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Special Issue No. 14. December 2002. Russian science

Russian Science &
U.S. Military
1

Searching out the golden nuggets: the US military and Russian science 
Follow-up interview with Professor C. W. Kauffman

Brain Drain 2 The brain drain from Russian science
Foreign Support 3 Attitudes of Russian scientists to foreign support
Nuclear Power 4 NUCLEAR POWER: Floating nuclear plants
Nuclear Power 5 NUCLEAR POWER: What future for Chernobyl science?
Literature 6 SCIENCE FICTION: The birth of science fiction in Russia
Literature 7 SCIENCE FICTION: The space-age communism of Ivan Yefremov
Philosophy 8 PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Re-thinking paradigm shift
Environment 9 ECOLOGY: Kirishi: A green success story?
Criminal Economy 10 FOLLOW-UP

Searching out the golden nuggets: the US military and Russian science -- Follow-up interview with Professor C. W. Kauffman

SOURCE. My source for this item is Dr. C. W. (Bill) Kauffman, professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering in the College of Engineering, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Professor Kauffman is a specialist in explosion science and the design of rockets and aircraft, and has been actively following Soviet/Russian scientific and technological affairs for thirty years. He kindly sent me a copy of his "Summary Report. USAF-SAFAQ. Building Bridges with Russian Colleagues in Science, Engineering, and Technology" of December 28, 1994, which concerns a study he conducted in 1993-94 for the US Air Force on the capacities of Russian science, engineering, and technology (SET) and the interaction between Russian SET and American academia, government, and business. (1) Later he consented to a follow-up telephone interview and sent me other relevant material. 

I find the report of interest from two points of view. First, it gives the perspective of a very well-informed observer on the condition of Russian science and technology in the early 1990s. Second, it is suggestive regarding the motives behind US financial support of science in post-Soviet Russia. (2)

The author states that Russia has "an enormous storehouse of SET information and an equally enormous rapidly decaying infrastructure for its dissemination, storage, and production." True, the storehouse contains somewhat less information than its vast size would suggest because there is massive duplication of effort: "One could visit several places and find out that they were all working on the same problem unaware or uninterested that others had the same goal." So the American visitor knows more about what is going on in Russian science than do the Russian scientists themselves!

Nevertheless, Russian scientists and engineers have developed novel technologies in a range of fields, for example:

* ultra-fine powders

* synthesis of refractory or hard materials

* free electron lasers

* configuration and equipment of the Buran space shuttle

* electromagnetic control of shock waves

* supersonic combustion

A great deal of valuable information is vanishing rapidly as a result of the departure of personnel combined with poor documentation. "The second generation of designers in the Russian aerospace industry have retired, and they have failed to document their lifelong experience." And "because of the obsession with secrecy many results were never put in archival form. When file cabinets are emptied into the trash, the information is gone forever. Some archived data is literally being dissolved in water because of leaking roofs or being eaten by hungry rats." (3)

Turning to American motives, let us start with this statement from the report's opening section. The author writes that he has attempted "to establish normal professional relationships [between Russian scientists, engineers, and technologists and] colleagues in the United States which would be of benefit to the US Air Force through the acquisition of knowledge and expertise at a fair price and which would offer Russian investigators some hope of recognition and perhaps provide stabilization of their current economic and political situation as well as encouragement for the future."

One wonders how a "fair price" is to be determined. A Russian scientist who is the sole known possessor of unique information is a monopolist, and as such can charge whatever he likes. Should the price be an estimate of what it cost to produce the information? If so, shouldn't most of the payment go to the Russian government as successor to the Soviet state that bore those costs rather than to individual scientists? Or an estimate of what it might cost the US to produce the information?

It is striking that there is no mention of the motive for supporting Russian science that dominates public discourse in the West -- that is, to prevent nuclear and other dangerous military technologies from ending up in the wrong hands.

So what American interests are served in supporting Russian science? "It is in the long term strategic interest of the United States to integrate Russia into the world capitalistic and democratic structure considering that it is probably cheaper to maintain peace at some level than it is to conduct war at any level."

However, the predominant theme is the unprecedented opportunity to acquire information of indirect or direct military value. And much of the information was evidently of very direct military value.

Here is an example to consider: "Some of this data is irreplaceable as it represents experiments, intentional or unintentional, that can never be run again -- radiation exposure, multimegaton thermonuclear devices, anthrax spore release, etc."

The data on "radiation exposure" may include:

* information collected by the Soviet military on the effects of radiation on people living near the nuclear testing site at Semipalatinsk (now Semei) in Kazakhstan, who were observed but not evacuated

* information on the effects of radiation on people living near the Mayak nuclear facility in the Urals (see item 4 in this issue) and/or near the nuclear facility in the Tomsk region of western Siberia (see issue No. 8 item 7)

The reference to multimegaton thermonuclear devices concerns the huge H-bomb tests carried out in the Arctic under Khrushchev before atmospheric nuclear testing was banned by international treaty. Anthrax spores were accidentally released from a germ warfare facility in Chelyabinsk in 1983.

Professor Kauffman points out that not only the US but several other powers are "searching out the golden nuggets" hidden in Russian SET. He makes specific mention of South Korea, the People's Republic of China, Germany, and France. "The French search for supersonic combustion technology is no doubt driven by the desire to improve upon the Exocet missile."

NOTES

(1) The report draws on contacts made by the author with numerous research, educational, industrial, and governmental institutions in Russia. Contacts included visits, conversations at embassy receptions, and receipt of proposals and descriptive information. Contact was also made with some institutions in Ukraine, Latvia, and Uzbekistan. However, the focus of the report is on Russia.

