The Russian Academy of Sciences stands on the brink of the biggest reforms in its 290 years of history. Czar Peter founded the Academy 31 years before even the first university opened its doors on Russian soil. Some say it did not change much since then and only gives a nest for 50.000 scientific employees and harbours the second biggest library world-wide, but for which results? Some say the “Last days of wisdom” have come. The reformers are not scientists but financial accountants of the newly founded Federal Agency of Scientific Organisations (Fano). Numbers count, don´t they? The Academy was the pride of the Soviet Union and spawned dozens of Nobel Prize Winners and made the Russian Nuclear-, Defense- and Spaceprogram possible, on eye-level with the USA – for a long time.
The new ideology is called “efficiency” and is NOT driven by the maximal scientific results but by the possible most minimal “economic effort”. That is bewildering as a concept to support scientific “wisdom”. It sounds very much like the Western shift of mindset in the sciences and universities to save money first and then demand first class results – best every month – evaluated heavily through number-based accounting. Quantitative evaluation supersedes qualitative methods and human choice. This produces competition and thinning out even the “knowledge” produced, but certainly is not giving room or resources to develop any “wisdom”, driving by economic pressure. Wisdom needs time. In applied fields it may lead to innovations which pay off a lot. If all what is not directly converting to money will not stand a chance, what chance does innovation have? It will go into start-ups. Not even corporate innovation is blind like this. They mostly understand that R&D needs a creation process where things are given a playground to evaluate how to monetise the outcome LATER. Look at the google labs and buy NASA airfields to create their own corporate Space-research (see NASA to rent out historic Silicon Valley airfield to Google’s Planetary Ventures). Corporations afford the time to generate their commercially viable products. But this is state run public research, not a corporate lab…
Natalia Iwanowa of the Institute of World-Economy find this view deployed by many veterans in the scientific business (did it become a business,..when exactly was that?) a bit “undercomplex” (Zeit, 2014/48). She states it may be true that the decision-makers in this reform are people have no clue about “science” but she hears that colleagues in the West are facing the same situation. How assuring. On the other hand in her opinion these people from the Ministry of Finance are the best and most capable for this job in the whole apparatus, because, now hold tight…”they deal with money and are therefore closer to the Russian reality of life than all the others”. Great, I did not know that golden eggs are coming from cutting feeding the geese with good food.
If science is only evaluated with the benchmark of laying golden eggs like in the Medieval times when Alchemists tried to create gold out of less precious material? It may be wise to see what happened to the Alchemists on the long run. On what base decisions are being made world-wide to re-interpret golden eggs as “wisdom”. Will this attitude help keeping young people in institutions and inspire them to ask deeper questions or will it help to weaken the institutions of “wisdom”? It might be very well about that. The geese will not know that they are held for Thanksgiving until it is Thanksgiving. Thank you for creating wisdom through openly showing this mindset efficiently. It may lay golden eggs in some heads…
Academy ‘reform’ is stifling Russian science (http://www.nature.com/news/academy-reform-is-stifling-russian-science-1.15486)
Embattled President Seeks New Path for Russian Academy (http://news.sciencemag.org/people-events/2014/02/embattled-president-seeks-new-path-russian-academy)
Die letzen Tage der Weisheit, dieZeit 2014/48 (http://www.zeit.de/2014/48/akademie-der-wissenschaften-moskau-abwicklung)