Scientific misinformation in France begins in middle school
After the Christmas festivities, a New Year arrives filled with questions, but also full of hope and opportunities !
We’re going to start it off with a topic that is of particular concern to us:
Scientific misinformation in France
begins in middle school
And that’s a very bad sign in our country, the Cradle of the Enlightenment.
By Benjamin Torchio, General Manager at Setec nuclear,
and Guillaume Peyron, Nuclear project engeneer
France, with its outstanding scientists, made a key contribution to the Age of Enlightenment, a period of major discoveries that overcame obscurantism and promoted knowledge in all its objectivity.
Many of the scientists of this period, of all nationalities, are now famous for eternity, their names having frequently been associated with their discoveries, whether it be an equation (Euler, Bernoulli, Laplace, Lagrange) or a unit of measure (Coulomb, Volta).
And although the Age of Enlightenment ended with the French Revolution, the struggle against obscurantism and the pursuit of scientific and philosophical progress carried on.
This was achieved in particular through the National Education system and compulsory schooling for all. This was a necessary step to disseminate knowledge to the greatest number and reduce inequality.
This commitment to the dissemination of knowledge, marked by progress and universality, was notably expressed by the power of Marie Curie (born Polish, naturalised French), who in 1903 became the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize (in physics) before receiving a second one in 1911 (in chemistry)a.
To our great misfortune and especially that of our children, the very spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, a strong expression of our country’s very roots and inventive genius, is in the process of being relegated to oblivion by an essential part of its guardians, our teachers (not all of them, of course).
Consider, for example, a text chosen at random (well, not really) which is used as a teaching resource for courses/reflection/(propaganda?) in middle schools: La maison verte (The Green House) by Mikaël Ollivier (Editions Thierry Magnier, 2008)b.
The first results in a Google search place it very clearly in the “national education” sphere. It was even the subject of a final exam in French literature in a school of the Versailles school district in January 2015c.
Beyond the fact that this pamphlet deals with a presupposed antagonism between the morality of environmental protection and its implementation through tax incentives, a subject that is beyond the grasp of our schoolchildren, it is also, and especially, a dangerous collection of untruths about the nuclear industry. Among these:
- The retirement at age 45 of the main character‚ father, who works at the local nuclear power station. (Congratulations on the message implying privileged retirement for nuclear workers!).
- Fruits and vegetables that mutate near the power plant: “Load the wood oven. OK. Pick a tomato from the garden for dinner (you should carry it together so you don’t hurt your backs). DONE”.
- The obligation to take daily iodine pills when living near a nuclear power plant: “Take your iodine pills. OK.”
- Nuclear workers who become fluorescent: “I like it every night when he crosses the courtyard and glitters in the dark”
An excerpt from this text illustrates this pervasive disinformation:
Explanation of words and phrases from the text presented in the exam (“The Green House”):
2 Local taxes…
8 Iodine: helps to combat the effects of radioactivity.
9 Plume: cloud
10: He glitters: the father receives intense nuclear radiations, which make him fluorescent.
a) How do you understand the last sentence of the text?
b) What clarification does it give to the strange remark in lines 38-39 (“Anyway, he will be forty-five years old in two years and will be retired”)?
Knowing that radioactivity is traditionally associated with the color green (think of the Hulk, the Simpsons), what other meaning can we see in the story‚Äôs title?
Below, the teacher considers that "The author criticizes not the « non-environmentalists » but the State which continues to generate nuclear energy while advocating respect of the environment."
Obscurantism is beginning to invade our schools by way of small actions and short texts. It is dangerous because it is not until the high school that we learn to step back and read between the lines.
In the text, the main character takes classes in eco-citizenship at the high school, a subject declared as important as English and nuclear physics…?? Yes, yes, yes. You read correctly, the main character studies nuclear physics in high school.
This little passage is delightful because if the high school really taught nuclear physics, the rampant obscurantism that we denounce would be immediately dispelled by the spirit of the Enlightenment.
It would be a step forward if, indeed, courses in nuclear physics were given in high school. Future generations would then be educated with the most objective information possible.
This is just one example of how reason is gradually beginning to be driven out of its temple, and how this is part of a national and measured phenomenon.
Indeed, in June 2019, the BVAd polling institute revealed the results of a study, which should serve as an electric shock to us on the creeping obscurantism concerning nuclear power.
80% and especially 18-34 year olds, 86% !!! 86% of our youth, the generation who will succeed us, is convinced that nuclear power contributes to climate change. Whereas according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), nuclear power has the same carbon footprint as wind power (12 gCO2eq/kWh, median value), 4 times smaller than photovoltaic, 70 times smaller than coal/lignite!
The climate is heating up, the house is burning down, but the environmental emergency taught to our children is not against greenhouse gases but against nuclear energy.
All human activity generates some form of pollution. However, out of ignorance (if not outright denial) of the facts, preference is given to halting the production of small quantities of tightly confined waste, over stopping the production of astronomical quantities of waste that is freely blown about by the winds.
So objective education is a most urgent priority. Nuclear physics and radioactivity (natural and artificial) must be addressed in the broadest sense, even if in a simplified manner, within the framework of a common education for all.
Now is the time for each of us to act.
Several channels need to be activated at the same time.
Are you a worker in the field of nuclear energy in the broadest sensee?
Don’t be shy about nuclear power.
Make your profession known to those around you. Volunteer to speak about your day-to-day work at grade school, middle school, high school, college, or in forums. Transmit your experience and your knowledge in your own words. Demystify the field in which you work, the impact of ionizing radiation on your activities and how you protect yourself.
Don’t hesitate to contact the association Voices of Nuclear to offer your help or share your experience. The association will put you in touch with local initiatives whose purpose it is to spread information.
You might even consider starting such a local initiative.
These small actions are vital to help enlighten everybody on this subject.
You are not a worker in the nuclear field in the broadest sense?
Be open and curious. There are many interesting websites on the subject.
The basic reference website is that of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), an independent administrative authority for regulation, control, and public information. It has some great visual explanatory material (https://www.asn.fr/Informer/Exposition-ASN-IRSN).
You can also contact the association Voices of Nuclear for clarification on any particular area, or to get in touch with local information initiatives on a topic.
Voices of Nuclear will find one or more volunteers to answer your questions, or to speak on a chosen subject.
a – 1903, Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on radiation, with her husband Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel.
– 1911, Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on polonium and radium.
d BVA study for ORANO: The French and Nuclear Energy: Knowledge and Perceptions, survey conducted from April 4 to 27, 2019 – BVA Surveys
e Engineers, doctors, veterinarians, pilots and aircrew, property diagnosticians, all those who work with ionizing radiation
A tous nos adhérents,
Les Voix du Nucléaire
vous souhaitent une heureuse et prospère