«It is not only the Russian economy that is mobilizing for war, but also science»

Machine assist­ed translation

Since February 24, 2022, we live in a new real­i­ty. It has con­cerned all peo­ple on Earth, but sci­en­tists have been par­tic­u­lar­ly affect­ed. International sci­en­tif­ic ties, projects, and tra­di­tions that have been form­ing for decades were crum­bling in front of our very eyes. We asked researchers in var­i­ous fields of sci­ence to answer three ques­tions to find out how the war affect­ed their activ­i­ties and them per­son­al­ly. We con­tin­ue to pub­lish sci­en­tists’ answers (the first issue was pub­lished on February 24, 2023.

1. Science. One year after Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, how do you assess changes in science?
2. Colleagues. What has changed in your spe­cif­ic pro­fes­sion­al envi­ron­ment, in your sci­en­tif­ic groups, orga­ni­za­tions, and communities?
3. Personally. How has this war year affect­ed you per­son­al­ly? What have you learned for yourself?

Natalia Berloff, Professor at The Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, UK.

1. Science and uni­ver­si­ties around the world have recov­ered from the impact of the coro­n­avirus, con­fer­ences, meet­ings of sci­en­tists, sem­i­nars, and face-to-face ses­sions with stu­dents have resumed. We began to appre­ci­ate face-to-face inter­ac­tion with col­leagues even more when it became clear that we had tak­en for grant­ed some­thing that could be destroyed overnight. The fab­ric of the sci­en­tif­ic world is very frag­ile, and it must be guard­ed against exter­nal shocks at all costs. The war dealt a bru­tal blow to Russia’s sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, and the waves of this blow are spread­ing around the world. Students were forced to leave Russia after being arrest­ed for par­tic­i­pat­ing in unau­tho­rized ral­lies or sim­ply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Many sci­en­tists and pro­fes­sors have left for per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary posi­tions in the West, in China, India, Latin America. Ties and careers are crum­bling, but of course, all this pales in com­par­i­son with the fact that peo­ple are phys­i­cal­ly dying.

What will hap­pen to Russian sci­ence in the future? Science can exist in many forms. Andrew Wiles iso­lat­ed him­self from the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty for a long eight years before he pre­sent­ed his proof of Fermat’s Grand Theorem to the world. But this is the excep­tion rather than the rule. To solve com­plex ques­tions, there is a grow­ing need for large research teams spread across dif­fer­ent types of insti­tu­tions and geo­gra­phies. Such col­lab­o­ra­tions often begin at inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences, where poten­tial col­leagues out­side one’s own insti­tu­tion and coun­try can be found. Researchers in some fields are look­ing for answers that require not only large-scale col­lab­o­ra­tions, but also enor­mous resources and unique equip­ment. If you want to stay on the cut­ting edge, do the most excit­ing sci­ence, and do what no one else has done before, it gets more and more expen­sive. That means inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tions. If Russian sci­en­tists are deprived of all this for a long peri­od of time, it will be a disaster.

As the best leave, and the rest close in on them­selves. The con­tri­bu­tion of Russian sci­ence to the Nature Index (which index­es pub­li­ca­tions in the most influ­en­tial inter­na­tion­al jour­nals in physics, chem­istry, biol­o­gy, and earth sci­ences) rose by a third from 2017 to 2021, and last year fell almost to 2017 lev­els. Furthermore, the vast major­i­ty of the index was made up of pub­li­ca­tions sub­mit­ted before February 24, 2022. It’s clear that the decline will be even more dra­mat­ic in future years. It pains me very much for the peo­ple who believed in the rise of sci­ence in Russia and put a lot of effort into it. And now they see how every­thing they built has been destroyed overnight.

2. Colleagues. I have been impressed by the sup­port that col­leagues both in Cambridge and around the world have giv­en and are giv­ing to mem­bers of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty who are in trouble.

Special funds have been estab­lished to which sci­en­tists and stu­dents from Ukraine and Russia can apply. Many of them have already come to Cambridge. When I urgent­ly asked for help for grad­u­ate and under­grad­u­ate stu­dents who found them­selves in Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, col­leagues respond­ed almost imme­di­ate­ly and offered their help. The col­leges pro­vid­ed resources to sup­port out of their own addi­tion­al funds, as well as meet­ing space and English class­es for new­com­ers from Ukraine, Russia, and Belorussia. At the same time, even with spe­cial­ized funds, resources, and will­ing­ness to help, there is the prob­lem of entry visas. Home Office still issues visas very reluc­tant­ly and with great delays. We are try­ing to solve this prob­lem some­how, by ask­ing for help from mem­bers of par­lia­ment and attract­ing pub­lic attention.

