equipment and labs (long version)

You are browsing through it may be that these lines because you just read the ticket issued in The World, in the book “Sciences & Techno” Saturday, march 17, 2012, and that you wanted to know a little more ? Then welcome !

The format of this “card blanche” requires the concision, and little can be neither credit nor a fortiori to cite in sufficient detail the research and the publications on which I relied for the draft. The social sciences, like other sciences, are not the product of a solitary exercise and weightlessness of the thought. Also, for the duration of this forum, I suggest you find it here, on this blog, at the time of the publication of each of these ” white cards “, a ticket that is more long in which I’ll expand my remarks, bring a number of add-ins, additional tracks of reflection… and especially the reading suggestions : this will also be a way to make to my colleagues that I have borrowed to write these short notes ! This time, the long version of this white card entitled “equipment and labs” will not be excessively longer than the version published in The World. I’ll just limit myself to make a few clarifications, and especially some links to the equipment that I evoke…

In this carte blanche, my reflection was based on an idea very widespread in the public opinion, who wants to that research in the humanities and social sciences does not have financial needs to be very large, unlike the experimental sciences. In the eyes of the public, still dominates the figure, always individual, often solitary, the historian immersed in the archive with the time and the patience to only the resources absolutely necessary, or of the ethnologist, from which all the equipment could be summed up in a book and a pencil. As for the sociologist, in her investigations, even when they are carried out by questionnaires with several hundred people, would remain a modest cost (several thousand euros). And to this we must add that this image was able to be partially maintained within the social sciences, by a number of intellectuals who had much to gain put in scene a kind of a vow of material poverty, which could only contribute to the glorification of their contributions.

Certainly, the social sciences do not need particle accelerators of several tens of kilometers in circumference, and send telescopes into space. But progress in the knowledge of the companies have a cost, which may not be negligible, contrary, therefore, to a persistent belief. And in reality, while we continue to be lulled by the illusion of free knowledge in the humanities and social sciences, or even to maintain it knowingly, we took a large delay in some areas, by comparison in particular north America, many european countries : in the United States, Canada, England, or Germany, in particular, it has been understood for a long enough the need to develop equipment sometimes costly in the service of the production and the dissemination of research in social science.

An article by Christian Morrisson was already there almost forty years, the lack of human, physical and financial suffering at the time of the social sciences in France (” The ways of the social sciences in France “, economic Review, volume 26, n°6, 1975, pp. 1004-1023). The student-teacher ratio and spending per student much lower than the demonstrated previously : while the social sciences had important needs in the area of missions, investigations, data banks, documentation, these needs are not created absolutely not budgets comparable to those enjoyed by the experimental sciences and the basic sciences. And rather remarkable, Christian Morrisson was already sticking out, at the time, the heavy handicap that was for the social sciences French the absence of ambitious policy and data access of the major public statistics surveys.

Some progress has of course been made from : Christian Morrisson himself already pointed to the improvement – very relative, however – the material situation of the social sciences French after 1968. These advances are slow and, for example, the backwardness of France is a long time remained very important in terms of archiving and dissemination of data, as noted in the report of Roxane Silberman on The social sciences and their data (1999). Following this report, a policy more ambitious finally started falling into place in France, from the beginning of the years 2000 and the creation of the Quetelet Network.

Des équipements et des laboratoires (version longue)

Demonstration of ELIPSS at the inauguration of the DIME-SHS, 2 February 2012

What I mostly wanted to report this carte blanche, it is that from this point of view the month of February brought both good news, that may help France to continue to satisfy a portion of its delay, with finally of scientific equipment consistent throughout the chain of research. At one end of this chain, on the production side of the data, the first good news is the inauguration, on February 2, last, “equipment of excellence, Data, Infrastructures, survey Methods in human and social Sciences” (DIME-SHS), focused by Sciences Po, and endowed with 10 million euros. The objective of the DIME-SHS is to endow France of a true “center of investigation” on the anglo-saxon model of Survey Research Centres, with a triple feature : a center for data archiving of qualitative surveys, a platform of services for the collection of data from the web, and a device for carrying out surveys by questionnaires. The benefit : researchers in the social sciences, which previously had to make use of survey institutes and private, will now be able to provide you with ELIPSS (Longitudinal Study by the Internet For the Social Sciences), a tool unique in the world : a panel of 6000 individuals equipped with digital tablets and Internet connections, mobile, in exchange for their regular participation in surveys selected by a scientific advisory board from among nominations submitted by the research teams (a few more details in this slideshow in PDF format). Alain Chenu and Laurent Lesnard[1] insist a lot, in their recent book (The France in the international comparisons, 2011, I made an account in Readings) on the lack of a true device of logistical assistance to the investigation at the disposal of researchers : with the DIME-SHS, it is a part of this lack that fills.

