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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Stuck whether academics: the reasons for the unsatisfactory state of Affairs in RAS

At the end of March, a General meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In addition to the annual report at this session it was anticipated the election of the President of the RAS and of the Presidium in connection with the expiration of their term of office. However, the candidates nominated for the position of President, including the current President, academician V. E. Fortov, refused to run, citing the imperfection recorded in the Charter of the election procedure. Speakers the participants of the meeting talked about the reasons of unsatisfactory state of Affairs in the Academy. Academician E. M. GALIMOV sent in the “MK” article in which he develops a position he raised in the speech at the General meeting.

photo: Alex geldings

Basic science — who needs it

Did not want to return to the theme of the Academy of Sciences, especially after the last rather sad session. But comments in the media brought me out of “non-resistance to evil”. Because, in my opinion, too narrowly, only in private matters and individuals, outlines the problem.

Photo: Nicholas His


Eric M. GALIMOV, academician of RAS since 1994, member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2002-2013, scientific Director of the Institute. V. I. Vernadsky Russian Academy of Sciences, Director 1992-2015., honorary Professor of Moscow state University. M. V. Lomonosov, laureate of the State prize of the Russian Federation for science and technology 2016

Report of the Academy of Sciences at the annual session of the contained messages about the serious achievements of fundamental science. Many of the works of the world level even it doesn’t fit. Hardly an annual report, for example, at Harvard University, located in the first row of the world rankings, would be a much richer report of our Academy. Only the annual budget of Harvard is 36 billion, and the budget of the entire Russian Academy of Sciences with all its institutions — less than $ 1 billion! Such Academy to pray would be necessary. Just don’t need it even for only 1 billion.

The people said: stuck these academics. Bored with your basic science. Want money. And their life is not enough. Pensions are small. Products expensive. What can I say? To explain people the importance of basic science is difficult. Practical use it is not. The deeper is the fundamental science, the less she understood. People do not need it. It is an intellectual exercise of a relatively small number of people who are predisposed to it and capable of thinking of the appropriate type. Fundamental science is akin to solving puzzles and riddles. Some like to do it, but not everyone. It seems unreasonable to pay for someone else’s entertainment. In fact, in the Middle ages academic exercise engaged in by wealthy people for their own pleasure. But after a couple of centuries it became clear that the countries in which these intellectual pursuits were common, suddenly found himself in the vanguard of humanity and live better. And so matters stand to this day.

The only problem is that before it was quite light head and goose-quill to record good thoughts. And today in the XXI century. And production of new knowledge, not just reasoning, requires huge cost of equipping and organizing the work of a researcher.

The lack of proper equipment makes the job of the scientist is futile. He cannot achieve the highest form of scientific recognition in the world. It makes a scientific career in our country unattractive to talented young people. But it is more important than salary.

Of course, the leadership of the country understands the necessity of innovation for economic development of the country and calls for him. The idea, according to the accepted laws and documents, is to focus scientific research on priority areas in large public research centers, and basic science — Academy of Sciences and in universities. In principle this is the right plan to meet modern trends. But the expected results, he does not.

In the USSR everything was okay?

I remember the Soviet times as the Golden age of our science. If the state of science in the USSR excellent? Not at all. If you compare with foreign science, then us and then it was backward equipment, much lower than that of Western scholars, wages, restricted communication capabilities, including check-out and participation in international conferences. In all these respects the position of science today is better than before. Except one: in Soviet times the situation was a respected scientist. Moreover, in those circumstances it was the best choice of destiny.

Today we are a democratic state. There is no doubt. We really are the claimed constitutional rights and freedoms, which, as in other countries, does not exclude the manifestations of falsehood, of injustice and stupidity. We are no worse and no better than other democracies. We have an open border. People can go to work in another country. A talented person can realize themselves in business, in management. Before science it was possible to make a career depending on their abilities. In other areas acted ideological, and other limitations. To go just anywhere. Run? But few were willing to break with the homeland. Therefore, the work in an academic institution was a dream, and today a gifted man is hard to lure in domestic science.

Was the science demanded the Soviet era? Half Yes. Half, because the planned economy in the absence of internal competition inert in relation to any innovation. Science had to “implement”. But science was needed in the geopolitical competition. Country, to build communism, needed in science. Moreover, she called his philosophy, scientific communism. Geopolitical goals of communism fueled inter-state competition. Therefore, in those areas that were important for geopolitical competition, including in the field of arms and related high technologies, science was in demand. It provided a competitive level of achievement. Today’s Russia has no global ambitions and no doctrine, involving irreconcilable geopolitical competition. And that’s good. But, as a consequence, there is no this side and the previous stimulus for the development of science.

