school and university curricula; the section of the philosophy curriculum devoted to science should be expanded; we should take more account of the Scientific Academies, enhance the communication process in the context of debate on the subject of risk-benefit analysis; public service broadcasting should increase the amount of scientific programming; it is important to think more about the sensible use of digital technologies; lastly, it is essential to take more notice of the studies and reports from the OPECST (Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices), which is the main organisation behind this resolution.”
A year later, 80 French scientists issued two petitions to parliament to alert policymakers to the fact that, not only had this legislation gone unnoticed, the points it raised seemed to have gone nowhere. Worse still, it seems that the media are increasingly giving credence to the “enemies of science”. As Virginie Tournay reminds us, despite the inclusion of the precautionary principle in the Constitution now being accepted “this unfortunately goes hand in hand with an omnipresent precautionary populism – to quote sociologist Gérald Bronner. (…) Precaution does not mean resistance to change, rather it aims to protect the health of people and the environment. Routinely prohibiting people from using vaccines, pharmaceuticals, microwaves, electricity meters, red meat, fertilisers, gluten, weather satellites and telecommunication tools would certainly have more negative than positive effects and would therefore represent a serious attack on the spirit of the constitution. As a result, it is essential to learn to distinguish between the real effects of an action, and that which is drawn from urban myth.” As for the Science Technologies Action group, it summarised the resolution’s findings as “scientific expertise is not sufficiently taken into account in the political decision-making process” and gives examples. Whether it is a question of Glyphosate, GMO, nuclear technology or endocrine disruptors, the authors make no bones about pointing out that “France is cutting itself off”, “The government does not trust its own new product approval committees”, “The public decision-makers are aligning themselves with the scare-mongers” or “Political horse trading takes place at the expense of technology”, and to emphasise their exasperation: “We are dismayed that the complex issue of “endocrine disruptors” became a matter for electoral point-scoring, that a government would take a position based on a phobia of “chemicals”, that basic sub-soil exploration for hydrocarbons is banned, that a relay-antenna installation can be banned as a result of misinformation, etc. . (….) The ‘post-truth’ discourse has gained ground in the scientific and technical fields.” In conclusion, the signatories call upon the government to implement the principles of the resolution but also called upon “scientists, engineers, technicians, intellectuals, farmers and all citizens” to unite with the aim of “helping to put rational scientific arguments back at the heart of the political decision-making process.”
To date, this type of engagement seems unique to France, so it will be interesting to see what becomes of it, and if it is likely to be emulated by scientists from other countries of the Union. On the other hand, do they need to resort to this kind of action and send out communications of this nature? Or is this also unique to France?
Because the fundamental question that arises here is whether it is a pointless exercise trying to raise awareness of scientific issues amongst politicians. Are politicians never able to hear the truth of scientific issues and if so why not? Theories on this subject are rife and we will have many opportunities to return to it. Let’s finish on a minor note of hope. Although groups of opponents have been highly critical of it, the Linky meter, a smart meter from French energy distributor Enedis has just received the support of 26 parliamentary deputies who signed a petition in the newspaper Le Monde … An example of how when politicians take the time to listen to scientists, things can happen differently.
 As a reminder, France is the only country in the world to have included the precautionary principle in its constitution (see our editorial on the subject Precautionary principle, Principe de précaution, Vorsorgeprinzip
 They are specifically critical of the level of waves emissions from the system, although it emits no more waves than a television or a cathode ray screen.
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