Dr. Kauffman will be glad to provide copies of the report on request. His e-mail address is < This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >

(2) The report also discusses how to improve the organization of US support. I do not summarize this part of the report.

(3) The Soviet "obsession with secrecy" turned out to be not so irrational after all, didn't it? It served its purpose.

----------------------------------------------

FOLLOW-UP INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR C. W. KAUFFMAN

SDS: Professor Kauffman, thank you for the interesting material you have sent me and for consenting to this follow-up interview. I'd like to clarify certain points in your 1994 report and get your assessment of further developments since that time.

First of all, who exactly was selling all this technology? I get the impression that it was individual scientists and engineers. Were they acting with or without government authorization?

CWK: The selling was going on at all levels, from the level of the individual scientist or engineer through the level of the enterprise or institute right up to the ministry level, including the ministry of defense. It was like a fire sale [a sale conducted by a bankrupt firm to dispose of its stocks -- SDS]. Everyone was in there buying. The South Koreans, for instance, were especially active across the board. Ethical standards were not high on either side.

SDS: I also get the impression that it was primarily military technology that was on sale. What about civilian technology?

CWK: Virtually all Soviet science and technology was military. There was little specifically civilian technology to speak of. On the other hand, almost all technology nowadays is dual-use.

For example, military transport planes can also be used to fight forest fires by "water bombing." The Russians have a couple of planes that are ideal for this purpose. Their amphibian Berev-200 can load ten tons of water from a nearby lake or river in under a minute, and then locate the fire through the smoke plume by means of infrared sensors. We have nothing like this. I would like to arrange a deal whereby the US would buy Russian fire-fighting planes and Russian air carriers would buy Boeing passenger planes in exchange.

My own field of explosion science also has important civilian applications. I participated in research under the aegis of the US National Academy of Science to prevent dust explosions in grain elevators and grain handling facilities. I discussed this work with colleagues at the Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow as early as 1981.

SDS: Could you explain your reference to data from Soviet "experiments that can never be run again"?

CWK: Soviet technologists carried out incredible experiments that would never be permitted in the US because of the dangers involved. Take an example from my own area of specialization: Fuel Air Explosives (FAE), otherwise known as vacuum bombs. We used them in Vietnam, and the Russians have been using them in Chechnya. The Soviets carried out the largest ever FAE explosion, out in space. Unfortunately we did not obtain much information about it.

SDS: I just happened to come across an article about a Soviet experiment to simulate farming conditions after a nuclear war by irradiating wheat with radioactive cesium-137. This took place in eastern Georgia in the 1970s [The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, November 18-24, 2002, pp. 16-17]. And it appears that Chernobyl too was the result of some kind of experiment -- an unauthorized one in that particular instance.

In your report you talk about the ongoing loss of knowledge accumulated by Soviet science. That was in 1994. How much further has the process gone since then?

CWK: The loss of corporate memory has accelerated with the death of most of the leading figures from the old Soviet generation of scientists and designers. Khariton [the nuclear physicist] is dead. Tupolev [the aircraft designer] is dead; even his son is dead. Mil [the helicopter designer] is dead. They took a great deal of what they knew with them to the grave. But we can still learn quite a lot from representatives of the follow-on generation, and I have been doing what I can to set up contacts between them and American designers.

In the summer of 1994, I took a rather large delegation of people from NASA, the US Army, and various helicopter firms to discuss joint research and the purchase of Russian helicopter technology. We visited the Kamov and Mil Helicopter Design Bureaus, the Central Institute of Aviation Motors, and the Central Aero and Hydrodynamic Institute.

I am currently trying to organize a similar trip for aircraft designers. That is an area with great potential for collaboration. The Russians have produced very unusual aircraft models. I mentioned their fire fighting planes. Another type of aircraft they have developed is what they call ekranoplanes. (1) These are planes that fly low over water, wetlands, ice or snow. They take advantage of the additional lift provided by the cushion of dense air trapped between the plane's large wings and the surface, thereby saving on fuel and increasing range. They have military applications -- antisubmarine warfare, coastal defense, amphibious assault -- but are ideal too for sealift and for search and rescue. We have nothing like them, and in general the Russians are far ahead of us in air-cushion vehicle technology. Then there are planes with innovative features like skis, mudguards, debris screens, gear pods, and six-wheel gear.

Most worrisome for the future is that the follow-on generation of Russian designers seems to be the last generation. Young people are no longer going into science and technology. Business is more attractive. One Russian colleague told me that the average age of scientists in her institute is now 55.

SDS: Looking back at the whole of the period since the Soviet Union started to open up in the late 1980s, how would you assess the achievements of US-Soviet and then US-Russian cooperation in science and technology?

CWK: Something has been achieved. The Soros program has been an unqualified success. So was the USAID student exchange program of 1992-96, over half of whose graduates ended up at joint enterprises. About one fifth of the participants in the Special American Business Intern Training were scientists. Ford, who now produce automobiles in St. Petersburg, bring over twenty Russian scientists each year.

I should mention the successful program initiated by James Billington, a respected scholar of Russia and librarian for the US Congress, under which young Russians expected to become the leaders of tomorrow are brought to the US for one year of study.

The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) has helped some Russian scientists set up and develop science-based business enterprises. (2) The Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) also achieved something, though it was constrained by limited funding: it received perhaps ten proposals for each grant it was able to make.

Quite a lot has been done in the area of aircraft and helicopter technology, although the only firm that has established close and enduring ties with Russia is Boeing, which employs 400 Russian aeronautical scientists and engineers at its Moscow branch even though it doesn't actually manufacture aircraft in Russia. The European Office of Aerospace Research and Development [an agency of the US Air Force] has a small continuing program.

