Globalization and Scientific Research: Trying to Catch Black Cats in Dark Rooms ?

February 9, 2010
Technology, Uncategorized

This is an authorized English translation of the paper by an outstanding Russian economist Mikhail Gennadievich Delyagin, as appeared in the Russian-speaking Internet on 19.03.2009 under the following URL address:

The translation has been carried out by Evgeni B. Starikov, ex-Soviet biophysicist working since about 20 years in Germany and a number of other countries, who added to the original paper a number of congenial thoughts based upon the own everyday experience. This paper deals with the critical and ambiguous situation in the modern official science, tries to uncover the fundamental roots of this situation and invites all those who feel themselves committed and involved to think about possible ways to escape a serious collapse of scientific research all over the world.

During the last centuries (at least since the beginning of the Renaissance era) the profession of a ”knowledge miner” – the one who obtains new information about the world surrounding us – was, if not the necessary condition for, then at least one of the key and most reliable ways of increasing one’s social status.

Astonishingly, but it looks like we haven’t noticed that already about two decades ago the globalization has abolished this rule. So that nowadays any possibility of social promotion for those involved into the knowledge mining and processing – though being clearly dependent on the society’s organisational level – turns out to be rather restricted.

Such people aren’t now able to reach the levels of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov or Lev Davidovich Landau, whose personal opinion was respected even by the Soviet Communist Party leaders. Nor is it possible for them to become someone like Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Alva Edison, the prominent symbols of their respective time. The human activity is now specialized to the extent that gaining social success requires enormous efforts, takes up a lot of time and has gradually turned into a separate, self-consistent kind of business which is practically not more compatible with the cognition, knowledge mining/processing per se.

The fundamental reason for this is a sharp intensification of the communications due to the globalization: either you are totally involved into the Search for Truth, or you are solely processing, using and perusing the knowledge obtained by somebody else, converting it into material or social valuables solely for your own consumption. The former and the latter are two quite different types of activity, rendering any successful combination of them extremely difficult – some rare exceptions here only highlight the general rule.

As a result, a full-fledged segregation takes place: some people are specialized in the knowledge mining, whereas others – in gaining the social success. Presently, the latter doesn’t require even a primitive, parasitical digestion of the knowledge obtained by others, but exclusively a correct social communication, an ability to consistently penetrate and populate some properly chosen communities. The latter type of specialisation has very serious, far-reaching consequences for those who willingly participate in it: it deprives a person of his/her important human qualities, of his/her intrinsic human universality. The whole personality structure is visibly transformed – we shall discuss below how ugly are the forms such a transformation adopts and induces.

We would like to stress herewith that all the above pertains to the whole world. Still, in what follows we are keeping Russia in mind, because our society expresses all the world’s development trends in an utterly sharp form. If the world is smiling, then we, Russians, are most probably laughing hard. And where the world just catches cold – we, Russians, are most probably coughing blood.

Restriction of the field of vision and ideologisation

To begin with, elites of the well-developed countries seem to be suffering from the heavy drunkard’s syndrome of “tunnel vision”: when someone is “drunk as a skunk”, the surrounding he/she is able to perceive starts to be extremely narrow, so that his/her peripheral field of vision is practically lost. At the same time drunkards become exceedingly over-reactive even when contacted just superficially.

This results not only from a crisis of the administrative systems in particular and of the democracy as a whole (in the Western understanding of the latter notion), but, regretfully, from essential displacement of cognition, knowledge mining/processing in the modern society as well.

The knowledge mining as it is has become so complicated and specialized, that the very process of it – and even sole processing of its results – requires Herculean efforts of many engaged people. Consequently, when dealing with the scientific research, you are always faced with the harsh choice: either you spend your time to gain success in the society, or you are involved into the true cognitive efforts. In the academic field a palpable differentiation has taken place between the administrative officials who preserve the carte blanche to steer all the resources and investigation topics – and the researchers proper, who are directly dealing with the very knowledge mining/processing.

