Pierre Joliot

A Passion for Scientific Research Publication date : February 1, 2001

Where is scientific research going? Pierre Joliot takes a look back in time to answer this question: back to the days when his grandparents Pierre et Marie Curie discovered natural radioactivity, then to the days when his own parents, Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot, discovered artificial radioactivity and gave him his scientific initiation. What he has learned from his background is that scientific research, like art, is only truly creative when it remains a playful game, but not when it becomes a sacrifice or a chore; and that applied research should always accompany pure research, because they are beneficial to each other.

Backed with many examples from his parents’ and grandparents’ experience as well as from his own, the author makes a well-argued critique of current research, deploring its submission to economic liberalism. But why bother wasting one’s time researching something that someone else will end up discovering? And what about accuracy? Pierre Joliot says the most frequent quotation attributed to him is actually a misquotation.

Joliot concludes with a warning: there is a shortage of young scientists in all of the developed countries. Why would anyone, he asks, wish to enter a highly competitive system, spending days and often nights studying and researching, if it is to be poorly paid and not know for sure whether funding will be available to complete a research project — unless of course the pleasure of the work in question is unparalleled?

Pierre Joliot is a professor at the Collège de France.