But overall I would say we have failed. There are pockets of success, but nothing like what could and should have been. In the mid-1990s we had the opportunity of the century, and we missed it. From 1996 on the Russians became more conservative: they no longer wanted so much technology leaving the country. By the late 1990s it was too late.

SDS: Why do you think the opportunity was missed?

CWK: My colleagues and I interacted quite a bit with the Clinton Administration, and it seemed to me that they lacked vision. They poured the lion's share of the resources available for Russia down the rat hole of the Harvard Institute for International Development, which was allowed unsupervised control of enormous amounts of federal money.

Science and technology had much lower priority. I proposed to the Clinton Administration a couple of projects to establish internet linkages between scientists and technologists in the US and in Russia and the former Soviet Union. One project, called "the Global Village," would have linked US industry with scientists and technologists in Russia and Central Asia. (At that time, by the way, government people were quite unable to appreciate the importance of the Central Asian countries.) The other project was called "Viewnet," which stood for Virtual Interactive East-West Network for Science and Technology. Both proposals were rejected.

A large part of the explanation is that there were many people who didn't want technological cooperation to succeed because they saw Russia only as a competitor, not as a potential partner.

SDS: How does that compare with the approach to scientific and technological cooperation of the Bush Administration?

CWK: I have had no interactions with the Bush Administration, but I would be glad to explore these matters with them. Who knows? Perhaps something could be achieved. I would not like to prejudge the outcome.

NOTES

(1) In the West these planes are usually known as WIG (wing in the ground effect) planes. They have also been dubbed "Caspian Sea Monsters." For further information, see http://aeroweb.lucia.it/~agretch/RAFAQ/WIG.html

(2) The work of the ISTC has been described by Maria Douglas and Peter Falatyn in the RAS: see No. 10, item 1.

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The brain drain from Russian science

SOURCE. A. V. Iurevich and I. P. Tsapenko, Nuzhny li Rossii uchenye? [Does Russia Need Scientists?] (Moscow: Editorial URSS, 2001)

The authors survey and assess the two components of the brain drain from Russian science:

-- Russian scientists who emigrate abroad, and

-- Russian scientists who stay in Russia but partly or wholly abandon scientific work in favor of commerce, politics, etc.

They do not assume that the brain drain is a totally negative phenomenon. Soviet science was hypertrophied: as an island of relative freedom, it was a magnet for all intelligent people. Some redistribution of society's intellectual resources away from science is therefore a necessary part of the post-Soviet transition.

But might the process go too far? Has it already? Is the most valuable core of Soviet science being preserved? Are at least the most talented Russian scientists staying in Russia and in science? (1) And what impact do scientists make on society by going into other fields?

The first wave of post-Soviet emigration included many prominent scientists. Thus in 1996, 50 of the 100 best known Russian experimental scientists were living and working abroad. (2) However, only a couple of top-level scientists -- that is, Academicians -- emigrated (Sagdeyev, Abrikosov). In more recent years, a growing proportion of scientist emigres have been younger and much less prominent individuals.

The magnitude of the movement out of science into other fields is hard to estimate. On the one hand, many people still formally employed at scientific research institutes (SRI) are spending almost all their time doing more lucrative non-scientific work "on the side" (e.g., petty trade, taxi-driving). Many SRI employees work in subsidiaries set up by SRIs to make money from products and services that have nothing to do with science (e.g. shoe repair). On the other hand, some of the people who have formally left scientific employment are still engaged in science -- notably, those working in small science-intensive firms in the "scientific parks" attached to Moscow and some other universities. (3)

The authors are ambivalent about the social impact of scientists who have gone into business and politics. They can achieve a great deal because they bring with them general skills acquired as scientists, above all an ability to think rigorously. But many have not put these skills to good use. For instance, Berezovsky would have been less harmful to society had he remained a mathematician.

The main problem, of course, is an institutional environment that discourages honest business enterprise. It is not scientists who must learn to adapt to a market economy, the authors insist, but the criminalized pseudo-market economy that must be adapted to the moral standards of decent people like scientists. And marginalized scientists can provide a social base for a political program to civilize Russia.

The authors urge that due attention be paid to the secondary social functions of science. Scientists are needed not only to do research but also to teach -- in particular, to maintain the system of higher education -- and to preserve an intellectual atmosphere in society at large, where they are losing their authority to "wizards" and other charlatans.

NOTES

(1) However, the authors do not fully accept the implicit assumption that the loss of mediocre scientists is no real loss to Russian science. They point out that science nowadays needs a certain proportion of mediocre people to do the routine "dirty work" in support of their more talented colleagues.

(2) I. G. Ushkalov, "'Utechka umov'i sotsial'no-ekonomicheskie problemy rossiiskoi nauki" [The "Brain Drain" and the Socio-Economic Problems of Russian Science], Vestnik RGNF, 1996, No. 2, pp. 71-76. The criterion used for identifying the "best known" scientists was the frequency with which their work was cited in the foreign literature.

(3) The authors are guardedly optimistic about the future of these scientific parks (pp. 116-23).

 Back to the Top

Attitudes of Russian scientists to foreign support

SOURCE. Iurevich and Tsapenko (as item 2), pp. 54-69 (chapter written together with I. Dezhina)

While only a small minority of Russian scientists receive support from abroad, (1) most have sought such support at one time or another. Almost every scientific collective, the authors remark, now has its "experts on foundations" who bombard potential foreign sponsors with appeals for money.

To explore the attitudes of Russian scientists to foreign support, the Central Institute for the Study of Public Opinion (TsIOM) surveyed 250 natural and social scientists from the main regional scientific centers, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Saratov, and Chelyabinsk. (2)

(a) Benefits and drawbacks of foreign support

"With regard to the general influence of foreign support on Russian science, moderately positive assessments predominate." Thus 13 percent of respondents consider foreign support of Russian science absolutely essential; two-thirds think it useful but not essential; and 13 percent regard it as humiliating or harmful.

