Etienne Klein “For a little malice in the dissemination of scientific knowledge.”

How can one fail to see that science has become a “total social fact”? However, from a purely intellectual point of view, he tends to be marginalized. In June 2022, learning from what he calls “the bankruptcy of the clergy” during the Covid-19 pandemic, Jean-Pierre Dupuis lamented in The Scientific Poverty of the French Intelligentsia (in Cités Review No. 90, PUF) the lack of culture of many French intellectuals in scientific and technical matters: “It is amazing that those who study the crisis of our democracies never mention this huge fact: these are societies deeply shaped by scientific and technical knowledge and in which the vast majority of citizens are only mediocre or have no access to this knowledge . We point out and condemn inequality even in the darkest corners of the social order, but no one talks about it. In this area, many French intellectuals are part of the proletarian class.”

The judgment is no doubt harsh, but it must be admitted that the indifference shown by some minds towards everything that concerns scientific knowledge does not in itself cause a breath of thought to blow: it is not enough to ignore science in order to preserve culture and not denigrate it for the sake of increasing intelligence.

The fact remains that no one can have a good background in particle physics, genetics, nuclear engineering, climatology, immunology, and algorithms at the same time. The scientists themselves, whom we tend to pit against the general public by placing them in the same box, tend to be competent only locally, that is, in and around their own discipline. Ask a physicist out of the blue to explain to you what a GMO is or how a messenger RNA vaccine works, he will be very confused; it’s the same for a biologist if you ask him about primordial nucleosynthesis or CP violation in weak interactions. For all these reasons, we cannot defend the academic concept of democracy: a citizen who is indifferent to science is no less a good citizen than one who is interested in it.

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Popular science is of little interest

At first glance, the promotion is a resounding success. Do you write books? At least some people read them. Do you lecture? People go there. But if we sum up, we will understand that the observation of this success is greatly distorted by the oblivion of the truism: scientific popularization is a priori interested only in those who are interested in … scientific popularization! That is, ultimately, very few people. Most of the population has little or no direct contact with real scientific content, whether it be results, demonstrations, or experiments. She drinks from other sources.

This leads to the fact that, as shown by several international studies, our country lags behind in mastering mathematical and scientific knowledge, especially among young people. And this explains why it is so difficult for our society to discuss how it wants to communicate with new technologies.

At a time when his Complete Works is coming out, isn’t it time to draw inspiration from Michel Serra’s quick wit, both for educating the youngest and for spreading knowledge in society? Diligently studying scientific issues, he was well aware that there is a real “problem erotica” that creates a real feast of the mind through a pleasant association of thoughts, knowledge, emotions, brilliant ideas … If you want to give a taste for science, you must start with an addiction to science. For example, at every opportunity to explain – why not with mischief? – true stories of discoveries, not flat vulgarities that generalize them and often give them away. How, throughout the history of ideas, did scientific knowledge become knowledge worthy of the name? The earth is round, yes. The atom, of course, exists. Living species evolve, that’s for sure. But by what reasoning, observation, reasoning, experience, wandering, did people finally know this?


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