Many of my col­leagues do not sup­port the boy­cott of Russian sci­en­tists and believe that ter­mi­nat­ing inter­ac­tion would be a seri­ous blow to world-wide inter­ests, which include rapid progress in solv­ing glob­al sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal prob­lems and cli­mate chal­lenges, and to uni­ver­sal human val­ues. They see the val­ue in con­tin­u­ing indi­vid­ual con­tacts, in main­tain­ing chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion across nation­al bor­ders, and in coun­ter­ing ide­o­log­i­cal stereo­types, espe­cial­ly in a sit­u­a­tion in which many sci­en­tists have open­ly crit­i­cized the Russian gov­ern­ment in the media or have signed wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed state­ments con­demn­ing the Russian invasion.

3. Personally. Like many around me, I went through all the stages of neg­a­tive emo­tions: shock, hor­ror, anger, despair, fatigue, sev­er­ing ties, mak­ing new ties. Scholars from Ukraine, most­ly women, his­to­ri­ans, philol­o­gists, arrived at Cambridge… They tell how they wor­ry about their hus­bands and adult chil­dren left behind in Ukraine, remem­ber the ter­ror they felt at the sound of Russian mis­sile strikes, and how they dream again and again of those strikes. They ask: How could this have hap­pened? What is wrong with Russian soci­ety, with the Russians, how did they allow this hor­ri­ble war to hap­pen and why does the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion sup­port it? I have no answers to these ques­tions, only a lump in my throat. But yes­ter­day my daugh­ter told me that she and her new friends from Kiev, Odessa and Kharkov will per­form Lesya Ukrainka’s «Forest Song» at school. While our chil­dren togeth­er cre­ate a poet­ic dream of a life full of human­i­ty, beau­ty and love, I want to believe that not all is still lost.

Dinara Gagarina, Research Fellow, American University of Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

1. Science. A dras­tic neg­a­tive change is tak­ing place. While so far we are see­ing only the first effect, the con­se­quences and recov­ery will take decades. The caus­es and man­i­fes­ta­tions of these changes have been voiced many times, I can only repeat them.

First, the sci­en­tists left. Foreign researchers who worked in Russia and Russian researchers inte­grat­ed into inter­na­tion­al sci­ence have left, and young promis­ing sci­en­tists have left. A num­ber of employ­ees of Russian uni­ver­si­ties were fired or forced to resign because of their open anti-war views. Teams that had been formed over many years have dis­in­te­grat­ed. The absolute num­ber may not be as high, but the effect here is sys­temic and sad.

Secondly, the wall of iso­la­tion of Russian sci­ence from inter­na­tion­al sci­ence is grow­ing. Yes, we resist, yes, per­son­al ties and con­tacts are pre­served, yes, we are not yet close to ver­nac­u­lar sci­ence. But the facts are stronger: inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tions are vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble, both in terms of teams and because of denials of fund­ing. Academic mobil­i­ty and event par­tic­i­pa­tion have become more dif­fi­cult on both sides. Plus access to jour­nals and, for a num­ber of sci­ences, to equip­ment, soft­ware, and consumables.

Finally, some­thing that we have not yet seen so clear­ly, but undoubt­ed­ly, the trend will be aggra­vat­ed: It is not only the Russian econ­o­my that is mobi­liz­ing for war, but also sci­ence. And while the tech­ni­cal and nat­ur­al sci­ences will focus on import sub­sti­tu­tion, the social and human­i­tar­i­an sci­ences will prob­a­bly be des­tined to become the con­cep­tu­al back­ing of what is hap­pen­ing in politics.

2. Colleagues. I work in Digital Humanities, which is a rel­a­tive­ly young aca­d­e­m­ic field. In Russia our com­mu­ni­ty is small and was orig­i­nal­ly formed in inte­gra­tion with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. Perhaps because of this, the pro­por­tion of peo­ple who have left in our seg­ment is high­er than the aver­age for sci­ence. However, thanks to the small total num­ber, we have main­tained close ties and have been togeth­er all year, no mat­ter what coun­try we are in. We have also man­aged to main­tain per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al ties with our Western col­leagues. We seem to be unit­ed by a world view of val­ues as well. In the ear­ly days of the war, my col­leagues and I wrote an open let­ter against the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine from Russian dig­i­tal human­i­tar­i­ans, it was signed by sev­er­al hun­dred peo­ple. In the sum­mer we launched DH CLOUD Community — a plat­form and com­mu­ni­ty that brings togeth­er spe­cial­ists in Digital Humanities in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, regard­less of the cur­rent affiliation.