In what ways does foreign support benefit Russian science and Russian scientists?

* In the view of 49 percent of respondents, foreign support increases the QUANTITY of scientific output.

* In the view of 35 percent of respondents, foreign support improves the QUALITY of scientific output.

* In the view of 52 percent of respondents, foreign support facilitates the creation of new scientific research programs.

* In the view of 62 percent of respondents, foreign support makes its recipients more independent of the directors of their institutes.

* In the view of 37 percent of respondents, foreign support revives the interest of Russian scientists in such traditional attributes of a scientific career as the publication of articles and monographs and the acquisition of academic degrees, inasmuch as these increase one's chance of getting a grant.

* In the view of 60 percent of respondents, grants from foreign foundations are a very substantial supplement to the income of Russian scientists (typically $100-200 per month). However, 65 percent of respondents note that grants are not large enough to cover trips abroad or the purchase of new equipment. They get "eaten up" by their recipients without changing the situation of Russian science as a whole. The system is "oriented toward growing vegetables not fruit trees."

* Many respondents also stress the moral dimension of foreign support, which makes the beneficiaries feel that they are a part of world science and that at least someone values their work.

The two most commonly mentioned negative effects of foreign support are:

* that -- in the opinion of 43 percent of respondents -- it undermines good relations among scientists by sowing divisions between the envied recipients of grants and their less fortunate colleagues, and

* that the hunt for grants takes up a large part of scientists' time, distracting them from their research.

The authors note some differences in the attitudes expressed by various categories of respondents:

* Men tend to be more skeptical about the benefits of foreign support than women are.

* Older and senior scientists, especially institute directors, tend to be more skeptical than their junior colleagues.

* Natural scientists, who are unable even with foreign support to buy the equipment they need, feel that social scientists receive a disproportionate share of the available funds.

* Contrary to expectations, no significant difference was found between the views of scientists who received foreign support and the views of scientists who did not.

(b) Attitudes to different forms of foreign support

The basic form of foreign support is the award of individual (or less often collective) grants on a competitive basis. Most respondents -- 86 percent -- approve of this practice. But a number of criticisms were also frequently voiced:

* Some grants should be awarded on the basis of nomination.

* More joint research projects with foreign collaborators should be funded.

* Some areas of science that are seen as politically relevant get disproportionate support at the expense of other less politicized but no less important areas.

* More support should be given to new scientific directions and open-ended exploratory research.

(c) Motives attributed to foreign sponsors

Only 12 percent attribute purely altruistic motives to foreign sponsors, seeing them as "Santa Claus," while 40 percent believe they "are trying to buy up our ideas on the cheap" and 14 percent suggest that their goal is to protect Western scientists from competition by stemming the emigration of Russian scientists. Only a few attribute to foreign sponsors the motive of preventing Russian scientists from working for "rogue states" like Iran and Iraq or long-term strategic motives like turning Russia into a "civilized neighbor" of the West.

16 percent suspect that Western secret services may be involved in foreign funding of Russian science, but they do not regard this as such a terrible thing. Some argue that the West has an interest not in undermining but in stabilizing the Russian state.

(d) Perceptions of foreign foundations

Although most Russian scientists are interested in obtaining foreign support for their work, they are poorly informed about foreign foundations. Few respondents were able to name more than two or three foreign foundations. (3) By far the best known and most highly regarded is the Soros Foundation, which is mentioned by 83 percent of respondents. The Ford and MacArthur Foundations are quite widely known. German and other non-American foreign foundations are rarely mentioned.

Only 35 percent of respondents think that they have an adequate understanding of the mechanism by which grants are allocated; 54 percent say they have a vague idea, and 7 percent admit that they have no idea whatsoever. Many confess that they find the allocation of grants by the MacArthur Foundation in particular "a complete enigma." This ignorance, the authors comment, is "fertile ground for the circulation of all sorts of rumors and the attribution to foreign foundations of dubious aims."

What, in the opinion of respondents, are the main factors influencing a scientist's chances of obtaining a grant?

* the personal connections of applicants (68 percent)

* their skill in writing applications (55 percent)

* their objective scientific achievements (29 percent)

* their formal status, i.e. post occupied and academic degree (27 percent)

* their informal authority (22 percent)

The majority of respondents see the process by which grants are awarded as subjective, chaotic, and corrupt. Here are some typical statements:

-- "The main thing here is the administrative apparatus of distribution, which keeps part of the money for itself."

-- "This sphere is quite corrupt."

-- "Our grant bureaucrats have concentrated in their hands power that Soviet bureaucrats never dreamed of."

-- "I do not exactly know this mechanism, but I have the a priori opinion that it's a mafia grouping."

Resentment is directed especially at the many employees of foreign foundations who are Russian emigres or people from specific politicized institutions such as the Institute for the Study of the USA and Canada. Respondents say that the emigres left Russia a long time ago and have a poor knowledge of the contemporary state of Russian science.

Thus the appreciation that respondents feel for the support offered by foreign foundations is marred by their acute dissatisfaction with the way that the foundations operate.

NOTES

(1) The authors' estimate is 4 percent, but it is not clear whether this refers to all those who have ever received foreign support or to those receiving such support at a particular moment in time. "Scientist" is used in the broad sense of the Russian "uchenyi" to include not only natural and social scientists but also scholars in the humanities.

(2) Of the 250, 200 completed questionnaires while 50 were interviewed in depth. The time of the survey is not specified, but appears to have been some time in the early 1990s.

(3) Curiously, some respondents thought that purely Russian foundations such as the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research were foreign foundations. Perhaps they were not aware that Russian foundations actually exist.

