For a century, Acfas has been the spokesperson for Quebec scientists, defending their interests and promoting their contribution to society. One hundred years after its creation, the organization has not lost its raison d’être, quite the contrary. Its role is more “indispensable” than ever, given that the French-speaking scientific community of Quebec has proliferated, diversified and its needs have greatly increased. Back on the road traveled with the historian and sociologist of science Yves Gingras, who signs an independent biography of the centenary association.
Acfas (French-Canadian Association for the Advancement of Science) is “a unique organization in the country”, he underlines from the outset. It is inspired by the model of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was founded in 1831, followed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), created in 1848, and finally by the French Association for the Advancement of Science (AFAS), in 1872, an association now dissolved.
“There has never been a Canadian association for the advancement of science. The ROC [Rest of Canada] instead, it is associated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and participates in the AAAS congress. In this regard, Acfas demonstrates the specificity of Quebec in terms of culture,” notes the man who is scientific director of the Observatory of Science and Technology.
Incidentally, Acfas has repeatedly considered revising its name to better reflect its Quebec identity. But for the sake of not abandoning Francophones living outside Quebec, she has always rejected the designation “Quebecoise,” he says. The expression “French-Canadian” having become too obsolete, in 2001 we opted for French-speaking association for knowledge, while retaining the Acfas acronym, which has survived to this day. In 2016, we finally abandoned this last name and refocused the name on Acfas, which is now accompanied by the subtitle “Advancing Knowledge”.
In his independent biography titled For the advancement of science. History of Acfas (1923-2023) published by Boréal, Mr. Gingras recalls that the creation of Acfas, which took place in the midst of “clerical and conservative discourse”, was the fruit of visionary intellectuals. They were “in tune with international science”, aware of the importance of bringing together the learned societies of the time to better promote the development of scientific research in Quebec.
It was therefore a small group of professors from the University of Montreal, made up of Brother Marie-Victorin, radiologist Léo Pariseau and biologist Louis-Janvier Dalbis, among others, who laid the foundations of this association whose mission was to “to promote scientific culture by popularizing and teaching science in secondary schools, to stimulate scientific research in universities and to develop the social identity of French-speaking scientists”.
This hard core will soon be joined by ethnologist and botanist Jacques Rousseau, a disciple of Marie-Victorin. He was the instigator of the annual Acfas congress, the first edition of which, in 1933, was held at the Université de Montréal. Interesting detail, at the time, it was located on rue Saint-Denis, on the site of the current University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). It is also to remind this very first edition that the 90e Acfas Congress, in this year of the centenary of the institution, is being held on the campuses of the University of Montreal, HEC Montreal and Polytechnique Montreal, underlines Mr. Gingras.
Bringing the Francophonie together in science
Given the disappearance of AFAS, the annual congress organized by Acfas has become the largest multidisciplinary scientific gathering in the Francophonie. This 90e edition, which takes place this week, from May 8 to 12, will bring together 9,000 delegates and will present more than 300 colloquia covering all fields of contemporary research.
Acfas is also behind the popular science journal Quebec Sciencewhose ancestor was The young scientistpublished by Acfas from 1962. This last review, which fulfilled one of Acfas’ democratization missions, nevertheless came to strain the budget of the association, which sold it in 1969 to the nascent University of Quebec, which renames it Quebec Science. The magazine now belongs to Vélo Québec Éditions.
Acfas has always maintained an essential role in promoting science and scientific careers in Quebec, as it has pursued this mission by launching new activities, new events and competitions that are more in tune with today’s world. , notes Mr. Gingras. “For example, My thesis in 180 seconds is a competition created and managed by Acfas in 2012, and which has become international. »
Acfas has its raison d’être “more than ever, because it reiterates on a recurring basis, each year, through dissertations, symposiums, conferences”, the principles of a good science policy. It reiterates to the government that it is necessary to invest in research, in particular fundamental, and in the next generation, affirms Mr. Gingras.
By campaigning for the development of university research being done in Quebec, Acfas also indirectly contributed to the creation of grant programs that are now called the Quebec Research Funds, he notes.
Yves Gingras warns that “scientists must remain vigilant, because neither Canada nor Quebec are immune to the emergence of anti-scientific social currents. The future of research and its relative autonomy in relation to the immediate demands of the State cannot therefore be ensured without the existence of a representative body capable of reminding elected officials and the population of the importance of science, social, cultural and economic point of view”.