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Russian Academy of Sciences reform

Tuesday, 03 September 2013 00:20 | Hits: 50307 |

Foreword to the English-speaking reader:

Although this article is largely specific to matters in Russia, many of the discussed problems  relate to scientific-research activity and education in general, and you are therefore encouraged to read it.

Now, after emotions concerning the rather unexpected announcement of the Russian Government about the proposed reform of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) have calmed, it’s a good time to try and understand the essence of the problem.

Since the 1950s, a well known saying has been distributed through the Russian scientific community: “you may not be a scientist, but you must be a candidate”; or, as joked professor E. S. Frish, author of the well known physics course, in his memoirs: “a candidate is allowed to think about any nonsense, a doctor - to say any nonsense, an academician - to publish any nonsense” [1].

These humorous comments, considered with the results of the activity of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and now Russia, in some sense subtly speak to the sad state of matters in the very Academy of Sciences (AS).

The debate on the need for moral loading of science

With the arrival of the philosophy of postmodernism, in the circles of philosophers and sociologists of science and scientific knowledge continue debates on the need to include moral loading into science as an area of human activity. There are several opinions about whether or not science should be limited by certain morality. In particular, there is the opinion that science cannot be looked at as some homogeneous institution, but the complex, heterogeneous and multi-level character of scientific activity should be recognized, and areas of scientific activity should be distinguished, identifying fundamental research as a separate area. Moral loading should relate only to applied science and practical science (technology), and control over the results of science is largely the task of government and society, while fundamental science is concerned exclusively with obtaining objective knowledge about reality, and is as such considered impartial [2].

However, if in the question of the correlation of science and morality the focus is shifted from looking at science as a type of human activity and the aggregation of disciplinary knowledge to looking at science as one of the social institutions and a special community consisting of people, then one will clearly see the serious problem of alienation of the scientific community from morality, which was noted by Russian scientist and writer Ivan Efremov in a letter to his friend - American scientist Everett Olson - back in 1968: Иван Ефремов

“We can see, that since ancient times morality and honour (in the Russian understanding of these words) are vastly more essential than swords, arrows and elephants, tanks and dive-bombers. Destruction of empires, states and other political organizations happens through a loss of morality. This is the only real reason for catastrophes in all of history, and for this reason, investigating the causes of almost all cataclysms, we can say, that destruction carries the nature of self-destruction.

When for all people fair and exertive work will become unusual, what future can be expected for humanity? Who will be able to feed, clothe, heal and transport people? Dishonest, as they are now, how will they be able to carry out scientific and medical research? Generations, accustomed to a fair way of life, will die out during the next 20 years, and then will happen the greatest catastrophe in history, manifesting in a widely distributed technical monoculture, the bases of which are now persistently being implemented in all countries, even in China, Indonesia, Africa…” [3].

It is primarily this segregation of domestic science from morality, and not just scholastic thinking as a result of the ideological dictate of marxism, that has lead to the state when a rigid corporation of ambitious individuals at the AS have lead the economy of the USSR to collapse; all key political and economic decisions in the USSR were made only with a corresponding “scientific” basis under the signature of the AS of the USSR.

The problem of meteorological competence in Science

In light of the above, it should be noted that in science exists the problem of so-called “metrological competence” or “validity” - the capability of some object to be measured, as well as the closest possible approach of measured characteristics to the objective, actual characteristics of the object being measured. Metrology, as the science about measurement, forms the base of standards for all sciences, collects and classifies methods of measurement, approaches to qualitative and quantitative evaluations of those or other phenomena in different domains. Despite the fact that at the current stage can be seen a convergence of humanitarian-artistic and scientific-technical cultures, the difference in approaches to the problem of metrological competence in humanitarian and natural sciences still remains.

In the theoretical basis of natural sciences, metrological competence is more or less provided by means of a standard-instrument base. Knowledge and technology created by these kinds of sciences, tend to work: the geography of the Earth has been determined and studied rather fully, airplanes can fly, buildings can stand and do not collapse.

In the theoretical basis of humanitarian sciences, however, in the question about its metrological competence hides a great danger, and it is a rather burning issue due to the very nature of these sciences. For example, it is largely connected to the special place of metaphors and metonymies in sociology during the procedure of conceptualization, and in general it greatly accompanies any methodological equipping in the system of humanitarian knowledge. Methods of measurement are frequently rather vague. This allows unfair individuals, under the appearance of scientific activity, to promote various ideologies or artistically concealed by wordy confetti pseudoscientific charlatanry. This is something that Guy de Maupassant wrote about in his novel “Dear Friend”:

“To come off as a knowledgeable person is not difficult. The deal is to avoid having your ignorance exposed. You need to maneuver, avoid difficult situations, avoid obstacles, and score off others with the aid of an encyclopedic dictionary” [4].

It is no coincidence that A. Comte, the founder of the positivism philosophy and sociology as an independent science, initially tried to build sociology on the principles of natural sciences; back then, he called sociology “social physics” [5]. Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin and the founder of differential psychology, psychometrics and eugenics, was convinced that measurability should always be present in research activity. He also, apart from being the first to suggest the idea of quantitative measurement of intellectual capabilities of people, also invented methods of measuring whininess, even-temperedness, and beauty of British women, the effects of prayers, and much more [6].