At the other end of the chain, on the side of the dissemination of research and scientific mediation, the second piece of good news, all recent it, too, is that the project OpenEdition comes in its turn to access the status of equipment of excellence, which allows him to have a total budget of 7 million euros over the next eight years. OpenEdition, it is the French platform for publishing and mailing for the humanities and social sciences, which articulates between them already them devices : Revues.org, which today broadcasts more than 300 scientific journals ; Calenda, calendar, which is published each year by thousands of ads for science ; and Hypotheses, the platform of blogs of researchers, the success of which, since its launch in 2007, does not disappoint. These three tools will add very soon a fourth : OpenEdition Books, which aims to make available to the public, of which 15,000 academic books. The label and the budget thus obtained will enable OpenEdition embarking on the construction of an electronic library, an international open access, dedicated to the humanities and social sciences, able to compete with the initiatives of the anglo-saxon of the same kind[2].

Des équipements et des laboratoires (version longue)

The team of OpenEdition, during the summer university, the Centre for open electronic publishing, Marseille, September 2011)

On one hand, these two new facilities[3] are good news for the social sciences, and so much the more that in both cases, the feeling is that they give the French research ways to defend a vocation of “public service” to which many are attached, and on the basis determined on the possibilities offered by the Internet and new technologies to facilitate the sharing and dissemination of knowledge. But the medal has its reverse side : today, this policy of large scientific equipment is financed with resources constant, that is to say, by removing the means by which they are endowed from the budgets of the workings of higher education and research. In other words, to develop facilities of excellence, it is destroyed little by little, the CNRS and laboratories, which are yet the only places of a coherent and ambitious research training, and the bodies preferred of the scientific production. The political equipment of excellence pushes the walls, but it breaks the floor[4]. We had researchers without equipment, but what have we really won if, instead, we have the equipment without the researchers ?

Bibliographic references

Cardon, Dominique (2010), democracy Internet. Promises and limits, Paris, Seuil, coll. “The Republic of Ideas “

Chenu, Alain, and Lesnard, Laurent (2011), Guide to access large statistical surveys in the social sciences, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po

Morrisson, Christian (1975), ” The ways of the social sciences in France “, economic Review, vol. 26, n° 6, pp. 1004-1023. See online: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/reco_0035-2764_1975_num_26_6_408241

Silberman Roxane (1999), The social sciences and their data. Mission report to the Minister of national Education, research and technology, Paris, La Documentation Française, 193 p. See online: http://www.education.gouv.fr/cid1925/les-sciences-sociales-et-leurs-donnees.html


[1] This is the head of the DIME-SHS.

[2] I owe it to truth to add, that it is I am since 2010 a member of the scientific board of the CLEO, the unit of the CNRS which developed OpenEdition, and that I am also a member, since the beginning of the year, of the scientific council of ELIPSS. But this is not because I have accepted both invitations to participate in their scientific orientation that I find that it is important initiatives ; on the contrary it is because they seemed important that I accepted with pleasure these invitations !

[3] The variance with the science called “exact” is not close to being filled : in total, about fifty of the equipment of excellence winners at the first wave, only five concerned the human and social sciences, with an endowment of less than 30 million euros of the 350 million allocated to the program as a whole. The other four facilities for the social sciences, with endowments lower than those of the DIME-SHS and OpenEdition, are the CASD (Centre for secure access to remote), D-FIH (historical financial Data), MATRIX, and NewAglae (New accelerator Grand Louvre of elemental analysis, dedicated to the archaeology). During the second wave, which has qualified 36 equipment for a global allocation of 210 million eurors, the humanities and social sciences have received five facilities from excellence extra, among which the follow-up of cohort ELFE, which I will surely soon.

[4] This nifty metaphor is not of me : I fly to Dominique Cardon, who use it in the introduction of democracy the internet (2010), page 10, to discuss the effects of the internet on the erasure of the boundaries between public and private space.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Begin typing your search above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top