THE POINT OF VIEW OF FRENCH
The point of view of french citizens, interviewed privately
and within a professional context
... INTERVIEWED PRIVATELY
In April 1992, forty copies of this "Story of biology" were given to people of all ages and all backgrounds. They were asked to read this story as a voluntary act and state whether, in their opinion, it was information, disinformation or they did not know…, it being understood that any more detailed comments would be welcome. They were also requested, still voluntarily, to give this story to any of their friends and colleagues who might be interested.
About 250 people eventually studied this document more or less carefully…, 250 volunteers who reacted as follows:
|Refuse to reply
Apart from the "slightly more detailed" comments which some of these first readers made and which have been reported in full, two facts are worthy of note here:
- First of all a remark made by a bank branch manager whose employees had all given their opinion (7 information, 7 disinformation, 4 don't knows): "All things considered nobody really found anything surprising in this document apart from the contents of paragraph 13: Why was the researcher fired?
- Then, the fact that 66% of those interviewed, although they had studied the file (they kept it about a week on average), finally refused to give an opinion. The hardest part was over for them; they only had to tick a box and give their first name, age and profession. Why?
WITHIN A PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT
Twenty copies of this same story were also sent to various renowned scientists, journalists, members of associations and politicians (with acknowledgement of receipt for the INRA Director and the Minister of Agriculture), asking them to approach the relevant authorities to verify the accuracy of the facts reported and, if it was really information, to take appropriate steps. Result: one reply from the ARC (cancer research association), which was unable to take action since its policy is to have confidence in the scientists with whom it works.
TO EACH HIS SHARE OF THE "TRUTH"
Sophie, age 23, accountant (ex-medical student)
Disinformation: What does de Gaulle have to do with this? Leave this great man where he is! I find this document to be totally false. You must be sick, or schizophrenic, or disappointed in biology. This document is an insult to biology.
Marie-Françoise, age 53, paediatrician
Retro-info! Systemic/oncogene! It's been common knowledge since then
Sylvain, age 45, dentist
Disinformation. The role of hormones is not so poorly known.
Yann, age 25, educator
Disinformation, intended to test how far people can be influenced in a field they know nothing about, or very little.
Lamine, age 25, student
I think it's disinformation, but that's a personal opinion. It would be good if scientists would explain their positions on the subject.
Bernard, age 49, teacher
I admit to almost total incompetence in biology, but fairly good knowledge of international maths research. On the basis of this experience I find it hard to imagine the story told in this paper. I agree that a good idea can be concealed for a while by a hierarchical superior, or an entire School (French for example), but it seems impossible that it could be ignored for twenty years by the whole international community. Good ideas are so rare that they cannot escape the attention of serious researchers, even (I should say, above all) if they go against the current flow of accepted ideas. A researcher's attitude is precisely to call into question theories which are known to be inaccurate and closer to the truth… To conclude, and based on what I know about how research works, I would say that the ideas put forward in this paper are either false or of very little interest.
Geneviève, age 40, secretary
I don't know. If you aren't an expert in the subject you end up in a grey area of "info/disinfo". Text a bit too specifically oriented (Gaullist).
Claude, age 55, teacher
I have neither the expertise nor the information necessary to allow me to judge the accuracy of the "facts" mentioned. Several aspects of the way in which it is expressed and formulated raise doubts in my mind about this text, however.
The title indicates a general, ambitious type of information which doesn't appear in the text. The term "Story" should at least have been replaced by "a story of…, an anecdote concerning…"
Paragraphs 1 to 5 state "truths" or "absolutes" which can be accepted or refused depending on the state of one's knowledge. In any case, stated so baldly, they seem to me to be unacceptable. To limit the objectives of biology so peremptorily seems to me abusive and running contrary to the spirit of research. Science is an evolving field, particularly biology, the science of life. What links 5 and 6?
Paragraphs 6 to 10 open and close on a demand made by General de Gaulle. In the end, we should remember the providential man (the circumstances of the event, as close to a coup d'état as to falling in love, are not evoked. He simply had to appear…) to find 10 years later that the number of INRA researchers had tripled, 7 years later (such convenient figures!), 3 researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize to bring French researchers to the top of their field. What links 10 and 11?
Paragraphs 11 to 15. The great man is gone. Researchers face the incomprehension of… of who actually? Who are these decision makers who were not part of the movement launched by the General? I am not going to break down the hotchpotch of ideas which the authors delight in so much, nor what is not said, what is not clear, what is gobbledygook. You just have to continue in this way to end up with written information reduced to level of television news: you don't give information, you attribute it, you pass and, why not, you vote! And that's when the trouble starts!
One last word (teacher's word): match what you have to say to the way in which you say it. This is something you have to do if you are to be taken seriously. Please excuse the absence of "forms". I am not competent to discuss the facts. As stated, they give rise to doubt and even incomprehension. What is your intention?
