Nicolas Sarkozy has delivered a rousing speech to particle physicists at the ICHEP conference in physics. He talked of the need to ask fundamental questions in science and to continue focusing on long-term projects without letting any short-term crisis get in the way. While other countries have been tempted to reduce spending on science because of economic concerns he said that France has increased funding because they believe that science and technology is the solution to exit the credit crunch.
Sarkozy spoke of science in France with particular emphasis on Saclay who will benefit from a billion Euro investment. Then he turned to the international collaborations such as CERN saying that these were the future direction for physics.
He ended his address by saying that some people wondered why he would appear at a physics conference when there are so many political issues to concern him, but he says that nothing could be more important than international science and he need make no apologies for being there.
Of course there is a big practical reason why he wanted to talk to the physicists. The next collider project – the International Linear Collider – is now at a critical stage of planning. The big question for the politicians is where will it be located? CERN is an obvious candidate but it could just as easily be built in the US or Japan. The Large Hadron Collider could run for several decades and will keep the CERN site busy. The ITER international fusion project is already under construction in France. The politicians from the US and Japan will therefore argue that the ILC should go elsewhere. By addressing ICHEP, Sarkozy is showing the physicists that the government of France understands their goals and needs and is investing in science while other governments cut back. He knows that many physicists at the conference will be key in arguing the scientific case for where the ILC will be situated. His speech was designed to win their hearts and minds to clinch the case for building the ILC at CERN.
His 40 minute speech was greeted with a standing ovation from the 1000 physicists who packed the Palais of Congress to hear him talk in between reports on progress in particle physics around the world.
Update: It’s interesting to see the press reaction to Sarkozy’s address, or rather the lack of it. There have been very few reports, especially outside France. The Gardian blog has a report by Jon Butterworth describing the speech as enlightening. “I wish we heard more of that in the UK” he says. As a UK resident I share the sentiment. During the recent general election I spoke to our local conservative MP who canvassed at my door. “Why are there so many cutbacks in science?” I asked. I was hoping he would criticise the labour government who were making the cuts. “We need the cuts because there is a credit crunch” he said. But you cant just stop and start science, it is a long term enterprise, and furthermore science and technology is the bext hope for getting out of the crisis, especially in the UK where we have very little heavy industry, agriculture or natural resources to export. Should we just rely on the banking sector to recover and pull use out of the crunch, or should be build up our technological exports?
The logic was lost on my conservative MP who was duly elected into office despite my vote. Yesterday Sarkozy seemed to understand better, but what do the French think? Le Monde reports it without much comment, but at least one French science blog has a different perspective pointing to cuts at the CNRS and describing the speech as propaganda. I guess the address was not directed at them.