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OPEN LETTER

To:
The President of the Russian Federation D. A. Medvedev,
The President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yu. S. Osipov

Subject: The necessity for scrupulous scientific examination of government programs and support for The Commission of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Struggle Against Pseudo-Science and Falsification of Scientific Research.

Dear Dmitry Anatolyevich and Yury Sergeevich,

We, scientists and engineers working in Russia and abroad, are united by our concern for the future of Russia, belief in the potential of its people, faith in science and understanding of the role of science in the modern world. We are seriously disturbed by the exclusion of scientific and technical expertise from the decision-making processes that are related to the crucially important and strategically significant directions of state policy in the Russia Federation. We are certain that the absence of such decision-making expertise relating to large national projects and strategic government programs that are associated with modern technologies, such as the project "Pure water" – is inadmissible and can lead eventually to a national catastrophe.

The role of science, both fundamental and applied, is impossible to overestimate in a modern society. In economically leading countries, science and education play a key role not only in stimulating economic prosperity, but also in guiding the culture and education of the population. This ultimately results in an increase in the quality of life of each citizen. With governmental support, science is capable of carrying out one more function – preventing charlatanism and obscurantism. As history shows, blossoming of such practices reflects the lowest educational level in the country and leads to catastrophic moral, intellectual and even physical degradation of the population. In addition, one of the key challenges of science is the formation of an expert scientific environment, an important role of which is to provide professionally correct and objective expertise of the scientific and technical merits of innovative projects.

The realization of such expertise and its importance can be reached only if at least three criteria are satisfied. First, the scientific community must be safeguarded against wrongheaded opinions of officials and politicians. Second, peer review by unbiased colleagues should be guaranteed at the national and international levels. Third, a professional code of ethics is essential.

In Russia all these functions are historically assigned to the largest scientific organization that has strong traditions and authority with respect to the international scientific community, namely the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).

The Commission of the RAS on pseudo-science and falsification of scientific research was created on the initiative of the outstanding Russian scientist, and Nobel prize laureate, V.L. Ginzburg. The Commission consists of leading Russian scientists and researchers of world renown. We emphasize that the Commission is a public organization entrusted specifically to lead the struggle against charlatanism in science.

Despite the intense efforts of the President and the Russian government, up to the present moment the situation in Russia appears to be such that the importance of science and education in society is unclear to the majority of the population and, even to a considerable extent, to government clerks. As a matter of fact, the current situation has led to the burgeoning of financially government-supported "scientific" charlatanism, "Lysenkoism," pseudo-scientific conferences, and the appearance of a large number of "innovative" projects and "inventions," the true scientific basis of which has been seriously questioned by professionals and specialists.1,2,3 Unfortunately, as a consequence, this has led to some mockery of Russian science in the international press.4

At the same time, there is growing and aggressive outside pressure toward the RAS by some Russian politicians who wish to eliminate entirely the Commission of the RAS on pseudo-science and falsification of scientific research.5,6,7 Thus, we consider the current situation to be critical.

A catastrophic situation has emerged in the last several months. In its role as a public organization, The Commission of the RAS on pseudo-science and falsification of scientific research is the only establishment that has stood up against the use of scientifically and technically unverified pilot projects exemplified by the major national project "Pure water" and, as a consequence, against irresponsible waste of budgetary funds. Leaving aside from the scope of the letter the efficacy of some of the technological decisions involved in the "Pure water" project which have already caused a conflict, we would like to bring to your attention the fact that a number of scientific studies have already shown that some of these technological decisions may result in a hazard to the health of the population.8,9

On the eve of the general meeting of the RAS, we wish to express to you our unconditional approval of the existence and activity of the Commission of the RAS on pseudo-science and falsification of scientific research. In addition, we express our extreme concern regarding the absence of a system of governmental barriers to the machinations of obscurants and scientific falsifiers. At present, the Commission of the RAS, which is a public organization, is actually the only arbiter capable of carrying out a professional examination and provision of a qualified evaluation of any scientific position ostensibly used in the "innovations" and "inventions" of pseudo-scientists. However, the public commission, consisting of only a limited number of scientific experts, is not in a position to cope with an ever-expanding stream of doubtful inventions and the hassles of charlatans, especially those imposters who possess great financial resources and political support.

Resolution of the complex problems that have caused the above described situation becomes especially important right now, when the enormous resources of the country will be distributed for the creation of a truly innovative economy. Effective and efficient handling of these funds, and the achievement of desirable results, depends directly on a new governmental system of critical scientific and technical expertise.

Thus, we consider that there is a state of emergency in Russia that requires the creation of a legitimate institutional system of scientific and technical examination of national projects and the strategic programs associated with them, specifically directed to those projects that employ the newest technologies, and especially those that apply for full or partial governmental financing.

In connection with the necessity of carrying out an independent objective and qualified examination of such programs, the possibility of expert evaluation, under certain circumstances, should be considered at the international level. We propose that the Russian government or the RAS create an international organization of experts, for example, a "Center for International Scientific Examination."

If, instead of its current status as a public organization, the Commission of the RAS were to be an official state component, it could function to conduct in-depth evaluations of possibly doubtful scientific inventions and technologies. Additionally, such an organization could aid in recommendations for a more detailed appraisal of such projects by an outside competent expert scientific organization.

At the present time, the world has accumulated a great deal of experience in both carrying out independent and objective scientific and technical evaluations and creating barriers against the activities of charlatans and pseudo-scientists. International practice, certainly, should be considered by the Russian government when deciding on procedures and principles for the functioning of a state expert centers.

           Sincerely,

Note: Translation from Russian by Boris Krasnikov, Research Professor, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY


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