As a result, the science/research proper, the true cognition processes become more and more socially negligible, whereas all the types of decision making – and the most important decisions at the state/country level being among them – are tending to be based upon emotions, prejudices, whatever – but not upon the matter of fact. If you wish to have more examples on this theme, please follow the homepage of Cato Institute.

Not only crisis of administration, but also crisis of cognition

In the whole world, the official science has become an intricate administrative organism – one might even say – a new social formation, which is not less important for the national self-identification than, for example, the social formation of French peasants in the 50-70-ies of the XX-th century, but obviously also not much more useful. Superficially, this is manifested in that the grant system became nowadays the dominant way of supporting scientific projects financially, in the gradual decay of the fundamental scientific research, as well as in the overwhelming diversity of pseudoscientific hoaxes (like “torsional fields”, “global warming” etc.).

Meanwhile, when considered in more detail from its inside, the above-mentioned social formation may be described as a kind of invisible barricade. On the one side of it – a landlord, a plantation/latifundium owner or something alike, who prefers to be addressed as “professor” or “scientific group leader”. On the other side – a number of volunteering plantation slaves (drudges/plodders/toilers), who are officially dubbed “doctoral students” or “postdocs”. These slaves are absolute volunteers, because nobody forces them at gunpoint to slog for the landlord. The latter ones consider and treat the former ones just as “chess pieces”, each of which has to obey a certain finite number of primitive game rules. Depending on the personality of the landlord, the analogy between the “scientific laboratory” and plantation slavery may be more or less sharp, but the basic features are practically the same in all the countries from USA – through Western Europe and Russia – till the Far East.

Sometimes the “official science” may acquire extremely ugly shapes which at the first glance seem to be absolutely paradoxical within the framework of the well-developed democratic countries. One characteristic example is a plantation in Germany where the vast majority of the drudges are Chinese, Thai and Russian-speaking people. The power of the local landlord is based upon the sole fact that the drudges who would not like to return to their respective countries have a right to get only temporary permissions to stay and work in Germany. And only a letter from their landlord may help officially prolong their permissions. Another typical example is a plantation in Italy, where many Russian-speaking plodders and their families are detained on an island. They have got a Russian invigilator who speaks Italian as well and is in charge of distributing the “expense allowances” (with no social security at all) among the slaves. In these both cases the toilers are not cheated or misled anyhow. They definitely know that they are slaves and they are reminded about this fact every day several times a day, for the attitude of the respective landlords and their helpers towards the slaves is unequivocal. Furthermore, such landlords usually enjoy multi-branched connections with the “underdeveloped” countries to traffic more and more new slaves from over there, keeping the latifundium alive.

Still, the fate of the young native USA, European, Japanese & so on citizens wishing to pursue scientific research is not too much different from that described above. If you do not belong to the “narrow circle”, you have no chance to properly penetrate the “academic society”: the maximum you may get there is a temporary position with a very moderate salary, hopefully with the social security, and may perhaps even without the latter. But Woe Betide anyone who dares to somehow provoke the His/Her Majesty Landlord, the “Big Brother” !!! You would then be standing to lose your whole existence, because when you are looking for a new job, you are always asked to show the reference from your former employer, that is, your former landlord. In Germany, for instance, it is formally prohibited by the law to write expressly bad employer’s references. Still, there are silent conventions defining how to write bad references in conformity with the law (for example, simply not using superlatives in your writing). Moreover, there are phones, E-mails, SMS-messages and many other ways of confidential communication between the employers.

Bearing all this in mind, a justified question may be asked, so what could be the moral atmosphere near such an invisible barricade ? Grudge, glee and bullying will as a rule surround and accompany you there. If you are a young woman and interested in scientific research, you might even learn in practice what “the right of the first night” means. The usual administrative approach used by the landlords is the old and good one: “divide et impera” – or in plaintext, everybody has to peach against his/her colleagues: this is the only way for the slaves to be commensurate with the rest of the plantation. Moreover, temporary working agreements of the slaves and, as a consequence, their chronic inability to reach decent living standards, to start and maintain their families etc. renders them a set of lone “mankurts”, “desperados”, incapable of doing anything without an order from their landlord. (added on Feb., 13, 18:10 European time: The sad example of the latter statement is the yesterday’s violent killings at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.)

