Tuesday, July 27, 2010

French President Sarkozy Speech in Support of Basic Research

[September 2010 Note: I am appalled but what President Sarkozy has done of late regarding the Roma People, but I am leaving up my positive impressions of him from this summer on the narrow issue of science funding]

I am attending the International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) in Paris. I'll write a subsequent post about the science. But first, in a perhaps unprecedented move, a head of state for major country has chosen to address a physics conference. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic of France, gave an impressive impassioned visionary speech to a skeptical audience of particle physicists. He won us over.

The speech lasted perhaps 1/2hr, and was constructed specifically for the assembled audience. No doubt he can use elements in other speeches, but most of it was really directed at us. He said that some of his friends asked why he would give such a speech to "those people", and the content of his speech was a ringing answer. He highlighted the need for basic research, especially in a world where fundamentalism and economic conditions threaten it. He stressed the need for politicians, such as himself, to work actively to support science. And he talked about the role basic research plays in future innovation, saying something like "you can't build a lightbulb by successive improvements to the candle". Finally, he called upon us to convey what we know to the public.

The speech was also remarkable for it humility and for its grasp of the topic of the conference, which really is, in some sense, an attempt to understand the very small in order to understand the very large.

So to President Sarkozy and his staff, all I have to say is, "Merci beaucoup".

UPDATE: Here is a page devoted to the speech with video and full text in French and English.

[photo: Mike Paterson, from the only other hint I have seen of the speech on the web thus far: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/jul/27/sarkozy-high-energy-physicists-ichep]