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Presentation and History

AssoSciences Midi-Pyrenees

scientific conferences and

techniques for the city and the region

Paul Costa

President of AssoSciences












AssoSciences Midi-Pyrénées is an association born in Toulouse in 2003. It was inspired by the University of All Knowledge in Paris and aimed to  propose updates on contemporary scientific and technical questions, with actors of the best possible quality in their field.
To constitute it
  the learned scientific and technical societies of the Region were contacted. Some lived their lives apart from others; taking action to bring them closer together was very positively received by most of them.
Admittedly, scientific and technical conferences already existed: the Paul Sabatier University, for example, holds some on its Rangueil campus. The aeronautics associations too –Air and Space Academy, AAAF-We should also mention two organizations which collect the bulk of the funding from the City and the Region: the Agrobiosciences mission, linked to the INRA, outside the city, as well as the Regional Center for Scientific and Technical Culture, "Sciences et Animation", which organizes cycles of conferences and debates at the international conference center of Météo-France, "the discoveries ". Nevertheless there was not, apart from the GREP (Research Group for Education and Prospective), a rather connected group
  on the debates of Social and Economic Sciences,  an emblematic "place", which regularly offered, in the center of the city, scientific and technical knowledge programs on research and development issues.
Since its creation more than a hundred conferences have been held, with recurring themes (energy, genetics, nanosciences for example), or specific issues. Each conference is followed by debates between the speaker and the audience.
Between 50 and 150 people are regularly present, with a core of faithful, and variable audiences in kind, from high school students in the final year or scientific preparation and
  from the student in law or in IUFM in need of different culture, to the retiree wishing to keep up to date, passing by people concerned by the treated field. The whole creates a file of approximately 500  people who wish to be informed, a file which is gradually being added to.
Wider openings on neighboring towns (video-transmission, repetition of conferences when the speaker is a local personality), with the support of the Regional Council are envisaged from this year; contacts have already been made with Cahors and Saint-Gaudens and other towns are being considered


The association is largely subsidized by the City and marginally by the Region.
Since last year, contributions of 40 euros have been requested from those who wish to be members of the association, but membership is not compulsory, access being free and free.
These means only cover the transport costs
  and accommodation for non-Toulouse speakers, limiting them as much as possible, and the draw  posters and leaflets. It is difficult to solicit patrons who would in fact be involved in the lyrics; and even if they weren't, audiences might interpret it that way.
Some subjects – fortunately very few – are difficult to manage, the lack of tolerance of some listeners unfortunately makes them react to the speaker's label. There was a problem with the conference describing the future of nuclear energy, given by one of the main managers of civil nuclear programs at the CEA - some, well organized, wanted to sabotage it - and we would certainly have had the same problem for
  OGM if we had not addressed a speaker who stood at  distance from extreme viewpoints. .
It should be emphasized that scientific and technical knowledge is the source of debates, discussed knowledge, learning and disputes, but that it is difficult to share the idea that they are a culture, in the same way as literature. , music or theatre.
  While we consider that, in these fields, there are never too many cultural events in a city or in diversity  a region, one quickly becomes suspicious of possible redundancies when it comes to science and technology. This has led AssoSciences to avoid topics that could be covered elsewhere. However, we made exceptions for a few conferences, which we knew would be exciting and informative.
Similarly, the rooms and the organization chosen do not allow the extension of discussions beyond certain hours, and the consecutive drinks, where the exchanges can be prolonged, the networks meet or set up are managed separately and private.
The choice of the hour and the day of the conferences gave rise to some trial and error. We finally decided to do them at 6:45 p.m., a compromise that allows us to have young people, retirees and working people at the same time after their day's work; Wednesday made it possible to avoid other sequences of conferences, but we will no doubt move on to Thursday, which seems preferable.

It is certain that the networks of each other are solicited to proceed with the choice of subjects and authors. They are proposed by the members of the office, by local scientists coming to the conferences. These come from scientific and technical news, or come from readings or other ways: locations at conferences for example. On the whole the idea shared is indeed of the useful subject presented by a speaker with effective speech. A part of subjectivity is obvious, but apparently the choices and the evaluations are rather consensual as for the quality. No systematic evaluations have been carried out, which will have to be done, but attendance and feedback, including spontaneous ones, are satisfactory.


At each conference, those present, if they so wish, write their e-mail address or, failing that, their postal address on a block, and are therefore added to the correspondents already registered. This currently corresponds to a file of around 500 people.
La Dépêche, the major regional newspaper, relays information very effectively. Posters and leaflets are placed in quite a few strategic places, at each conference, including municipal relays, the Town Hall being a stakeholder. The problem is sometimes that of the renewal of the public. A new theme or a new subject requires that we notify other potentially interested people. It's quite difficult without specific means and often we get a “it's a shame, I didn't know”.


Based on the number of participants, it is certain that some announcements hit the mark because of the speaker and/or the subject. Based on the contributions to the debate, some conferences, a priori more confidential, have experienced lively exchanges.
The difficulty in fact lies in defining a good level, access that is not too popular so as not to compete with other means of information such as the press, not too specialized so as not to discourage; not too wide to prevent the intervention from being framed enough, not too sharp
  so that the listener can  clearly contextualize the point.
The second difficulty is in the pedagogical mastery that all scientists (among others) do not necessarily have. Structuring a speech to interest is not necessarily the relevant structure of writing an article for peers. But often it is the greatest scientists who best master the presentation of their subject to an uninformed public!
On the other hand, it is clear that the conference debate surely has a bright future ahead of it: it undoubtedly represents "an outing" like a concert or a play, and in this it is close to all other cultures. For the participants, it is also a place where networks, friendships and shared status are created. No doubt it is also a reference in relation to traditional learning: some find "the course" and its discussions there. Finally, we can think that the distance between speaker and participant is a good distance: not the relationship with the press or the Internet which are in fact dehumanized, not a total familiarity which can sometimes be an interpersonal relationship more than a place of acquisition, interrogation or reflection (see certain "cafés"), but the possibility of an exchange with a specialist, an expert. All this on the express condition of course that the speaker has been clearly identified in his own affiliations: CNRS researcher, technical or industrial manager, or president of the "antiX" association if applicable.
The challenges are surely to be found at these levels: to make plural words heard, to create places of reference, to avoid the illusionism of general speeches, brilliant but of little substance, to weave lasting places of trust, to overcome the problems of means and of availability in order to establish links and ensure that associations, teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs pass on the information to their communities and stimulate interest in scientific and technical knowledge.

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