Marching on the capital

– a personal take on the French #SciencesEnMarche movement

Amélie and the garden gnome

Amélie and the garden gnome

Before I moved to Lyon, my view of France was based primarily on popular media. Looking back at my expectations, I can now report a disappointing lack of obsession with garden gnomes, whereas the myth of exorbitant amounts of dog poo on French streets has proven true. I can’t comment on the quantity and quality of late night porn on national television (supposedly a lot and explicit) since I don’t own a TV. As for endless strikes and protests, after a lackluster year with no major demonstrations, finally something big is happening! Researchers in France are – as someone said on twitter – “doing what the French do best: protesting”. In a movement called Sciences En Marche, scientists from all over the country are cycling, hiking and kayaking towards Paris, protesting against the government’s neglect of science. Reports of the demonstration and the demands have been reported elsewhere (amongst others a detailed write-up in the LabTimes, and also in Science and Nature). So today, having seen Sciences En Marche in action, as the “protests” arrived in Lyon, I’ll share my personal view of things.

SciencesEnMarche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Velov bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as Lyon was one of the first towns to adopt a bikesharing system.

Sciences En Marche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Vélo’v bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as local scientists join the demonstrators on their way to the city center.

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Outreach and politics

or When politics hit close to home

Everything is a matter of perspective.

Without the "Sz" and an accent on the a, my home village, Szirák tuned into a country ravaged by war and insurgency.

Without the “Sz” and an accent on the a, my home village, Szirák transformed into a country ravaged by war and insurgency.

On a hot summers night back in 2013 some – to my knowledge still unknown – hooligans committed crime. They thieved and vandalized public property. Alternatively, one might say they made a statement. By stealing two letters and an accent they turned my small Hungarian home village, unknown to the majority of the global population, into a country suffering from poverty and war and violence: they changed Szirák into Irak (the Hungarian spelling of Iraq). And while, obviously, my village does not have to deal with insurgency and fighting, by many other criteria one might see the likeness: Szirák is a tiny village with less than 2000 inhabitants in a poor rural area of Hungary. Unemployment rates are incredibly high (60% in 2011) and the roads leading to and from the village are so bad you don’t drive there, you slalom your way around ankle-deep potholes. While there’s clean water, electricity, telephone and internet, a centralized sewage system is only now being introduced in the area. The village has seen its share of senseless vandalism and violence, the roma (gypsy) and non-roma population are at constant odds with each other, and there are large social differences: standing proudly next to half-built houses and dilapidated ruins is a 4-star wellness hotel in an old chateau, where well-off tourists can book a “classic package” for 55.000Forints/person – that’s about half of what most villagers, working for minimal wages, earn. So, by and large, things are pretty grim. Continue reading