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86) Pseudoscience in Russia
Ludwik Kowalski (August 1, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043
In unit 56 and 57 I shared what I read about con artists pretending to be scientists in America. It seems they have been much more aggressive in the former Soviet Union, and in the new Russia. I am rereading Kruglyakovs 2001 book "The Highwaymen of Science." The author has already been introduced in unit #10. What follows is my own translation of a letter sent by Kruglyakov to the president of the country V.V. Putin . The Russian text with signatures of three physicists (Alexandrov, Ginzburg and Kruglyakov, representing the Russian Academy of Science) can be found on pages 301 to 303 of the book.
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich:
Your goal, as you stated, is to recreate a strong and flourishing Russia. You know that the countrys existing scientific potential must be used to accomplish the task. We want to assure you that the Russian Academy of Science is ready to contribute. At the same time we want you to know that the influence of pseudoscience is growing in our country. This is so dangerous that the Russian Academy of Science had to create a special commission to oppose pseudoscience and falsification of research. Democracy and freedom of speech, great successes of the post-Soviet period, in the absence of feedback control mechanisms, started to produce some negative results. . . .
It occurred to me, after typing the above, that an English translation of this important letter probably exists somewhere. The Internet search engine, Google, was used to find what Kruglyakov wrote (in Skeptical Inquirer magazine Volume 26, Number 4, July/August 2002) about pseudoscience in Russia. The article can be found at:
It is a good summary of Kruglyakovs book; the letter to Putin is mentioned at the end. The letter is essentially a short version of what is written in the article. After realizing this I stopped translating and decided to use quotations extracted from the Skeptical Inquirer article. My own comment is added at the end.
The end of the twentieth century was marked by a boom of astrology, mysticism, and occultism in many countries. In the USSR (during the last years of its existence) and then in Russia the situation was even worse in a sense. The system's collapse and the wreck of old ideals-along with the absence of new ones-caused many people to hope for some kind of miracle. The mass media contributed to this tendency. Through their irresponsibility, pseudoscience has filled newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV.
In recent years a new phenomenon has arisen. Pseudoscience has become a powerful, well-organized force. Over the last decade in Russia, about 120 academies have appeared, many of which don't deserve the name academy.
Some of them give their stamp of approval to professionally inadequate doctors of science in various fields. Others do the same in pseudoscientific disciplines, giving diplomas to astrologers, UFOlogists, and others of the sort.
In Russia, even research institutes with pseudoscientific tendencies have appeared. I'll give only two examples: the International Institute of Space Anthropecology and the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics. The first has even managed to attain state accreditation with the help of the Russian Ministry of Science. The second has received financial support both from the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Defense for the well-known swindle of torsion fields.
Peaceful coexistence between science and pseudoscience is impossible. From time to time, science attempts to unmask pseudoscience. The latter fights back with fierce hatred. Pseudoscientists are anxious to settle accounts with the Academy of Science, because the Academy is a great obstacle to these newly half-baked scientists. Here are a few quoted statements of such people: . . . Thus pseudoscience predicts the full breakdown of science unless the scientific paradigm is changed. Meanwhile, according to a statement of academician Z.I. Alferov, recently awarded the Nobel Prize, . . . the crisis in quantum physics is not observed. For the most part in the physics kingdom, it is calm now.
Here is what one of the main theorists of the so-called science of torsion fields, academician G. Shipov said: Now there is no doubt in the existence of telepathy, levitation, clairvoyance, retrovision, or that energy of consciousness plays some certain role in physical processes. And since science does not recognize this, therefore, official science lags behind the new developments. . . . Here is another case, involving M.D. Maley, chairman of the Interdepartmental Commission on Scientific and Technical Problems of the Industry of Defense of Security Council of the Russian Federation. The purpose he pursued looked rather reasonable: From the viewpoint of the Security Council, our task is to filter correctly the basic directions and orient the present and future management of the country with respect to a launching position of Russia in this scientific-technical revolution.
