Survey War

Two brave and a chatbot

Boycott of Russian scientists: pro et contra

Machine assisted translation

More than two thousand Ukrainian scientists have signed an open letter explaining why nobody should cooperate with their Russian colleagues. T-invariant editorial board formulated its view on the boycott initiative in the column «Berlin Wall 2» and asked scientists to share their opinions. Most of our respondents declined to publish their position, and we decided to broaden the spectrum of opinions by querying ChatGPT.

Yury Gogotsi, Charles T. and Ruth M. Bach Distinguished University Professor, Director, A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute, Philadelphia, PA, USA

1. My opinion on the sanctions against Russian scientific organizations.

I was one of five authors of a letter to Nature, which aimed to draw attention to an open letter published earlier by Ukrainian scientists calling for sanctions against Russian scientific institutions. I was not involved in its writing, but I signed it and know that it reflects the opinion of the vast majority of Ukrainians. The war dealt a heavy blow to academic science and education in Ukraine, not in the figurative sense, but directly. According to the available data, more than 60 universities in Ukraine suffered from the bombardments and 9 of them were completely destroyed. Many institutes of the Academy of Sciences have also suffered. Researchers, postgraduates and students are dying under bombardments. Many were forced to leave or stop working/studying because of the war. Those who like me personally know people whose homes or university laboratories have been destroyed by shelling or occupation, whose students, colleagues or relatives have been killed or maimed as a result of war, those who are forced to spend hours (and sometimes days) hiding in basements from bombing, understand the position of the Ukrainian scientific community. For those Russians who do not understand, I suggest that you imagine yourself under bombardment, without light and heat in winter, when your laboratory, built as a result of many years of work, is destroyed, decades of your labor are destroyed, and your relatives are killed and look at this letter in a new way.

2. «Let others scream in despair, from resentment, from pain, from hunger! We know that silence is more profitable» (Alexander Galich).

There is much discussion about whether the people of Russia, including scientists and professors, are responsible for this war. I remind you that rockets and bombers are not built by the rulers, they are designed by engineers trained in Russian universities. Mathematicians calculate flight paths to hit Ukrainian cities, and IT specialists program them. Chemists, physicists, electronic engineers, and material scientists create materials and devices for the military industry. Historians rewrite history in Putin’s way. Sociologists develop a strategy for brainwashing the population, and journalists carry this propaganda to the masses. The students drafted into the army are simply killing. They are a product of Russian universities, Russian science, and the Russian education system. Dinara Gagarina said in an interview with T-Invariant: «It is not only the Russian economy that is mobilizing for war, but also science.» I have not heard about sabotage in Russian scientific institutions and the fight against the repressive system. Civil disobedience (not doing the work that the government needs) at all levels could put the brakes on the repressive state machine. People who are in denial mode and are not ready to accept that Russia is committing a terrible crime and pretending that the war has nothing to do with them are tacitly helping the Putin clique to destroy freedom and democracy in Russia and Ukraine. Russian scientists working in Russia (as well as the vast majority of other Russians) simply remain silent. The answer to the question of why those who keep silent and do nothing to oppose the system are responsible for what is happening was given many years ago by Alexander Galich: «Here’s how easy it is to get into executioners: Shut up!»

3. «Where are the screamers and mourners now? Noisy and perished young…» (Alexander Galich).

Recently, student Dmitry Ivanov was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for «fakes» about the Russian armed forces. This was helped by the former Dean of the Faculty of Fundamental Physical and Chemical Engineering at Moscow State University, Lyudmila Grigoryeva, a former graduate student, and a couple of MSU employees who testified for the prosecution in court. Do you want to invite these exemplary representatives of Stalinism to conferences and correspond with them when they submit their articles to scientific journals? The Rector of MSU, who is responsible for the letter from the Rectors that endorses and encourages the war in Ukraine, recently co-authored an article in The Astrophysical Journal published by the Institute of Physics (IOP). Rectors of the vast majority of universities have signed this letter, staining Russian universities with the blood of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people. Should I, as a reviewer or editor of international journals, help to publish articles to the likes of Sadovnichiy and his co-authors? How do I distinguish scientists who have not committed crimes, who are against the war, but who work in Russian institutions and do not express their anti-war and anti-Putin stance in any way, because «silence is golden», from the above-mentioned individuals? Not finding an answer to this question, I see stopping cooperation with all those who work in Russian institutions as the only possible solution, at least until the end of the war.

Andrei Rostovtsev, Professor, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, co-founder of the Dissernet community

I understand and share the feelings of my Ukrainian colleagues, but I am fundamentally against the expansion of military practices and mutual hatred to everything around, including contacts in the academic environment. Today it is trendy to whack everything connected with Russia. At the same time, the lowest intentions come to the surface, mainly aimed at something that is not dangerous and will not fight back. Who can get their hands on what, and you know in advance that you won’t get burned. Some are throwing tantrums about unfortunate blinis, and some are taking their anger out on scientists. This is bad for many reasons at once. First, it increases the amount of mutual anger. Secondly, it consolidates morally unstable citizens around the Russian authorities. Thirdly, it inflames the lowest hatred feelings where it is possible to avoid it. And fourth, it does not come one millimeter closer to solving the problem as a whole. “More hell!” — are shouted from the tribunes, knowing that hell will never reach their tribunes. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of the signers of the letter are far away from Ukraine. I am sure that with time many of the signers will be ashamed of their action.

