Readers respond

Let scientific debate take its course; French scientists respond to age limit for entry-level government jobs

By | October 5, 2005

Alison McCook, in Scientists protest Cell retraction, is right to point out that Cell's decision to retract a peer-reviewed and published article without telling the authors why it needed to be retracted or who had raised questions about the results is disturbing. According to the publisher's current Article Removal Policy, editors of Elsevier journals may retract "under the advice of members of the scholarly community" if they determine that there have been "infringements of professional or ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like." The reasons the journal has given for retraction ("there are concerns with the integration of the site sequence analyses") suggest that the problem with the article was purely scientific, and unrelated to violations of professional ethics. Why didn't Cell publish the critics' comments and invite rebuttal from Nitz and colleagues? Dialogue between experts, not suppression of information, is the normal mechanism for correcting the scientific record.

This is unfortunately not the first time an article has been retracted without the authors' consent, but it may be one of the first times authors have been flagrantly denied the right to resolve a scientific difference with their peers.

Karen Shashok

Granada, Spain

To the Editor:

We would first like to thank you for your article about the suppression of the age limit for CR2 (or entry-level) positions in French research institutions.

Nevertheless, we would like to correct your interpretation of the reaction of our organization, Sauvons la Recherche - Jeunes Chercheurs (SLR-JC), because of some incorrect statements and omissions that may significantly alter your readers' understanding of the French situation.

Besides, we would like you to publish our answer in The Scientist.

1.Reaction of SLR-JC.

We have since two years been demanding a profound reform of the current French researcher recruitment procedures.

One of our propositions, documented one year ago in the document for the "Etats Généraux de la recherche", was to replace the 31 year age limit by a limit determined only by professional experience. This limit would mainly, as Dr Chaouat states in your article, open French Research to candidates who have "not followed the [French] typical career route", and would prevent recruiting scientists with 10 years of experience at the beginning of the career scale (CR2).

Instead, France's current administration's decision to abolish the age limit unilaterally and without changing the candidate selection process will only clutter even more the centralized candidate selection process with the thousands of French young researchers looking forward to working in their home country, and who have yet to find a job position. Many French young researchers nowadays have no choice but working overseas or multiplying numerous successive short-term contracts. (Short-term contracts in the French society today unfortunately make you second-class citizens, with virtually impossible access to basic things such as house rental, real estate and credit and pension scheme.)

In addition, the administration's decision doesn't take into account the problem that older scientists accumulate mechanically more results over time, can show better track records, and thus are more likely to be successful than their younger colleagues with the current policy. By placing a limit to the amount of experience researchers can have accumulated before applying for CR2, the proposal of SLR-JC ensures that the procedure is also fair for younger scientists, and legitimates the existence of CR1 positions for researchers unable to apply for CR2.

Moreover, France like other western countries knows a worrying disaffection of scientific studies. In the actual knowledge economy, it is a major issue that will worsen because of the increase of the precarity length that could be avoided thanks to this experience limit that we propose.

2. CR1 (second-level) positions.

Surprisingly, your article fails to mention at all the existence of CR1 positions, which are permanent positions just like CR2 positions. It is therefore incorrect to imply that scientists above the age of 31 are condemned to short-term contracts.

CR1 positions are typically designed for older, more experienced scientists and have never been subjected to an age limit. In other words, while CR2 positions are directly aimed at recruiting young scientists, CR1 positions aim at recruiting more experienced researchers.

The consequence of abolishing the age limit for CR2 is therefore effectively putting an end to the possibility for younger scientists to enter the French research system, and not opening possibilities for more experienced scientists.

3. Number of open positions.

As an assessment of the impact of the measure, your article mentions figures that are actually representative of the situation before the recent change (provided by the CNRS). However, the reader can be mistakenly led to believe that these numbers actually reflect the current situation as a result of the new legislation. The new ratio of posts/candidates will not be known until next year.

Our aim is, on the one hand, to establish fair and open recruitment methods so that people with a different career path can be recruited independently of their age, on the basis of their research experience.

On the other hand, there is a need to preserve a track to recruit the best young scientists before their motivation is worn down by endless series of short term postdoctoral positions, which would undoubtedly be required to compete with more experienced scientists.

To summarize these remarks, the main goal of our organization for several years has been to obtain from France's government-run research organizations a genuine career development pathway, based on Human Resource Management, instead of the current system, unattractive and totally unadapted to today's challenges in the scientific world. The abolition of the age limit is a unique occasion to perform these profound structural changes.

The coordinators of SLR-JC

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