To prepare for scientific breakthroughs, Mr. Maley created a Large State Research Center. This is praiseworthy in itself; a high-ranking government official facilitates the development of a science. Alas, when one hears the purposes, you can't help being horrified at the ignorance of the official: Replacement of the concepts of quantum physics by neutron physics, vacuum as emptiness by the concept of neutrino fields is in prospect for us . . . .We have some works at the R&D [research and development] stages that contradict common sense and cannot be described by any equation. . . . Astrologers, claimants of extrasensory powers, and newly appeared scientists of other professions more and more actively push themselves through into the State Duma, ministries, and even into the President's circle. Here are recent examples: . . . This entire swindle is apparent to any physicist at once. Nevertheless, I had to carry out the official investigation. It revealed that Mr. Grabovoy never took part in tests of nuclear weapons in Semipalatinsk. Therefore, he did not test a crystalline module there. At the same time, it was revealed that this doctor of technical and phys-math. science has never defended any theses. In lists of the Italian Academy of Science, academician Gravovoy was never mentioned. It is sad that the governmental Rossiyskaya Gazeta misled its readers; alas, not for the first time. . . .
Alternative medicine has dramatically developed. It is attracting numerous unscrupulous swindlers, robbing sick people who cannot find help from traditional medicine. New medical devices claiming to cure patients of any illness are appearing on the market. A device called New Cardiomag recently became available at a price of only 500 rubles (about $16). It supposedly helps with hypertonia, ischemia, arterial hypertension, stenocardia, and headaches. One might question the honesty of developers of the device since one of them, doctor of medical science A.P. Naumov, has written in an advertisement for the Cardiomag the following: This is an ecologically pure autonomous source of gravitation field, pulse bipolar current, and direct magnetic field with special energy characteristics (Isvestiya, March 14, 2001).
It is incomprehensible why the Academy of Medical Sciences keeps silent about such fraud. It is time to express its opinion about that. The ever-growing activities of pseudoscience attempt to get money from the government, consumers, and industry while avoiding the standard procedures of review by experts. There are many examples of pseudoscientists managing to get money from state sources. The most well known is the swindle based on so-called torsion fields. In addition, there are some studies on anti-gravity, and on transmutation of elements with an attempt to obtain gold (not involving the known method of nuclear reactions but instead a modern version of alchemy).
In such an atmosphere, at the end of 1998 the President of the Russian Academy of Science, academician Yu. W. Osipov, arranged a special Commission Against Pseudoscience and the Falsifications of Scientific Studies. One of the commission's very first actions was to prepare a special appeal that was considered and accepted by the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This appeal was published in many Russian mass media outlets.
Members of the commission appeared many times in newspapers and magazines and on radio and TV, addressing the government with suggestions. I think I can say that this commission and its work with the mass media resulted in some corrections of the situation. Some allies appeared among journalists, astrological forecasts vanished from some newspapers, and some science sections appeared. In addition, scientists more frequently were asked to be guests on TV programs. However, these are only small steps. A victory over pseudoscience is still far away.
Kruglyakovs book contains his March 16, 1999 paper entitled On Problems of Opposing Pseudoscience. That paper was read and discussed at the meeting of the presidium of Russian Academy of Science. One of the academicians said: It is true that wild and hard to accept hypotheses are sometimes published today; for example, that our planet is hollow inside. Such ideas should not be published. I am referring to existing but not yet understood phenomena; they might be erroneously characterized as false. In reading this observation, made by academician A.L. Jashin, I thought about some cold fusion reports. Kruglyakovs commission work is badly needed in Russia and I hope it will be successful. But his book categorizes cold fusion as pseudoscience. That is a big mistake, in my opinion. As a nuclear physicist the author is probably aware that the cold fusion situation is no longer the same as it was in 1990. But he writes as if cold fusion researchers still believed that excess heat is produced from conventional thermonuclear collisions.
In a review of Russian cold fusion conferences (pages 306 to 310) he prefers to ridicule rather than address the claims made by several researchers. What I have in mind is generation of helium (commensurable with excess heat) and unnatural isotopic ratios among the reaction byproducts. Instead of apriori dismissing such claims a physicist should examine the evidenceand ask for a demonstration. What was the basis for saying that Sovvatimova was inspired by Bazhutovs model? She presumably reported experimental data. Instead of being ridiculed she should have been invited to repeat the experiment in the presence of qualified scientists. Her work should either be dismissed or accepted on the basis of what was observed. The same applies to the claim made by Kaldomasov. What is wrong with trying another liquid? Several American workers reported excess heat and transmutations from an electrolytic cell based on common water.
What does cold fusion research have in common with astrology, mysticism and occultism? By the way, Edward Kruglyakov is laboratory head and deputy director of the largest institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics). Academician Kruglyakov is the State Prize (1986) and Artsimovich award (2001) winner. Born in 1934 he is a graduate of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He is certainly not a pseudoscientists. But his attitude toward cold fusion does not look very scientific to me.
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