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Post-Communism Science In Russia

Posted on December 21st, 2015 by ScienceDude

Highly trained scientists leave the country and seek employment abroad. Many of the younger generation seek work in fields where they can make a living but do not follow their training in science or technology. For a traditionally static society, the mobility of this young and promising generation is high. The older generation, well established in the former system, has great difficulty adapting to the new realities of life. In fact, a whole generation, the lost generation of this great period of social upheaval, is now in a very difficult state. It may gradually be displaced by the younger and more active modern generation, who are the real hope for our future.

pcsirIn the organization of science, the traditional division between science and teaching has become a major issue, says Science On Stage, a popular science and computers website. The government has stated that the cooperation of science and teaching should be pursued, but unfortunately, due to the conservatism of the whole system, it is very difficult to carry out these policies. The loss of the old ideology has led to a veritable vacuum of ideas, an emptiness and lack of meaning in life, having a deep effect on the young and expressed in the morals of society.

It is in these conditions that we should examine the state of science and pseudoscience in Russia. In the former system there was not much room in such a highly controlled society for pseudoscience. But in the last years of the ancient regime pseudoscience emerged, mainly in the guise of astrology, parapsychology, quack medicine, and similar manifestations. The authorities themselves had not only lost control, but in many occasions the practitioners of pseudoscience found support in the decaying system. Some were supported by the military, in bogus and secret projects. These events were clearly symptoms of a deep crisis, and any conscientious observer saw them as a precursor of things to come.

In the present conditions all controls have now gone, no censorship exists, and even the limits of decency are trespassed in the press and on television. The freedom to publish has led to a veritable flood of pseudoscience. Books on various alternative theories, ideas, and teachings arc on the market. With the revival of established traditional religions and much greater freedom, bizarre sects spread, especially among the young.

Pseudoscience is even observable in high levels of the academic establishment. A well-known mathematician is publicizing a new chronology of world history where there is no place for the Middle Ages and a thousand years of history are thrown out. These ideas are based on computer studies of manuscripts and astronomical data. In spite of a strong statement of the Academy of Science of Russia and of professional criticism by historians, these works are published and discussed in the mass media. Work on cold fusion and other marginal effects are supported and publicized, for the level of expertise and often the great persuasive power of these pseudoscientists leads to the support of their ideas. Where, then, are the limits to public debate and of professional honesty? Or is this all a transient phenomenon? Out of chaos will a new order finally come? These are not easy issues to resolve. Time and again the public is persuaded, if not fooled, on important matters of professional interest, often amplified by the media.

At the same time numerous pseudo-academies have been set up, from shamanism and black magic to seemingly more respectable headings like “information science” and others. They sound reasonable, but the professional standards practiced are very low and often are really attempts to institutionalize pseudoscience. Unfortunately, these groups manage to get support and capture the attention not only of the media, but also of some political bodies. At the same time, the Academy of Sciences, which is certainly the main body of science and should be the custodian of intellectual standards of a great cultural tradition, has had a very difficult time establishing and propagating its scientific and intellectual authority.

These conditions are only made more complicated and difficult by a lack of coherent science policy. Perhaps in these cases the last vestige of science is the professional honesty and integrity of scientists, who must face these adverse conditions. This is the real and effective factor that will permit science, as a social institution, to get through these difficult years. In these matters international recognition and collaboration are very significant. Of special importance is the support for Russian science by the INTAS collaboration and the Soros foundation based on external expertise. Academia Europaea has brought recognition and moral support to many of those who were at a loss in these years of transition.

On the other hand, it may be thought that these conditions, so manifest in Russia and multiplied by the social collapse, are also the result of a global intellectual crisis, through which European civilization is now passing. Many of these symptoms can be traced to the crisis of rationalism. The criticism of rational thinking and anti-science is not unknown in the West. In Russia we do not as yet have deconstructionism as an influential trend in philosophy, but hypocriticism and challenging conventional wisdom are part of the story. Now, after a few years of such critical approach to the past and present, those who were the most outspoken have failed to deliver any positive message. On a political level this is leading to a disillusionment with the ideas of democracy and the ideals of Western culture. It is now obvious in the arts, and perhaps in no field it is so noticeable as in cinematography. All this may seem to be rather far from science, but it certainly demonstrates the changes in social consciousness now happening, and the changing mores and values of the people.

The most unfortunate thing is that economic decline is leading to a marked shift to the right with the emergence of nationalistic mass movements. If these developments carry on, Russia may follow the example of the German Weimar Republic, a historic analogy that is worth remembering. Thus we see that the symptoms of the pseudoscientific crisis may signal a deep-rooted and socially dangerous development both for reason and democracy.

Finally, what are the real long-term and profound reasons for these irrational developments, the decline of reason at a time when the possibilities for development are so numerous and the promise of science so great? It may be assumed that in facing and, it is to be hoped, resolving these issues a global approach is really necessary. These general trends are hardly ever resolved by the sorts of reductionist explanations offered on a short-term cause-and-effect basis. Perhaps these events have to be seen in the larger perspective, in the longue duree of great structural changes in our growth and development. But here we are lacking the time scale to objectively observe these events of our ‘daily concern. Can this loss of relevance and bearings be due to the very rapid changes now happening in the globally connected world – when there is no time for the longer processes of culture to take place in a world overrun by numerical growth, and when evolution has no time to develop by trial and error?

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