Research (Mis)Management in France

LA RECHERCHE MAL MENEE (Research Misled.) Pierre Piganiol, Editions Larousse. Pals, 1987 288 pp. Fr 69 The Creativity of French research is on the decline. State-supported research is too isolated from industry, too centralized and often “functionnalized,” to the extent that researchers are discouraged from physical as well as intellectual mobility. The most prestigious engineering schools have not given enough importance to research, but often serve as stepladders for students to

Jan 25, 1988
Alexander Dorozynski
LA RECHERCHE MAL
MENEE

(Research Misled.) Pierre Piganiol, Editions Larousse. Pals, 1987 288 pp. Fr 69

The Creativity of French research is on the decline. State-supported research is too isolated from industry, too centralized and often “functionnalized,” to the extent that researchers are discouraged from physical as well as intellectual mobility. The most prestigious engineering schools have not given enough importance to research, but often serve as stepladders for students to reach the exalted status of technical adminstrators. By then, however, most are lost to individual research and innovation. University administrators tend to he authoritarian, and the traditional mistrust in “profit” and “business” is still rampant. Moreover, state-supported research has been subjected in recent years to the inconsistent whims of political leaders. The consequence of all this is a technological lag, hence a loss of competitiveness of French industry.

Few people are in a better position to offer this diagnosis than chemist Pierre Piganiol, who was the first delegate general for scientific and technological research under de Gaulle; director of research at St. Gohain, the glass and chemical concern; and science advisor to a number of industries and the Spanish government. His book is timely, well-informed and packed with facts and figures; it could serve as a useful guide to politicians and administrators engaged in an electoral battle that soon will culminmate in presidential elections.

Yet, one may wonder whether it will serve any such purpose. Politicians and administrators are aware of most of the shortcomings of research policies. Policy decisions are often misguided by electoral concerns, and thus appear to be incoherent, inefficient and, worse, suspect. How can you claim to improve the mobility of researchers by turning them into civil servants, as had been suggested from the left, or dissolve the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique to increase the efficacy of the university, as has been threatened from the right?

The result—as the Organization for Economic and Community Development points out in an analysis of innovation in France—is a “brilliant facade” hiding a “decline of industrial creativity.”

This situation, says Piganiol is improving slowly, if at all. It is feared that much of the government’s research budget will be’ drawn toward a few spectacular projects. For instance, France has agreed to finance about a third of the space projects approved recently by the European Space Agency and expected to cost over $13 billion by the end of the century. This boon for space researchers and industrialists is a cause for concern in other sectors, as such a huge investment may distract people as well as money from existing research progrsms.

One encouraging sign is that industry’s research effort has been steadily increasing, by a hefty 6.5 percent a year during the past few years. Industry now covers about 44 percent of the national research expenditures; ideally, says, Piganiol, its share should reach 55 to 60 percent. a level that will ensure a smooth flow between it and academia.

Also, adds Piganiol, the time has come to Europeanize research. Barriers must crumble, research centers, laboratories and equipment of European interest must be identified and “federalized,” public works must be harmonized, conditions must be created for researchers to move not only within but out of our hexagon. This, he recognizes, is not easy in a country where most researchers are servants with ironclad job security But solutions must be found.

La Recherche Mal Menée packed with facts, figures, examples and comparisons to other industrial countries. The language is simple and straightforward, and will be no obstacle to readers willing to practice their French while learning a few things about mis-managing research.


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(The Scientist, Vol:2, #2, p.21, January 25, 1988)
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