ChartGT about the boycott to Russian scientists

People cannot fully remain impartial. Especially in times of war, which leaves no one indifferent. We kept this in mind all the time, conducting this survey and preparing an editorial about an open letter from Ukrainian scholars. No one person is able to express a position that would unite in time of war, even those who unequivocally condemn it. No one’s words can be perceived as unengaged. Except… the words of artificial intelligence. Big language models, which many are now experimenting with, are devoid of aims and emotion. Addressing them can be seen as a kind of consultation with the collective mind of humanity, represented in the culturally recorded texts that a neural network is trained on. So, we decided to adjust the clock with ChatGPT.

The chat-bot was given background information about the war, the reaction of Russian scientists, and the appeal of Ukrainian scientists. Then questions were posed about the ethical and legal aspects of the appeal to boycott and the boycott itself. The texts were originally prepared in Russian, then translated into English (by, which is better understood by ChatGPT. Texts were not edited. Evaluating the answers of the AI one should take into account its stochastic nature: when asked repeatedly, the answer may be textually different.

T-i (background information): Since February 2022, Russia has been waging an aggressive war against Ukraine, bombing and destroying cities. In Russia, the war is supported by propaganda and many believe it. A large number of scientists in Russia, but by no means all, condemn the war. Many Russian scientists are trying to emigrate. However, only a few (a few thousand scientists out of hundreds of thousands) publicly condemn the war, since open criticism of the war is criminally punishable. Against this background, Ukrainian scientists from Ukraine and other countries around the world called on their colleagues around the world to stop any working relationships with all scientists from Russian research institutes and universities, to refuse to publish their articles, to stop inviting them to conferences, to refuse to exchange scientific data, etc.

T-i (ethical issue): Please give an ethical assessment of such a call for a boycott of Russian scientists for their country’s war of aggression. And also give an ethical assessment of such a boycott itself, when scientists and scientific organizations from third countries join it.

ChatGPT: The call for a boycott of Russian scientists in response to their country’s war of aggression against Ukraine raises several ethical concerns. On one hand, scientists have a moral responsibility to use their skills and knowledge to promote peace and the well-being of humanity. The war in Ukraine is a clear violation of these principles, and it is understandable that scientists would want to distance themselves from those who support it. Furthermore, the call for a boycott can be seen as a form of nonviolent protest against the actions of the Russian government.

On the other hand, it is important to consider the potential negative consequences of such a boycott. Cutting off scientific collaboration with Russian scientists could hinder the progress of scientific research in areas where Russian scientists are leading experts. It could also exacerbate tensions between scientists from different countries and further entrench political divisions. In addition, it could punish Russian scientists who are themselves opposed to the war and who may feel trapped in their current situation.

The ethical assessment of the boycott ultimately depends on the specific circumstances and the goals that are trying to be achieved. If the goal is to put pressure on the Russian government and to demonstrate international condemnation of their actions, then the boycott may be an effective tool. However, if the goal is to punish individual scientists for the actions of their government, or if the boycott is overly broad and impacts all Russian scientists regardless of their position on the war, then it may be unfair and unjust.

If scientists and scientific organizations from third countries choose to join the boycott, they should carefully consider the potential impact on their own research and collaboration efforts, as well as the potential impact on the scientific community as a whole. It may be more productive to engage in constructive dialogue and to find ways to work together towards common scientific goals while acknowledging political differences.

T-i (legal issue): Now, please give a legal assessment of such a call for a boycott of Russian scientists for their country’s waging a war of aggression. And also give a legal assessment of such a boycott itself, when scientists and scientific organizations from third countries join it.

ChatGPT: From a legal perspective, the call for a boycott of Russian scientists due to their country’s war of aggression may be considered a form of political speech or expression, which is generally protected under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

However, there may be limitations to this right if the expression incites violence, hatred, or discrimination. It is important to note that the call for a boycott of Russian scientists does not appear to meet these criteria and is not intended to incite violence or discrimination against Russian scientists, but rather to protest their government’s actions.

In terms of the legal assessment of the boycott itself, it is important to consider the potential implications under international trade and intellectual property laws. The boycott could potentially violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if it discriminates against Russian scientists or institutions solely based on their national origin, rather than on legitimate scientific criteria. Furthermore, scientific journals and organizations may be subject to legal claims of discrimination or breach of contract if they refuse to publish or collaborate with Russian scientists solely based on their nationality.

In summary, while the call for a boycott of Russian scientists for their country’s war of aggression may be considered a form of protected political expression, the boycott itself may be subject to legal scrutiny if it violates international trade or intellectual property laws. Therefore, any actions taken by scientists or scientific organizations in support of the boycott should be carefully evaluated to ensure they do not violate these legal obligations.

This material had already been prepared, when an important question arose: won’t the artificial intelligence change its position if it is given setting information from the position of the aggressor country: tell it about the special military operation, the Bandera fighters and the NATO threat? Would its conclusions be significantly different? We have conducted a corresponding control experiment and will be happy to present its results to our patrons on Patreon.

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