Jean-Louis Boursin

In Partnership with the Rotary Club Paris Académies

The Speaker

Jean-Louis Boursin was born in Paris in 1937. After completing his studies at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, he passed the agrégation (university teaching certification) in mathematics and prepared his doctoral thesis at the Institut de statistique at the Université de Paris. He taught at the Faculté des sciences in Toulouse and then in Orléans, at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie, then at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris. He was twice named a regional education director, in Reims from 1976 to 1981, and in Montpellier from 1986 to 1988.

At the same time, he published more than 120 mathematics textbooks for elementary schools levels through to universities. He “re-trained” future school teachers from the Sorbonne in mathematics and developed a conference series for laypeople for the Sorbonne’s Université “inter-âges”.

He planned, taped, and starred in more than 120 class hours on video cassette, then DVD, for the TF1- Vidéo Company.

Awarded the rank of Officier in the Légion d’honneur, commandeur des Arts et Lettres, he has also been the recipient of numerous other honors and is a member of a number of scholarly institutes in Italy, Spain, and the United States.


Humor and mathematics
In almost every civilization, there is a humor related to math that isn’t found in chemistry, philology or cosmography. But, at the same time, many young students and their parents live in fear of scholarly mathematics. The success of his recent book Math for Dummies attests to that anguish.

Suddenly, we understand the two factors which, according to Stendhal, contribute to the smile:  the feeling of superiority and collusion. Naturally, there are degrees and levels in both. But many readers, and sometimes math teachers themselves, are OK with smiling at the “tics and obsessions” of their instructors. The innumerable math jokes that circulate on the Internet become their own sort of code: we continue to laugh, but now at least we know why.

Does science still speak French?
At the request of several governments, Jean-Louis Boursin has presided over commissions in charge of observing the status of French as a language of scientific communication. He has drafted several reports, but unfortunately these governments have not been sufficiently receptive to the demand. Named eight years ago to the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française (High Council on the French Language), an organization headed by the Prime Minister, Jean-Louis Boursin continues his quest. In his lecture, he will examine the reasons for the frenzied way in which American-mania has taken over French research laboratories. When the major research organizations only finance publications in English, and when French scientists in conferences in Paris speak “basic English” among themselves, is science getting its due?

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