Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 5. May 7, 1946

French Science

page break

French Science

The following is Prof. J. B. S. Haldune's account of a visit he paid to France early this year. He visited many prominent scientists, and newly founded scientific institutions.

In England and America many biologists were engaged in research which was, or at least might be, useful for war. In Prance it was a point of honour to publish nothing which could help the Germans, even by such indirect means as increasing the food supply. So much of the science was very "pure" indeed.

To take a few examples, M. Chauvin produced an instrument for automatically recording the activity of a single ant. M. Lwoff worked out the vitamin requirements of bacteria, while M. Dechambre proved that the reindeer is the least variable of domestic animals, and produced a theory as to why this was so.

The French are reorganising their scientific research under the Centre Nationale des Recherches Scientifiques. This body has taken over many of the functions which the Academy of Science was originally meant to perform. But the Academy, like the Royal Society in London, now consists largely of men who are past their prime and it has been necessary to appoint a younger body. To judge from the way in which it organised my visit, the Centre is a pretty efficient organisation. A particular feature of its activity is the training of young research workers. This is intended to include a year broad, so I am looking forward to having some young French colleagues in my laboratory a year hence. If every British research worker could spend a year in foreign laboratories it would certainly broaden our scientific outlook considerably.

Marxist Influence

Marxism is today one of the main influences in French intellectual life. A generation ago the commonest philosophy among French scientists was probably Positivism—roughly speaking the philosophy which Lenin attacked in "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism." Today Marxism is taking its place. I do not mean that every French scientist is a Marxist. Still less do I mean that any attempt is made to thrust Marxism down people's throats. But non-Marxists are beginning to know what Marxism means and to criticise it in an intelligent manner. For example, a colleague of mine argued that the contradictions in the world are really expressions of our ignorance, and will be resolved when we know more.

This may be true in a few cases; but one can often show that a contradiction is the sign of real struggle leading to development: for example, the struggle between mountain building and erosion, or between bacterial virulence and immunity.

Marxists are tackling the theoretical problems of science, art, and literature as well as economics and politics, in a very thorough manner. "La Pensee," the Marxist quarterly revue, keeps up a higher intellectual level than any similar journal in our language. This is largely because it can call on a great number of scientists who can write on their own subject, whether it be evolution, dramatic criticism, or coastal shipping with special knowledge is well as a Marxist approach.

J. B. S. Haldane