French-election fears unite scientists in defence of liberal democracy

Posted In: News Date:Apr 18th, 2017

It is the strangest French presidential election that mathematician Cédric Villani can remember. “It has been like no other,” he says: “hectic, hysterical, and full of twists and turns”. With a few days left before Sunday’s first round of voting, any of four candidates could still reach next month’s second round, a head-to-head run-off between the leading pair. But with many voters undemuch could still change.

For scientists in France, the presidential contest is often a chance to debate research and science-related issues. When Nicolas Sarkozy was elected a decade ago, for example, university reforms and environmental policy featured prominently in the campaigns. But this time, science has barely been mentioned — elbowed out by political scandals and the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party.

Le Pen has dominated much of the discussion about the election — to the dismay of those who oppose her nativist and nationalistic policies. Critics say that Le Pen, and the co-opting by mainstream parties of many of her themes, poses a serious threat to the pluralism and values of France’s liberal democracy. As a consequence, many researchers in France have told Nature that they are less concerned, in this election, about candidates’ stances on scientific issues than they are about broader political issues, and that their focus is stopping Le Pen and the spread of her ideas.