The most vivid example illustrating the problem: just the dictionary of economic terminology surpasses in volume the entire advanced mathematics course by Boris Demidovich. As a result, in the normal order of things, a doctor of economics, professor, Minister of Finance, vice-premier of the cabinet of ministers of Russian Federation in 1996-1997, honourable academician of the Academy of Economic Science of Georgia, A. Lifshiz, makes the satement:

“The economy, it’s like a woman. Can you really understand it?” [7].

The result of such an attitude towards metrological competence in economic science are continuous crises and economic devastation, for which not one economist nor minister have been punished. However, if a bridge had collapsed due to an engineer’s fault, he would be held accountable to the full capacity of Hooke’s law.

Vicious corporate ethics at the RAS

The situation is further aggravated by the fact, that the scientific community of AS does not allow into its sphere those, who are not loyal to this corporation. This is well observed by the history of life of many Russian scientists, from M. Lomonosov, who fought with the administration of AS while promoting his ideas, to the aforementioned I. Efremov, who had made many discoveries in area of paleontology, geology and other areas, authored some of the best works of Russian literature “Bull’s Hour” and “Andromeda Nebula”, but who the administration of the AS did not wish to see even among corresponding-members of the Academy.

The activity of the AS itself has sometimes been simply destructive with respect to the national economy. A clear example of the anti-state role of the AS of the USSR is the decision made at the end of 1966 at the conference between the State Committee for Science and Technology and Academy of Sciences of the USSR, with the support of Minister of Radio-Electronic Industry of the USSR V. Kalmykov and president of the AS of the USSR M. Keldysh: this was a historic decision to transfer Soviet industry to copying computers of the IBM-360 series, which put a start to the lagging behind of the USSR in area of computer technology and technological dependence of the USSR - and nowadays of Russia - which obliged developers of new generations of computers to accept the architecture of American computers [8]. This way, one of the greatest successful macroeconomic and political sabotages in history happened, which stopped the development of national computer science and technology schools, with all the corresponding consequences. Afterwards, everything was successfully written off as “persecution of cybernetics”. And then -- despite the fact that cybernetics does not have a description of control processes as such; does not have a conceptual apparatus that is complete and interconnected, in order to reveal, set, and solve control problems; does not have methodology of entering into the practice of control -- there are plenty of cybernetics institutes in the country, which host studies in area of control, not having created anything practically valid in area of control theory. For all of this, the AS carries responsibility before the people. Largely, this is a result of viciousness of morality of these people and their activity, which lay in the course of corporate interest, for the completion of some utopian worldwide mega-projects being developed at the time in the depths of the KGB.

The majority of those protecting the RAS now, are either those who warm their hands on it, or those who simply speculate on any topic, collecting political points while acting in opposition to any decision that comes from the current executive power, or people who are loyal to an ideology of eliterization of science and education. Exactly this type of people regenerate the aforementioned corporate ethics, and they often do not hide their views, but speak about them directly. For example:

“... in our view, the following needs to be done: the eliterization of higher professional education, the development of educational systems should go in the direction of further differentiation of its degrees with possible increase of educational periods for the highest degrees. With the transfer from one degree to another (secondary school - baccalaureate - magistrature) there should be formulated strict criteria of student selection” [9].

By the way, the fake headstone of the RAS pictured above, created by its protectors, on which are indicated the dates 1724 - 2013, is very significant: the age of the social institution, which is almost 300 years, is in this case more of a con than a pro, in the sense that science from that time has gone the way from classical to post-nonclassical, and society and the entire social reality have experienced such great changes, that from such a rigid organization in the sphere of scientific activity one should not expect anything good.

Establishment of moral loading of science in light of the active state of religious confessions

Considering the questions of morality, which were raised above, it should be separately noted that it is unacceptable for the Russian Orthodox Church to get involved into the area of science and education, allegedly for the reason of solving exactly this problem, and the speech of protopriest Vsevolod Chaplin during his latest appearance is an example of this [10, 11]. Perhaps the 14th article of the Russian Constitution should be repeated more often: the Russian Federation is a secular state, religious associations shall be separated from the State [12].

The problem of establishing the presence of certain moral standards in the scientific community is far from any intra-confessional interpretations of the topic, which has become key since the time when post-nonclassical science first turned to the study of historically developing systems, a direct component of which is not only the human being, but also objects of ecology, including the biosphere, biotechnological and medical-biological objects, systems of the “human-machine-environment” type, and the like. For the study of such complicated systems is required the construction of ideal models with an immense amount of parameters and variables, often using interdisciplinary approaches and complex research programs. Obviously, the amount of parameters and variables implied above is so large, that tying them all together will require the use of computer technologies and special mathematical modeling on their basis. For example, if the object of a scientific study is the biosphere – a complicated natural system -- which includes people with their activity, with the latter undoubtedly affecting the state of the biosphere by causing changes in its systems, changes to separate populations, biocenoses, and so on. To learn the character of these changes, the parameters tied to the state of natural objects -- rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, deserts, fields, forests, glaciers, mountains, the atmosphere, etc. – will need to be used.