So the democratic transformation was, oddly enough, adverse to our science. But it’s not them. And it would be sad if we moved back.

With the transition to a market economy seemed to work the factor of competition between producers within the country. But, unfortunately, the factor of the internal competition were we are now severely weakened. Primarily because of the dominant state participation in the most important sectors of the economy. Easier to the state to implement its policy directly, than relying on seems to be at the disposal of the indirect tools: tax policy, the establishment of preferences, and so on. The main difference between an economy based on private enterprise, from a planned socialist economy is the creative role of the risk factor. Survives a successful entrepreneur, winning the competition. Losers fail and give up. This provides the ultimate progress.

A private entrepreneur to win the competition science. Public participation makes any enterprise risk-free. The state will support even an inefficient company if it participates in it. Science can be “implemented” for the love of progress, but in principle it is not needed and not vitally important, as it was in Soviet times. The primacy of bureaucracy eliminates in many cases the factor of competition in the private business. Agreeing with the bureaucracy, we can beat the competition without any science. This makes corruption pervasive phenomenon. I think that the bureaucratic dominance of the economy is the main reason we are creating an unfavorable soil for the development of science.

photo: Gennady Cherkasov

Low quality elite

In my opinion, the problem of our society is the poor quality of the elite. Of course, there are a lot of smart and talented people. But they are not enough. In the management layer a lot of mediocrity. So accepted a lot of bad decisions. And sometimes, on the contrary, great ideas fail because of mismanagement of their embodiment.

Belonging to the elite means not just high social status, but also a high level of professional and human qualities. That our elite are very often lacking. Many manifestations of low-lying properties, neglect of duty and just ignorance. There was this elite in the period of transition from the medium energetic, but poorly prepared, sufficiently unprincipled to yesterday’s Komsomol members turn into clever businessmen, sometimes with a noticeable semi-criminal component. Honesty and integrity in this environment would be an obstacle to success. Since then a lot has changed, a new generation of people, and the old pooltables. But generic signs more noticeable. For such elite scientific mentality alien.

Our elite stuck in my head the ideas gleaned at a superficial acquaintance with the construction of science in the West. In these countries, basic research is concentrated in universities. Teaching activities the main purpose of scientists in universities and research work they are mostly for grants. In Russia since Peter I, and especially in Soviet times, the fundamental science was concentrated in the Academy of Sciences, in which scientists professionally engaged in only with science, but teaching in universities were part-time. The idea is to Fund research in academic institutions through grants — is nonsense, and most importantly, it’s just money down the drain. But it is connected with the search of effective management. Say, why to feed the whole Horde, most of which was idle, and the elderly. More economical to Finance point separate well-established group. It is important to support young people.

Like it makes sense. But actually it doesn’t work. The selected groups remain in poorly equipped laboratories, low-paid ancillary services, often in a hostile atmosphere caused by the envy of colleagues who are unjustly lucky. Expensive devices for grants not buy. So it is simply additional salary. Some grants put a condition: to give at least 50% of the young employees. To be able to receive money the others — middle-aged, but really working employees — seek out young people, include them in the grant and pay them the money they don’t deserve to formally comply with the requirements of the grant.

The grant system is just harmful in academic institutions. We will not talk about that related to abuse and injustice because the question of whom to give grants, decide unknown “experts”, not the scientific Council of the Institute, who really knows who is who. Research teams were obliged to submit to the ridiculous reports. For example, in the application for a grant, you promised to write three articles, and wrote only two or so failed the grant, give the money, or at least won’t get it next time. Sometimes scientist the years has not published the material, because I am not sure in the results, again and again to check. In the grip of the formal requirements it can reduce the demands on himself, to publish unreliable data or just made up. This can have disastrous consequences, cause distrust of our science and the loss of international reputation. And it is in the scientific community is of great importance.

In the circles of the elite reputation, apparently, means little, judging by the fact that discredited persons remain in place. So they would never come like the consequences of their actions. It is not the fault of the officials, sometimes we say. Many officials conscientiously doing their job. This is a manifestation of the low quality of our elites as society.

Don’t confuse academics with experts

There is a misconception concerning the role and purpose of the Academy of Sciences. Academics are considered experts, experts. It comes from too literal understanding of the Russian word “scientist”. Meanwhile, the important thing in science is not scholarship, knowledge of the subject, and the creation of new knowledge. Of course, you would need to know the subject, but it is only the condition, not the content of the activity. English science — science and people in science — scientist, i.e. “nauchnikov”. We have no such word. We translate this as “scientist” and substitute the essence of the concept. This is because science as an activity is not originated from us. It came to us from the West. Although the effect of gifted Russian nature was quickly mastered by scholars. Remained as an occupation of scientists.