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NUCLEAR POWER: Floating nuclear plants

SOURCE. Russian Environmental Digest, November 18-24, 2002, Vol. 4, No. 47. Taken from AFX European Focus, November 19, 2002. More information from http://www.afxnews.com and http://www.afxpress.com

The Russian company "Malaya Energetika" has launched a plan to construct the world's first floating nuclear power plants. The "micro-power plants" will be towed to off-coast locations whence they will provide power and heating for forty years via cables to the mainland.

Work is scheduled to begin in 2003 at the Sevmash plant in Severodvinsk, which normally produces nuclear submarine engines. While the first plant will not be ready for at least five years, three Arctic and Far Eastern regions -- Arkhangelsk, Chukotka, and Kamchatka -- have already declared an interest and signed letters of intent with "Malaya Energetika." Each plant will cost $150m, which is much cheaper than a full-scale nuclear plant.

However, environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and the Norwegian organization Bellona said the floating plants represent a danger to the environment, and have questioned the project's economic viability, as have several Russian nuclear experts.
 

NUCLEAR POWER: What future for Chernobyl science?

Paul Webster, a Moscow-based writer, reports that following a meeting of United Nations agencies in New York in October, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has established an International Chernobyl Research Network. The network is the brainchild of Keith Baverstock, the European radiation health adviser to the World Health Organization. It is hoped to raise funds to launch a new and better coordinated research effort into the impact of the Chernobyl disaster on human health.

According to a comprehensive survey of Chernobyl health research issued in 2000 by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, many studies have been methodologically weak. Radiation dose estimates, diagnosis and classification of disease, and selection of control groups have all been inadequate. The only impact that has been clearly demonstrated is an increase in thyroid cancer in children exposed to radiation. Researchers propose to set up a long-term population study to track the incidence of childhood leukemia, breast and lung cancer, and genetic effects.

However, some researchers think it would be more fruitful to study the health impact not of Chernobyl but of the nuclear disasters that have occurred in the Urals in the region around the Mayak nuclear weapons facility. (1) One project funded by the European Commission is already being transferred from Chernobyl to the Urals. For this as well as other reasons, the future of Chernobyl research does not seem very bright.

NOTE

(1) For information on these disasters, see RAS No. 5 item 6.

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SCIENCE FICTION: The birth of science fiction in Russia

SOURCE. Iu. I. Ritchik, "Zarozhdenie nauchnoi fantastiki v russkoi romanticheskoi povesti 30-40-kh gg. XIX v." [The Birth of Science Fiction in the Russian Romantic Tale of the 1830s and 1840s] in Utopiia i utopicheskoe v slavianskom mire [Utopia and the Utopian in the Slavic World] (Moscow: Izdatel' Stepanenko, 2002) , pp. 114-121

The first work of science fiction (SF) written in western Europe is considered to be "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus" (1816) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851). (1) The author dates the birth of SF in Russia a little later, to works by such writers as A. A. Pogorelsky (Perovsky) and N. I. Grech that appeared in the 1820s. However, he focuses on works of the 1830s and 1840s by two other writers: Prince Vladimir Fyodorovich Odoyevsky and Osip Ivanovich Senkovsky.

Odoyevsky has to his name two published collections of short stories and novellas: "Pestrye skazki" [Multicolored Tales] (St. Petersburg, 1833) and "Russkie nochi" [Russian Nights] (1844). (2) At the time of his death he was in the middle of writing a utopian SF novel entitled "4338 God" [The Year 4338], in which he envisages human settlement on the moon, the cultivation of plants by means of artificial sunlight, and the use of electric aerostats.

Of particular interest are two novellas that Odoyevsky intended as satirical critiques of contemporary British social philosophers. "Posledneye samoubiistvo" [The Last Suicide] is directed against the "dismal economist" Thomas Malthus, who argued that mass impoverishment is inevitable because population always increases more rapidly than resources. "Gorod bez imeni" [City Without a Name] is a dystopian vision of an impersonal world based upon the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, which aims to subject everything to rational control. The parallel that comes to mind is the city of Yevgeny Zamyatin's "My" [We], imagined almost a century later against the background of the earliest years of the Soviet regime.

Let us turn now to Senkovsky. His main contribution to SF was "Fantasticheskie puteshestviia Barona Brambeusa" [The Fantastic Travels of Baron Brambeus] (St. Petersburg, 1835), which comprises a 50-page introductory essay followed by three stories -- Poetical Travels on White Light, A Scientific Journey to the Bear Islands, and A Sentimental Journey to Mount Etna. In the "scientific journey" the author, accompanied by a German scientist friend, ventures into the Russian far north and discovers there the traces of a lost civilization. (A lost civilization in the far north is a recurrent theme in Russian myth-making: for instance, the civilization of Arktogeya in the imagination of Alexander Dugin. (3))

The introduction, entitled "Autumn Boredom," tells how Senkovsky came to embark upon his fantastic travels. He was inspired in part by his impressions from a real two-year journey that he had made through Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and other countries of the East following his appointment in 1819 to the Russian mission in Constantinople [now Istanbul]. In part he was inspired too by the knowledge he had gained from long study of various sciences. Thus science adds a new ingredient to the long-established genre of travel fantasy, as well as to its utopian and dystopian sub-genres, and the new genre of SF is born. Senkovsky takes a self-deprecating attitude to his own achievement, referring to his stories as "my foolishness."

Besides writing SF, Senkovsky for nearly 20 years edited a periodical called "Biblioteka dlia chteniia" [Library for Reading]. This was a magazine of literature, the arts and sciences, industry, news, and fashion that reached a circulation of 5,000, which was "astronomical for those times." Senkovsky saw himself as an educator and steered clear of political engagement, for which he was excoriated by "progressive" literary critics like Belinsky and Chernyshevsky.