Mrs Ines, age 37, extra-lucid psychic
I don't know but I would like to… What is so disturbing about the idea that balance and regulation can be two aspects of the same problem, that good civil servants go off the rails to the point where they can no longer differentiate between a reason for promotion and reason for dismissal? And why didn't the dismissed researcher contest this decision? Really, I would like to know a bit more!
Abel, age 50, physiotherapist
I don't know. Memo to be sent to the accused scientists.
Juliette, age 42, housewife and mother
I don't know. What I do know is that if this story is true, it's a real thorn in the flesh. We won't be finding this in our History books in the near future. It should be published as a science-fiction novel.
Isabelle, age 28, educator
Probably info with all this data it gives. But what is the purpose? I find it hard to see where this document is going?
Anne-Claire, age 20, 4th year medical student
I went to my books where I thought I would find some ideas on the regulation of cell activity and its relations with the various enzyme and hormone balances, all linked to ideas of health and disease. I thought I would find loads of information. I realised that:
- I had heard about very specific ideas: in cell biology (in mitoses, DNA replication, why, how and which factors are involved), in biochemistry (study of enzymes which regulate various types of cell syntheses, protein, glucidic, hormonal and their direct interest in pathology), in genetics (the teacher dealing with different theories of evolution: Darwinian, Cartesian).
- that the first impression of considering ideas of cell regulation, health and disease as relatively familiar is doubtless due to a kind of synthesis (or rather mixture) I made in my head from all these facts…
Finally, I realised that I have never actually heard what health or disease are. We are given symptoms of diseases, the standard treatment, factors which promote them, pathogenic mechanisms (when they are known), but the question of: why health? why sickness? what is the basic mechanism? is never brought up. It's true that, in the end, the question is still fuzzy. Health? Sickness? that's the question! … Is it Info?
Vincent, age 26, engineer
Info. It's not the first time and certainly not the last, that an interesting idea is pushed aside for extra-scientific reasons.
Bernard, age 49, technician
A well dosed mixture of political and scientific information, concerning a past time for which the author seems very nostalgic.
Hervé, age 35, truck driver
I think it's Info. The author is lucid. He has understood that the experiences of others may be good to use and develop. He is happy to know that there are scientists who dare to admit their mistakes and don't take us for idiots.
Bernard, age 53, engineer
Info…. To detach a scientific discipline from the wrong road involves a difficult reconsideration of events, if only for one isolated researcher. Blocked in his progress, he must take time to think things over quietly. For the scientific community, the obstacle is huge. The pressure of authority and economy leaves very little hope, in my opinion, for this generation.
Alain, age 50, lawyer
Logically, I should say that I don't know, but I still think it's Info. This story reminds me of an anecdote reported at the time, concerning General de Gaulle… It is evening in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises. In his chapel, kneeling before the crucifix, the General explains his policy to the Lord, saying "Lord trust me! Lord trust me! Lord trust me!" and the Lord replied "You are lucky that my feet are bound, Charles!"
Anne-Marie, age 37, philosophy teacher
An amazing trip to the heart of deepest France. To be checked, and if it is Info (which I think it is), it must be taken into consideration as soon as possible.
Arnaud, age 22, student
Very interesting analysis. Judicious and pertinent challenge. Doubtless Info.
André, age 85, retired architect
Very interesting Info.
Thierry, age 31, PTT (post and telecom) inspector
Info. Ask for more information.
A FEW COMMENTS FROM BELGIUM
Xavier, age 32, neuropsychiatrist
Disinformation. You watch too much TV!
André, age 60, psychiatrist
I don't know… This document doesn't give us enough information on the actual facts. I sense a Franco-French quarrel just before legislative elections. Two examples: did the General wait until 1962 to start building the excessively expensive liner, the "France"? (§6)… the emissary sent to Stockholm ok! The request to the Nobel jury that would really surprise me! (§8).
Denys, age 55, physician
Info + disinfo. In my opinion, this document contains some information which is filtered for a particular objective. It is not reasonable to hope that a discovery (relative to a previously unknown field or contrary to what was previously known) will be accepted so easily, convince people of its worth and take the place of previous data. For proof, I only have to look at the often very long time which separates an important discovery from the Nobel prize rewarding it. It often takes twenty years, during which the discovery has been "rediscovered", verified, criticized, used and redemonstrated. This tooth-grinding in paragraph 15 demonstrates either ignorance or ill will, and in this context, we must invoke disinformation.
Sylvie, age 50, mother
Although the scientific argument was a bit over my head, I still had the impression that this is information. I can easily imagine that the scientific community is not always so idyllic, democratic and transparent as they would have us believe. That being said, if the researcher had pretended to renounce his personal ideas he might have kept his job and eventually met people who were a little more open and could have helped him communicate his ideas.
Grandpa's biology - 03