Tough economic times are squeezing university budgets in Europe, creating tension between sceintists and their governments.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is unhappy with French scientists. In a recent speech
Sarkozy lambasted the [French] research system as "infantilizing and paralyzing," argued that French scientists aren't productive enough, and announced that after decades of failed attempts at change, radical reforms are now his government's top priority. "The forces of conservatism and immobilism have always triumphed," he said, "and that has to stop."
French scientists responded predictably. "Incensed by a provocative policy speech … France’s researchers’ unions have threatened to go on strike indefinitely starting 2 February. Despite the warning, the government says it plans to forge ahead with the science and higher education reforms that have led to this war of wills."
Because what better way is there to convince people that researchers are really "productive enough," and not committed to "immobilism," than to go on strike?
But those French scientists better watch out. "In a move that has drawn international protests, Leiden University in the Netherlands has responded to governmental budget cuts by firing a group of tenured evolutionary biology researchers." I bet Sarkozy could bring in some Dutch scabs to take over for striking French scientists.
I've heard that Sarkozy has also slashed secondary science education over there.
The French president is trying to solve two problems of French science, while facing today over a million French people furious both because of economic reasons and his personal style. In science, like other presidents before, Mr Sarkozy does not see the link between fundamental and applied research. If everything was applied, wouldn't we make more money? Somebody should tell him that without Galileo, we would not have satellites. Now the problems:
1) There is some research in the universities with very little money separated from a "pure research" corps without good access to students. It is not quite satisfactory, as scientists need both students and research money. In the US, most research bodies have a specific aim, in France the different corps mostly do everything and compete with each other. Reforms are difficult because each body has different modes of career advancement,salary scales, heavy hierarchy and often political allies.
2) like other presidents before, Mr Sarkozy thinks that re-organizing science will end up in more applied science and more "inventions". In fact, the French always have had a high number of patents, but French industrialists and bankers dislike new projects, contrary to the US where new ideas are more appreciated. A number of very good French scientists work in the US for that reason.
ARGH! I swear I remember seeing almost this precise situation in an article at The Onion, but now I can't find it.
(The gist of the article being all of France threatening to go on strike to protest the government's inability to do something about falling productivity...)
Â« Because what better way is there to convince people that researchers are really "productive enough," and not committed to "immobilism," than to go on strike? Â»
productivity = output Ã· cost
In a strike, output is 0 but so is cost, therefore productivity is undefined.
Anyway, we French people are usually very sympathetic with people on strike. Even when the right wingers try to prop up angry customers, protesters usually have 60% favorable opinion. When scientists go on strike, you can expect even more, and since it's Sarkozy being his usual douchebag, even more yet.
So it all boils down to who the people to convince you mention are. If that's the general public, they will support scientists overwhelmingly. If that's the right wing douches currently in office, probably not, but some of them might start to feel the heat and disassociate themselves from NabolÃ©on. In any case, European parliament elections are coming up, and this doesn't bode well for the rightwingers, hopefully.