NOTES

(1) The first surname came from her mother, an early feminist thinker, the second from her husband, the famous poet. Another of her works, "The Last Man" (1826), set in a distant future world, might also be classified as science fiction.

(2) The 1844 publication was the first of three volumes.

(3) On Dugin see RAS No. 9 item 3, No. 10 item 8, and No. 12 item 3.

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SCIENCE FICTION: The space-age communism of Ivan Yefremov

SOURCE. Ivan Yefremov, Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980). Translated by George Hanna. The book can be read on-line at: http://moshkow.tomsk.ru/win/EFREMOW/tuman_engl.txt or with multicolored illustrations at: http://moshkow.tomsk.ru/win/EFREMOW/tuman_engl.txt_with-big-pictures.html

Ivan Yefremov (1907-72) was by original profession a paleontologist. His first stories, on the life of explorers, were published in 1944. "Andromeda" -- in Russian-language editions, "The Andromeda Nebula" -- is his best-known SF novel. Not coincidentally, it was written in 1956, the year of the first sputnik (Soviet artificial earth satellite).

This third English-language printing contains an introduction written shortly before the author's death. Here Yefremov explains how he came to write SF and the purposes he thinks SF should serve. For him SF is not a light-hearted genre in which the fantasy is given free rein, but a serious medium for exploring new scientific ideas and their social implications. Its task is also to portray the communist future of mankind. (In this piece "communism" has the same meaning as in Soviet ideology: it refers to the future culmination of social development, NOT the historical forms of the Soviet system, which are called "socialism.")

Indeed, "Andromeda" is set in a society -- let's call it Yefremia for convenience -- in which communism is already a mature society, several centuries old. Poverty, greed, and heavy toil are things of the distant past; "knowledge and creative labor have freed Earth from hunger, overpopulation, infectious diseases, and harmful animals" (p. 181). A greatly reduced population is concentrated in a temperate zone, mainly around the Mediterranean Sea, between the intensely forested and cultivated (by automation) tropics and the newly wild prairie. An atmosphere is being created on Mars to prepare that planet too for human settlement. Space expeditions penetrate ever further into the galaxy, and the first contacts with extraterrestrial civilizations have been established. Yefremia fuses Marx' vision of earthly communism with Tsiolkovsky's vision of mankind's cosmic destiny. (1)

What of the people who inhabit this utopia? The Yefremians have a great deal of freedom: they travel at will, choose new professions, seek love relationships, initiate projects. At the same time they are highly socially conscious and self-disciplined, even mildly ascetic. They derive satisfaction mainly from creative work in the arts and sciences and the full development of their intellectual and emotional capacities.

Coercion has not disappeared totally, as there is a small minority of egoistic throwbacks ("bulls"): they may be banished to the Island of Oblivion, or should they conspire to disrupt society eliminated by the "destroyer battalions." (I suppose something like the KGB is still needed to spot "bulls" and pre-empt their conspiracies, though this is nowhere spelt out.)

Yefremia was very much in tune with the spirit of the Khrushchev era, with its naive faith in rapid Soviet-led progress in two closely connected dimensions: scientific progress, symbolized by the new space program; and social progress -- "Our children will live under communism," promised Nikita Sergeyevich. Khrushchev's successors had no such faith and shifted the focus of official ideology from communism, relegated to an indefinitely distant future, to "actually existing socialism" (i.e. the Soviet status quo). In his 1972 introduction, Yefremov admits that many people no longer believe in a communist future. He still believes because the sole alternative is the self-destruction of mankind. The logic here goes as follows: Yes, A is highly implausible, but if not A then B, and B is simply too awful to contemplate, therefore A is inevitable.

How are decisions taken in Yefremia? One of the advantages of the fictional method of presenting utopias is that you never have to explain EXACTLY how they work. But we learn that leadership is shared among a number of councils: the Economic Council, the Astronautical Council, the Health Council, and so on. These councils are advised by an array of scientific institutions, my own favorites being the Academy of the Bounds of Knowledge and the Academy of Sorrow and Joy.

The various councils cooperate on an equal basis: none is supposed to be subordinate to another. Yet the Economic Council does occupy a crucial niche, if only because "nothing big can be undertaken" unless it allocates the necessary resources. It is indeed "the planet's central brain." And there is also the Control of Honor and Justice, "the guardian of every person on the planet," the ultimate judicial authority. (2) Parallels with really existing socialism readily come to mind. However distant the future ostensibly being portrayed, many of the author's assumptions reflect the society in which he really lives. Of course, the one is supposed to be the precursor of the other.

While I have nothing against communism as such, I wouldn't want to live in Yefremia. There is too much tension and heroism for my taste; life is too strenuous -- physically, intellectually, emotionally. I prefer the gentler utopian visions of William Morris' "News from Nowhere" and Ursula LeGuin's "The Dispossessed" (in which an anarcho-communist society has been set up on the moon Anarres). Surely, once mankind gets past the unavoidable turmoil of class struggle, war and revolution and reaches mature communism it is entitled at long last to a bit of relaxation? After all, it was Marx' son-in-law Paul Lafargue who published a pamphlet entitled "The Right To Be Lazy." Those of us who prefer the simple life can, it is true, go fishing on the Island of Oblivion, but in so doing we expose ourselves to abuse at the hands of the "bulls." Why can't we have an island of our own?