The social (let’s call it that) role of Digital Humanities is also inter­est­ing. The meth­ods of data analy­sis we use work great not only on his­tor­i­cal sources or fic­tion, but to cap­ture, ana­lyze and visu­al­ize what’s hap­pen­ing right now. Over the year, sev­er­al such sto­ries have appeared in System Block, a pop­u­lar sci­ence media about Digital Humanities.

3. Personally in the first months of the war, I decid­ed that as long as the sit­u­a­tion allowed me to go out to stu­dents, say what I thought and do what I thought was impor­tant, I would be in Russia. I don’t like debates between those who left and those who stayed, but for myself I clear­ly chose to stay as long as pos­si­ble. I stayed, to do my own thing, and to speak out against the war. I must admit that, despite all the anti-war activ­i­ty, nobody both­ered me at work until July. And then, from July to December, I was grad­u­al­ly dis­missed from all of my projects and from all of my posi­tions at the uni­ver­si­ty. They fired me from my assis­tant pro­fes­sor posi­tion under an arti­cle for immoral behav­ior that was incom­pat­i­ble with teach­ing activ­i­ties. I am try­ing to chal­lenge the dis­missal in court.

Looking back, I see my naivety and a num­ber of mis­takes. Naivety was one of the key ones. I was liv­ing in an infor­ma­tion bub­ble, in the prover­bial ivory tow­er, doing what I loved. It was a com­fort­able aca­d­e­m­ic envi­ron­ment where col­leagues and stu­dents shared val­ues and goals. In nur­tur­ing and pre­serv­ing this envi­ron­ment, we did not notice (let’s be hon­est, we did not want to notice) how we lost the coun­try, the future, and negat­ed the efforts of years past. I will not dis­cuss col­lec­tive guilt and respon­si­bil­i­ty, but as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty with access to infor­ma­tion and some knowl­edge of his­to­ry and the world order, I am of course respon­si­ble for what is happening.

I have been a research assis­tant at AUCA since February. In addi­tion to my main project at the uni­ver­si­ty, I am work­ing on devel­op­ing Digital Humanities in Central Asia. I trav­eled to three coun­tries and met with col­leagues from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. On March 15, our first joint event will be a round­table dis­cus­sion on «Digital Humanities in Central Asia».

Eugene Koonin, Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

1. Science. Changes in sci­ence in gen­er­al are insignif­i­cant. Of course, for sci­ence in Ukraine the con­se­quences of the war are dis­as­trous right now, and for sci­ence in Russia — in the some­what more dis­tant future. But it must be rec­og­nized that the con­tri­bu­tion of both coun­tries (yes, and Russia) to the glob­al sci­en­tif­ic process is not great, so that over­all progress has not slowed down (the pan­dem­ic had a much more seri­ous effect, but that is anoth­er sto­ry). But changes in the atmos­phere of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty are notice­able: there is anx­i­ety and new sol­i­dar­i­ty — I have not noticed ambi­gu­i­ty in any of my col­leagues regard­ing the war and its perpetrators.

On the oth­er hand, there are notice­able dis­agree­ments in atti­tudes toward Russian sci­ence. Some believe that Russian sci­en­tists in mass are vic­tims who must be helped (of course, except for those who sup­port­ed the aggres­sion), while oth­ers believe that Russian sci­en­tists are accom­plices to aggres­sion and should be ostra­cized. I am in no way close to the sec­ond posi­tion, but it is held by many peo­ple, and they have their own arguments.

2. Colleagues. Again, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, not much has changed. Again sol­i­dar­i­ty: attempts are being made to help our Ukrainian col­leagues, pri­mar­i­ly, of course, by tak­ing them to the lab­o­ra­to­ries. And much more mod­est attempts to help our Russian col­leagues. I just man­aged to invite two col­leagues to my lab who could not and did not want to stay in Russia. Fortunately, they are won­der­ful, tal­ent­ed researchers.

3. But per­son­al­ly, the war had a notice­able effect on me. For a month nor­mal work prac­ti­cal­ly stopped: all the time writ­ing some appeals, giv­ing inter­views, it seemed a long and impor­tant job. Well, right­ly so, I sup­pose. Then work returned to nor­mal, but the under­stand­ing remained, such, you might say, exis­ten­tial under­stand­ing: they say for noth­ing that there is no such thing as black and white in the world, and there cer­tain­ly is. And the fact that the coun­try, in which you spent more than half of your life, becomes the embod­i­ment of Evil, com­plete­ly black, impec­ca­ble, is, of course, shocking.

, ,   7.03.2023