The Academy of Sciences reform. Why so scary?

OK-inform columnist on the need of some real reforms in the Academy

Quote: July 3 The Russian Duma carried a bill in first hearing regarding the reforms of the Academy of Sciences. This act has led to protests of the fellows of the Academy who declared that the current reform would ruin the Academy. OK-inform’s columnist has analyzed some of the complaints to the Academy coming from the authorities and came up with criticism towards the scientists.

What everyman won't understand

This May a very interesting post on one famous amateur stargazers’ forum was made. The post made a lot of fuss in the media mainly because of its heading: “This thing hurts! The answer of a civil servant to the scientists”. In his remark the bureaucrat has listed his complaints to the scientists, who, as he believes, ask more money all the time but show very few results of their scientific work. This post is interesting, of course if it’s a real thing, because it’s a sort of feedback to scientists’ criticism of the government.

“Try to open the Messier object or the NGC. Are there many objects discovered by you, Russian or Soviet astronomers? – the civil servant asks the forumites. - Or name me at least one Russian or Soviet scientist who has discovered a satellite in the Solar system. Asteroids: there are none of your names in the first hundred; none of them are in the second. Maybe you can find some starting only from the 700th. You’ve got no equipment? But try to list the objects you’ve discovered when you used to have some serious equipment like BTA-6 (Large Altazimuth Telescope) and Shajn reflector telescope. The weather in Pulkovo is bad for you? But how about the weather Herschel had in London, Cassini in Paris or Galle had in Berlin?

Yet saying that the author of the post is wrong would mean to lie because Russian scientists haven’t made any famous publications in the field of either natural or social sciences for a long time. There may be some serious publications regarding technical sciences but all the inventions of such matter become interesting for the military which puts them under secrecy, so the citizens of Russia can’t really find out anything about what our tax money is spent on. So if you ask a simple Russian dweller a question about the Academy’s work he’ll probably have nothing to say.

“I suggest we should fire the management of Sternberg Astronomical Institute, Crimean Astrophysical Observatory and Special Astrophysical Observatory with no severance package! Let’s leave them with none of their titles and special benefits because I personally do not understand how they got their fellowships and corresponding fellowships” – he concludes.

32K Doctor of Science and 118K Candidate of Science

Another fundamental problem is strangers in the science.

In the 2000s there was a fad for bureaucrats to get scientific degrees. The “doctor’s” or “Candidate” thesis was at least some evidence of well-rounded education of a government authority.

But first of all the scale of corruption in the educational sphere is so large that buying a bachelor’s diploma is as easy as buying a toothbrush.

Secondly, not only did the scientists receive their benefits from the fact that their candidate held an important position in the government but they also pretty much sold the thesis to those officials for the sake of money (sometimes the prices level up to 2 mil. Rubles). So now there is a whole black market of postgraduate works which isn’t controlled even by tax committee.

The massive scale of this industry can be seen by the number of scandals about fake doctorate works. For instance Vladimir Zhirinovsky has received his PhD without achieving the status of a candidate to doctor which is a base hierarchical principle of Russian scientific degrees. Another example: Moscow State University professor Alexander Dugin has got doctor’s diplomas in two fields of study even though he has got no higher education (professor’s dropped out from the Moscow Aviation Institute for poor academic progress when he was a sophomore).

Now there are 38 thousand doctors of science in Russia and 118 thousand more Candidates. Each year one thousand more people achieve a doctor’s degree. Government officials and deputies usually make extremely obscure studies in order to get their postgraduate diplomas such as “The past, the present and the future of the Russian nation” or “The history of sovereign democracy in Russia” or even “The innovative method on the formation of spiritual and cultural bonds within the Russian society”.

In other words, the science has lost its very important quality – the innovation. Doctor’s degree does no longer show any real discoveries, it only portraits the quality of repeating the same ideas in so called ‘new’ works. In the Soviet times the Higher Attestation Commission declined 300 works out of 1000 filed. Nowadays this figure is reduced to only three.

Managing the human resources

However it is very interesting to know the official position of the Russian Academy of Sciences regarding the fact that each year the number of dilettante writers who become doctors of science increases by thousands. But there have been no adequate proposals or projects coming from the Academy on that matter for the last twenty years. Maybe it (the Academy) simply cannot beat corruption and other abuses within the educational system. And if the scientists can’t struggle for the good moral character of the members of their own Academy how will they fight such things as pseudoscience then?

The protests of the scientific community stand to leave the assets of the Academy to the Academy itself. However it is obvious that the Academy’s reorganization will be followed by the purge of its ranks.

The same operation has been executed in the military. In 2006 the third attempt has been made to decrease the number of useless generals in the armed forces who are just waiting for their retirement in a safe place. 300 generals and admirals were fired and the process is still going on.

Moreover, the Academy’s reform needs the society to reevaluate the fellow’s title. The status of an academic nowadays is a recognized social capital which, however, assumes that the person who’s obtained it has got some really unique knowledge which is the main asset during current information era.

The Russian Academy of Science is a massive landlord: it owns 15 mil square meters of property, 330,544 hectares of land (the territory similar to three cities like Moscow) and 63,000 hectares of water surface. According to some authors the Academy leases 640,000 square meters of real estate to different organizations and private companies. Sounds like a good idea to become the Academy fellow and get a job in the administrative office, doesn’t it?

It is true that nowadays the fellow’s wage is probably the same as of a supermarket cashier’s but does this problem come from the lack of state financing? The main reason for a specific Candidate of science’s empty pocket is his personal inability to produce some unique knowledge wanted by the government, corporations, Russian or foreign scientific centers which are willing to pay for such knowledge. If the knowledge those scientists have is valuable then what is the obstacle which stops them from selling it around the globe?

The main goal of the government today is to manage human resources in the way which encourages privileges for those whose efforts increase the competitiveness of Russian science in the most innovative fields of life, such people as, for example Zhores Alferov. Science is a very special activity of developing knowledge which meets the requirements of being operative, unique and valuable. Such activity will always be rewarded by millions of rubles.

Instead of this, the scientific lobby claims the government to leave everything as it is. They only state that the Academy needs a reform but they want it to be more ‘respective’ to the fellows, which practically means that they don’t want any Academy’s management to be dismissed after the reform. If this lobby wins now the situation within the Academy will just be abandoned for years and all these years Russian citizens will be ashamed of their own science.

by Vitaly Trofimoff-Trofimoff

translated by Daniil Suprunchuk

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