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French boffins’ threat to quit over cuts

PARIS, Jan 11 (AFP) – More than 4,000 French scientists including the directors of some leading laboratories have signed a petition threatening to resign unless the government take steps to stem the decline in funding for their research, its organisers said Sunday.

“If the public authorities do not take stock of the seriousness of the situation and in particular the desperate plight of young scientists – which has become the central problem in our laboratories – then we the undersigned will present our collective resignation,” the petition reads.

Among the signatories feature Axel Kahn, director of the Cochin Institute in Paris, Jacques Samarut, director of the Rhones-Alpes Genopole research centre, and Genevieve Rougon, who directs the Biology Development Institute in Marseille.

The petitioners say the funding crisis has become acute after promised credits were frozen at the end of last year, forcing several projects to be put on hold, and the disappearance of more than 500 jobs. They warn that more scientists will be forced to go abroad for work.

“In spite of the official line which says that research is a national priority, the French government is well and truly shutting down the public research sector,” the petition reads.

France currently spends 2.13 percent of its domestic product on research, compared with 2.98 percent in Japan and 2.69 percent in the United States. President Jacques Chirac has said he wants to bring the figure up to three percent by 2010.

Former Socialist education minister Claude Allegre, a professor of earth sciences at Jussieu University in Paris, said he was himself considering leaving for the United States because of the lack of funds.

“I am seriously thinking about going to work in America. I’ll do it for at least six months a year. We can no longer do our jobs. I have to keep the young researchers at arm’s length. We have completely run out of money,” he said on France Inter radio.

Chirac’s minister for research, former astronaut Claudie Haignere, said the frozen credits would be paid this year and next, and pointed to a 3.9 percent increase in the research budget for 2004.

“A lot of people would like to give the impression that research is not the priority of a right-wing government. That is totally false,” she said.

                                Subject: France news