The exact translation of the word “scientist” in English will expert (expert). It is used and our expert. Our elite decided that academics are experts, and the appointment of the Academy of Sciences is to be examined. And separated the Academy from the leadership of scientific institutions, i.e. Turner from the bench, inventing FANO. However, the President stressed that FANO has to engage in economic activities, freeing scientists for scientific work. But, as I mentioned, our elite know how to turn good ideas into their opposite. FANO diligently engaged in the organization of scientific work as it understands it. Nothing good came and will come. It would be right if the President has revised its mission, returning to academic institutions under the wing of the Academy of Sciences.

A little bit about religion

Will have to do with religion. I don’t think that there is some incompatibility of science and religion. But still they have different values. Scientific thinking is always associated with doubt in the sufficiency attained and the search for a new understanding of the nature of things, while religion is conservative in matters of knowledge and calls for faith in preset view. While we are talking about spiritual and moral categories, the differences between religious and scientific thinking tenuous.

Religion, at least modern, takes research and development aimed at improving the conditions of human existence, that is what is called applied science. But interest in the problems of fundamental science is not supported by religion. The consideration of knowledge as a system of natural laws, the objective essence of matter and spirit, including, for example, questions of the origin of life and man, evolution — and behind them is the future of biotechnology — the cause of religion rejection because it hurts her a basic understanding and raises questions that she believes she already has the answers. Therefore, religion and fundamental science, not allies. In our time — Renaissance of religion in our country — for the national Academy of Sciences, which aims to do just basic science, it represents a significant obstacle in attracting to their side of public opinion.

Academics are to blame for their troubles

This is an external cause. If they do not change radically, by any shuffling of the desired result not to receive. But in disasters of the Academy first, of course, blame the academics. Academy of Sciences strong intellectually but weak character. It is not common. She is not able to unite around a common idea. Like intellectuals in General. In the works of V. I. Lenin, which I had to study in my youth, I never liked his attitude towards intellectuals. But closer to the age I realized he was right. The intelligentsia are unreliable. To rely on the proletariat. Intellectual — individually strong personality. But as a class it is loose shapeless education. Everyone has their own opinion and unwillingness to follow anyone else. Everyone pulls in their own direction. The Academy of science not its own coming from the entire community plan of any action or transformation. That’s her problem. This property of the scientific community. If they were able to March in formation, but in their intellectual capacities, what would it was power! But then they wouldn’t be scientists. Alas, intellectuals can love — and then she creates amazing works or not to love — and then she deflates. To fight she does not know. You need to fight for it.

How to help the cause?

Now adopted an important document “Strategy of scientific and technological development of the country”, signed by Vladimir Putin. It identifies the goals facing the country, challenges ahead and the priorities that sees the country’s leadership. Importantly, the document at the highest level declares the importance of science for the country, and fundamental science in particular. It is a concept. Following this, there should be developed a program implementation of this strategy: what specific actions should be taken under what conditions the goals can be achieved, and which of them cannot be reached.

The development of this program, as I understand it, has instructed the government to FANO. Probably, RAS will be asked to give an expert evaluation of the finished programme. I foresee that the program will contain common space and calls or erroneous and impracticable projects. The fact that neither the government, specifically the Ministry of education and science, no FANO there is no mechanism to develop a real program of this magnitude, even with the involvement of individual members of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Naturally, she once again is critical will be accepted by the Academy of Sciences, and attempts to implement it will cause the resistance of the academic community. Naturally, once again this will cause irritation of the authorities, the accusations that RAS is incapable of change, refuses rational cooperation and therefore deserves new sanctions.

I think we’re making a mistake, losing the initiative. Such a programme is only the Academy of Sciences of the organisation as a whole.

It is clear that the program should involve not only the Affairs of the Academy of Sciences and not only science. In our country, only recently changed the entire system of government, the strategy for scientific and technological development should be implemented in combination with the solution of problems of state-building, the creation of a new economy, new principles of national security. Academy of Sciences is the only organization in the country, which has a sufficiently multilateral qualifications and intellectual capabilities to develop and propose an optimal program. I am sure that you cannot create a development program, not only without the knowledge of the laws of Economics, but without knowledge, relatively speaking, of thermodynamics — in other words, without the knowledge of the General laws of development of the material world, which brought up and owned by qualified scholars. Will have to consider some aspects that are sensitive to the holders of property and power. It is important that academics at least to some extent independent in their judgments, while the naughty official you can pay to zero.

Think of the Academy of Sciences there is a chance, therefore, to create a program of implementation of the strategy of scientific and technological development, which would embrace the totality of the necessary change. Such a program could be the support for the President, the election campaign which we will next year. This is the path to a radical change in the situation of science. Academy of Sciences needs to take the initiative in their hands.


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