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.

T‑invariant edi­to­r­i­al