But Yefremov's workaholic ("strugglaholic" -- how's that for a neologism?) heroes and heroines have a grand excuse for not letting themselves relax: that cosmic destiny of mankind! The abundance of high-tech low-population communism is drained away by the exorbitant resource demands of ambitious cosmic projects. "We are going to ask mankind to curtail consumption for the year 809 of the Great Circle Era," says the president of the Astronautical Council (p. 330). Now where have we heard this before? No more enemies on earth, at least not to speak of? Never mind, let's go and fight mysterious beings in outer space. The struggle continues! Without end in sight. Space plays the same socially and esthetically conservative role in Yefremov's communism as did the arms race in actually existing socialism.

NOTES

(1) Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935). See pp. 258-281 in Russkii kosmizm [Russian Cosmism] (Moscow: Pedagogika-Press, 1993).

(2) Actually there are two Controls of Honor and Justice, one for the northern hemisphere and one for the southern. Each has 11 members. Cases concerning the whole planet are heard in joint session.

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PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Re-thinking paradigm shift

SOURCE. R. M. Nugayev, "Smena bazisnykh paradigm: kontseptsiia kommunikativnoi ratsional'nosti" [Basic Paradigm Shift: The Conception of Communicative Rationality], Voprosy filosofii 2001, No. 1, pp. 114-122. My translation to appear in Russian Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 42 No. 2, Fall 2002.

Scientific progress used to be thought of in linear terms, as the steady accumulation of new knowledge that gradually displaces erroneous non-scientific beliefs. Many people still think of science that way. Among philosophers of science, however, this view was thoroughly discredited by the path-breaking work of Thomas S. Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." (1)

Kuhn argued that sciences pass through not only long periods of smooth gradual development but also short periods of rapid discontinuous change, that is, revolutions. In the course of a scientific revolution, a community of scientists abandons an old conceptual framework or "basic paradigm" and adopts a radically new one.

The question on which Nugayev takes issue with Kuhn and his followers is WHY a basic paradigm shift occurs at a specific time. What exactly prompts a scientific community to undergo the painful process of throwing old assumptions and modes of thought overboard and working out new ones?

In Kuhn's account, the crucial role is played by the discovery of new phenomena and data that cannot be explained convincingly within the old paradigm but that can be so explained within a new paradigm put forward by innovating pioneers. (2) But Nugayev says that there is an initial period following the first appearance of the new paradigm when this is not yet the case, so there must be other reasons for the appeal of the new paradigm during this period.

Take, for example, the paradigm shift that was triggered in physics by the publication in 1905 of Einstein's special theory of relativity. At first, Einstein's theory did not lead to any new predictions by comparison with its rivals: it even contradicted Bucherer's experimental data on the deflection of cathode rays in magnetic fields. For this reason some physicists, especially in France, were inclined to reject the theory.

Why then did most physicists accept relativity? Because "from the very start Einstein's theory surpassed its rivals in providing a basis" for reconciliation, dialogue, and "genuine communication among the representatives of the leading paradigms of the old physics, who before Einstein had been psychologically, institutionally, and culturally isolated from one another." Einstein facilitated the unification of such sub-fields of physics as Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electrodynamics, thermodynamics, and Boltzman's statistical mechanics. Thus the general theory of relativity united the special theory of relativity with Newton's theory of gravitation, thereby pointing the way toward quantum theory.

"The history of science," concludes Nugayev, "may be regarded as the history of constantly fluctuating, emerging, and disappearing theoretical and experimental practices… Only those traditions are able to survive that can support and strengthen one another, leading to the broadening and deepening of our knowledge about the world."

The theories of Kuhn and of Nugayev need not be mutually exclusive. Each may typically apply to a different phase of the process of paradigm shift. It is necessary to re-examine a broader range of paradigm shifts in various sciences from this point of view. In any case, Nugayev has made an important contribution that enriches our understanding of progress in science.

NOTES

(1) First published by the University of Chicago Press in 1962. An enlarged second edition appeared in 1970.

(2) This does not mean that the new phenomena cannot be explained AT ALL within the old paradigm, only that such explanations are too elaborate, unwieldy, and ad hoc to be convincing. Explanations within the new paradigm are more elegant and concise, and therefore (in accordance with the principle of Occam's razor) more convincing.

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ECOLOGY: Kirishi: A green success story?

SOURCE. Olga Tsepilova, "V malom industrial'nom gorode Rossii" [In a Small Industrial City in Russia], Pro et Contra, Tom 7, No. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 68-83. (This excellent quarterly journal is produced under the aegis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.)

Kirishi is a small industrial city in Leningrad Province. A big ecological movement unfolded here between 1987 and 1991. Olga Tsepilova of the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg analyzes the origins, development, and results of this movement with the aid of public opinion surveys conducted in 1989, 1993, and 1997 and in-depth interviews with city administrators, enterprise managers, and green activists. (1)

The author starts with a brief history of Kirishi. The old town of that name was completely destroyed during the war. Rebuilding began in 1960 with the construction of an electricity station and a big oil refinery. In the early 1970s an experimental design bureau of military bioengineering was set up. Another large enterprise was built in 1974 -- a biochemical plant that processed by-products from the oil refinery into protein-vitamin concentrate (PVC) for use as an additive in cattle feed. Some small and medium-sized enterprises were also established. The city's population reached 20,000 in 1965 and 55,000 in 1989.

All four of Kirishi's large enterprises did harm to the local environment and public health, the PVC plant being regarded as the most dangerous. Data for 1996-98 confirm that of the 29 counties and other administrative sub-units into which Leningrad Province is divided the county in which Kirishi is located has by far the highest level of harmful emissions -- about 1,500 kg per person per year, as against a province-wide average of about 140.

