Is it a way of reconciling politicians and scientists, or just another advisory body? A new "Presidential Council for Science" was officially installed on Thursday, December 7 by Emmanuel Macron. His entourage promised this week "a consultation structure to enlighten him, help him project himself and choose the right directions in terms of public policies on the subject".
This new committee is composed of twelve members, seven men and five women. The group met for the first time on Thursday morning, on the sidelines of the Head of State's speech on research. "They are fascinating people and I had a lot of fun talking to each and every one of them," says mathematics and computer science researcher Claire Mathieu, one of the twelve people nominated.
All of them are reputable experts in their specialty. It includes oncologist Fabrice André, director of research at Gustave Roussy since 2020. Another doctor was chosen: ophthalmologist José-Alain Sahel, who was awarded the CNRS Innovation Medal in 2012. They are accompanied by two mathematics specialists: Claire Mathieu, director of research at the CNRS and silver medal winner of the centre in 2019, and Hugo Duminil-Copin, winner of the 2022 Fields Medal.
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Physics is represented by Pascale Senellart, Professor of Quantum Mechanics at École Polytechnique, and Alain Aspect, Nobel Prize in Physics in 2022. Two seats are occupied by two researchers in the environmental field: microbiologist Aude Bernheim, winner of the Collège de France prize for young researchers for its first edition in 2022, and ecologist Sandra Lavorel, CNRS gold medal winner in 2023.
The advisory body also includes an economist (Jean Tirole, Nobel Prize 2014), a historian (Lucien Bély, president of the Association of Modernist Historians of French Universities and member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences), a sociologist (Pierre-Paul Zalio, CNRS bronze medalist in 2003) and a philosopher (Claudine Tiercelin, professor at the Collège de France). All of them participate on a voluntary basis.
The risk of "appearing as a scientific endorsement"
What will this Presidential Council of Science really be for? In particular, Emmanuel Macron evoked the possibility of "saying what is going well or not, seeing the emergences to be considered, alerting on dysfunctions, building new projects... The group should talk to him "at least once a quarter." It will also have to coexist with the many other consultative structures. These include the Committee for the Monitoring and Anticipation of Health Risks (COVARS) and the High Council for Climate (HCC).
Emmanuel Macron announces the creation of a presidential science council pic.twitter.com/dw9y020ISH
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) December 7, 2023
"There is a sense of mistrust between the political and scientific worlds, so if I can bring a little science to the Élysée, it would be with pleasure! I was told that it was to talk about science, not science policy, and that it would not be a question of endorsing the president's political choices," says Claire Mathieu.
In recent years, the researcher has never hidden her disagreements with the government on various issues, such as pension reform, on social media. "One of my fears is to appear as a scientific endorsement," she continues, although enthusiastic, she is still "waiting".