In studying such complicated systems that include people with their activity, objective explanation and description of such systems implies the inclusion of evaluations of a social, moral-ethical character. For the inclusion of such evaluations, a conceptual basis is required – a conceptual basis with universal applicability. The control theory thesaurus could serve as such a conceptual basis, since it helps set goals within enclosing systems, while considering hierarchically higher control. For example, in the system “cosmos-biosphere-human” should be established a subordination of levels to each other – something which is better described by control theory. This means that the study of influence of human activity on the biosphere assume carrying out a social survey, with the purpose of determining detrimental, often catastrophic consequences of this influence, and establishing limitations and even prohibition on some types of human activity. As a result, according to contemporary science philosopher V. Stepin, in the post-nonclassical rationality type is considered:

“…the correlation of characteristics of the knowledge obtained about the object not only with the properties of methods and operations of activity, but also with its value-goal structures. Herewith is explicated the connection between intra-scientific goals with those beyond science – social values and goals” [13].

Possible reform options

Irrespective of the content of the reform that has currently been proposed, with time it will become necessary to execute a series of initiatives to modify the system of education and eliminate the RAS; all scientific activity should take place in universities and scientific schools established at universities. This way, the quality of education will improve, since students will become involved in scientific work, and the scientific research itself will improve since it will be supplied with the creative potential of youth. But the elimination should not be done quickly: a long-term step-by-step plan should be created, allowing all adequate acting research groups to be preserved. For example, project work relating to the military-industrial complex can be taken outside the RAS and reorganized into a special scientific-research institute.

At the same time, all the necessary conditions should be created for youth that wants to learn: students should be accepted into the baccalaureate without entry exams, while maintaining a plan to sieve out least successful students. In parallel, the system of trade schools should be developed, with guaranteed work placement upon completion.

Every high school graduate should have a clear image of their future - a student should understand why he is entering a university or trade school, at the same time being confident about the quality of education he will receive.

The state-issued university diplomas should be eliminated and replaced by university-issued diplomas. Universities themselves should be responsible to employers per the quality of education of graduates.

With that, employers should be linked with universities in such a way, that long-term plans for supply of industry with personnel are included in the plans of student education in universities and trade schools. In industry could be implemented a system to encourage innovation, especially in the areas of lowering product costs and increasing labor efficiency. For example, as it was done at Henry Ford’s manufacturing plants [14], or as it was until the mid-1950s in the USSR, with the so-called “method of improving work efficiency” (MIE) [15].

The Higher Attestation Committee should be disbanded, after having implemented a practice of thesis examinations in universities, removed the title of “candidate of the sciences” and left only “doctor of sciences”, and annulled all scientific degrees after 1985 by setting them equal to a master’s diploma.

A new format of thesis examination is also required: questions should be asked not only about the thesis, but about the subject area itself; the examination process should be video-recorded and live-streamed online, and then made available on the internet with the full thesis text. All theses should be put into public access on the internet in full volume. Also, clear and metrologically competent criteria for the evaluation of theses are needed, and should be understandable by everyone. Additionally, a cutoff should be imposed that would leave the best 80% of theses: such strict measures can increase the quality of theses in a short period of time, as well as increase the level of researchers themselves.

In any case, reform of the RAS has matured a long time ago, and if it is not started now, things may only get worse.


 [1 — press to return to the text] — Efremov Y.N. Pseudoscience and hypothesis (Ljenauka i gepotiza) -

[2] — Mamchur E.A. Images of science in contemporary culture (Obrazy nauki v sovremennoy kulturye) —

[3] — Oleg Dvurechinskyi. The Efremov’s Premonition (Predchusviye Efremova) -

[4] — Guy de Maupassant. Bel Ami -

[5] — Narskiy I.S. Outline of the history of Positivism (Ocherky po istorii pozitivizma) —

[6] — David G. Myers. Psychology —

[7] — Sergey Chirochkin. Systematic vices of the credit-financial subculture - (Systemnye poroki kreditno-finansovoy subkultury)

[8] — Evtushenko Y. G et al. 50 year history of computational technology. (50 let istorii vichislytelnoy tekhniki) —

[9] — Afanasyev I. A. Mythologisation of scientific knowledge: problems and consequences (Mifologizatsiya nauchnogo znaniya: problemi i posledstviya)

[10] — Archpriest Chaplin: scientists’ workability should be checked. Russian Orthodox Church would like to participate in the RAS “reform” -

[11] — Chaplin thinks, that economy needs orthodoxy (the Russian Orthodox Church) —

[12] — Constitution of the Russian Federation —

[13] — Stepin V. S. Theoretical knowledge: Structure, historical evolution (Teoreticheskoe znaniye: Struktura, istoricheskaya evoluciya) —

[14] — Soviet method of increasing effectiveness. (Sovetskii metod povisheniya effektivnosti ekonomiki) —

[15] — Henry Ford. My life and work. —

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