Average incomes were also the highest in the province because the four large enterprises employed many scientists, engineers, and other highly educated individuals. By the beginning of the 1980s these people were very aware of ecological issues. Many of them were organized in various cultural societies (e.g. book-lovers' clubs), which even before Gorbachev often served quasi-political functions. Most important in this context was the All-Union Society for the Protection of Nature (VOOP). (2)

Preconditions were therefore in place for the emergence of a mass ecological movement. The main barriers to the public expression of protest were removed by perestroika. The trigger was provided by a major accident that took place at the PVC plant in January 1987, putting the purification installations out of action and leading to a jump in infant mortality and allergic illness.

"Disorders broke out in the city. Slogans demanding that production of PVC be halted appeared on walls. In April small groups of people tried to protest against the inaction of the authorities outside the building of the city party committee and city soviet executive committee. They were dispersed by the police. Rumors circulated that additional police and troops were being brought to the city… Defying open threats, many citizens went on the [official] Mayday demonstration with placards demanding that the PVC plant be closed down. The column was headed by parents of children who had died in recent months, holding portraits rimmed in black. The situation was so tense that the authorities refrained from taking action against the demonstrators."

On May 17 the "Movement Against PVC" was officially registered under the aegis of VOOP. This small (about 50 active members) but very well-organized and competent group became the leading force of the mass protest movement. It started to raise funds, succeeded in generating a great deal of favorable publicity in the media, and formed a strike committee to prepare a city-wide strike. The strike did not take place, but the preparations for it helped galvanize the central authorities into action. On August 4, 1989, Gorbachev set up a government commission, on whose recommendations the USSR Supreme Soviet resolved in November 1989 to close down and re-profile by January 1, 1991 not only the factory in Kirishi but all eight of the country's PVC plants.

The Movement Against PVC expanded its agenda to include other issues of local concern, including matters having nothing to do with ecology. In March 1990, twelve members of the group won election to the city soviet. With the backing of a significant proportion of the other deputies, they were able to form their own fraction, which played an influential role in city affairs until 1994 (when the soviet was abolished in connection with constitutional changes following the crushing of the Supreme Soviet in October 1993).

Although Kirishi no longer has a formally distinct ecological movement, the protests of the late 1980s have left their mark on the city's politics. Ecological concerns have been institutionalized within the structure of the city government, which has several agencies charged with monitoring the condition of the natural environment:

* the Committee for Protection of the City Environment, subordinate to a corresponding agency in St. Petersburg (3)

* the Administration for Emergency Situations, subordinate to the federal Ministry for Emergency Situations

* the Center for Ecological Security, created in 1996 by the ecology department of the Kirishi county administration to provide information, conduct research, and design environmental measures

* Ecological Security Services at all of the city's large enterprises

There are also a number of small commercial ecological services that work on a contract basis.

The environmental situation in Kirishi has improved somewhat in recent years, but it is hard to determine to what extent this is due to ecologically aware policies and to what extent to exogenous changes in the economy. Thus despite the government decision to re-profile the PVC plant by 1991 the production of PVC did not end until 1993 -- and that was because the product was no longer in demand. The factory's main product now is the locally popular Tigoda vodka. However, the author's interviews do suggest that local government pressure has induced enterprise managers to take (or to appear to take?) a more responsible approach to ecological issues.

Have the citizens of Kirishi changed their priorities in the 1990s or do they still care strongly about the environment? And how satisfied are they with the ecological policies of their local government? Let me present the author's survey data so that you can assess what they mean for yourself.

Between 1993 and 1997, the proportion of respondents who gave priority to "protection of the environment" over "the solution of economic and social problems" declined from 27 to 21 percent, while the proportion who gave priority to the latter increased from 25 to 38 percent. However, the largest category of respondents in both years comprised those who refused to give either set of issues priority over the other (48 percent in 1993, 41 percent in 1997).

Respondents were also asked: "Are your local authorities trying to solve environmental problems? If they are, then with what degree of success?"

Only 14 percent of respondents in 1993 and 9 percent in 1997 believed that the local authorities were making no effort to solve environmental problems. But a quarter to a third of respondents -- 34 percent in 1993 and 26 percent in 1997 -- did think that the efforts of the local authorities were "without palpable results." Another largish group, 21 percent in 1993 and 33 percent in 1997, said that the local authorities had "managed to do something to solve environmental problems." And just 2 percent in 1993 and 4 percent in 1997 said that the local authorities had "managed to do a lot to solve environmental problems." (4)

So -- a green success story? By comparison with most other Russian cities, that appears to be the case. The mass environmental protests did make some difference, even in the long term. But the applause is not exactly deafening.

NOTES

(1) Survey sample sizes were about 1,000. Interviews were conducted between 1989 and 2000. The author also collected economic, ecological, and medical data, analyzed electoral results, and followed the local press.

(2) VOOP is the Russian acronym for "Vsesoyuznoe obshchestvo okhrany prirody."

(3) Namely, the Committee for Use of Natural Resources, Protection of the Environment, and Ensuring of Ecological Security.

(4) 29 percent of respondents in 1993 and 28 percent in 1997 were unable to answer the question.

 

FOLLOW-UP

In a note to one of the pieces on the criminal economy in the last issue (RAS No. 13 item 2) I admit to not knowing what RUBOP is. Several readers have been so kind as to inform me that it stands for Regional'noe upravlenie po bor'be s organizovannoi prestupnost'iu [Regional Administration (or Directorate) for the Fight Against Organized Crime], an agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs at the provincial level. A more usual abbreviation is RUOP.

Mark Galeotti draws attention to his Glossary of Russian Police and Security Service Acronyms and Abbreviations at: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/hi/resources/modern%20resources/index.htm

And Matthew Maly writes: "Here is an organized crime story that is way worse than the ones most RUBOPs are dealing with."

http://matthew-maly.ru/library/def-dscr.html

JRL, Special Issue No. 14. December 2002. Russian Science

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