By Gaston Bachelard
Curiosity is certainly the sometimes unhealthy desire to know well-kept secrets, but it is also a thirst for learning and understanding. This passion for discovery drives scientists, extension workers and … readers of scientific journals. How to arouse curiosity? How to mobilize imaginations? How to share his astonishment on the world and natural phenomena, his pleasure to discover that the luminous trickle on the surface of his morning coffee is a curve well known to mathematicians?
These are the challenges of popular science and the ambition of Pour la Science for 30 years. The scientific journalist, the transmission belt of knowledge, observes the discoveries, seeks to understand, to explain, to put in perspective, to anticipate. And he has the fine role, he who has the privilege of listening to the specialists handling the concepts or explaining to him the results of their experiments; it collects the quintessence of the researcher’s patient work. To speak of science is to explain the conclusions, without obscuring the hesitations, the open questions, the dead ends, the debates in which passions are unleashed.
For its anniversary, Pour la Science takes stock of 30 years of science, at least from some of the most significant projects. And we can measure the tremendous harvest of the results obtained. Tangible results and, at the same time, doubts as to their immediate or future impact. Scientific progress is a step, confirmed by others, sometimes invalidated, questioned by its impacts – expected or not – on society, locally, but also in a global context.
The past 30 years have been notably marked by the proliferation of international cooperation. Thus, in the field of space exploration or in that of physics which today requires gigantic apparatuses, skills and part of the resources have been pooled. The sequencing of the human genome was one of the examples of the effectiveness of such cooperation: results obtained 14 years earlier than expected, and rich in surprises, whether it be the “small” number of human genes or the diversity of molecules that control its expression. After several years of data collection and analysis, the successes crown not the work of an individual, but of a team, or even international collaborations of several teams.
According to Descartes, to dominate a passion, the most effective is to examine the source, because the effect vanishes with knowledge of the cause. Science is a way to combat obscurantism, false beliefs, unreasonable fear. Curiosity for science implies prudence, discernment, rigor, a critical reason on the alert: is scientific curiosity a reasonable passion?