The only “bounty” the slaves might hope for is a vague possibility to occupy a place on the other side of the barricade some day, that is, to become a landlord him/herself. Still, if your parents or relatives are not somehow connected to this system, or if they are not an integral part of it, you have almost no chance to become a landlord. Otherwise, the landlord will round up a group of toilers to prepare your PhD thesis, after getting your PhD you will be sent to abroad as an “assistant professor” at some renowned university like Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford etc. And in a couple of years you may wish to come back and organize your own plantation in your home country … The very landlords’ community resembles rather a violent gang of racketeers (when they reek their own interests are endangered) than any normal society. Hence, if you are a “drudgeon” and just occasionally have approached the “Holy Grail”, the “Divine Fire” will burn you to ashes … Are the most perverse antiutopies by George Orwell coming true now and then within the leading democratic countries ???

Someone of you might, of course, say: “Well, but research activity as it stands would be so fascinating for me, that maybe I could nevertheless go for paying this dreadful price to reach the only aim – being involved into some exciting scientific research”. Then, our next questions to you are: Do you really think, any substantial and important research is being conducted by such “official scientists” ? Is there any socially conspicuous outcome of all these plantations described above ? The answers are definite: NO and NO. The only master and profiteer in the whole plantation is the respective landlord – his/her direct profit is the social success exclusively for him/her – he/she will never share it with anybody. There is practically no scientific research in the plantations, no clear-cut programme, no knowledge mining, no sensible, useful results – there is only a desperate hunt for increasing values of some purely formal parameters: the number of scientific grants the landlord gets hold of, the number of papers published in “renowned” journals with the highest “impact indices”, the number of citations, the number of invitations to hold keypoint talks at international conferences, the number of memberships in the editiorial boards of scientific journals, the number of doctoral students defended their PhD theses under the landlord’s “leadership” (in other words, how big is your “group” or, better to say, how many plodders you are maintaining at your plantation) … Rather boring, isn’t it ?

… To sum up, the final (rhetoric) question comes: do such landlords really deserve any social success they are striving for and enjoying so much ? …

Well, nowadays only three countries upon Earth are lively interested in promoting scientific research owing to its global prestigious significance: USA, Japan and Germany (the fourth one was the former USSR maintaining its powerful scientific infrastructure for quite different reasons). Most recently, China, India and Saudi Arabia have joined the “science benefactors” club. These countries solemnly spend huge amounts of money for scientific research. Other well-developed countries do basically the same way, but with much less financial efforts. However, the main actual global outcome of this tremendous activity seems to be a steep increase in the number of the landlords and drudgeons as described above. Is this kind of money investment a really good idea ??? Does the number of the landlords somehow contribute to the country’s prestige ??? And what about the enormous number of the drudgeons ??? All the world’s “steering committees” who are possessed of the monopoly to make vital decisions about scientific resources distribution are populated by the landlords only. All the “national scientific advisors” around the world are always the same landlords. But the latter are in fact not professionals in the scientific branches they claim to represent, they are solely “home-made PR-professionals” aiming at their own, exclusive, personal social success, they are really interested in nothing more than that. Is it responsible to commit serious, essential decision making tasks to such people ???

Looking at all this, the only medical analogy which immediately comes to mind is “proliferation of cancer cells” … Do our societies suffer from a sort of “social cancer” ??? If so, is it already a deadlock or there are still some ways to regeneration ???

Any proper scientific research requires a voluntary agreement among free people who would like to solve some actual, interesting, important scientific problem. Such people ought to come together and try to organize a harmonic team based upon the well-known democratic principles. Everyone is free to quit or change the team if he/she is not more persuaded by the significance of the scientific problem or by the performance of his/her colleagues. No one will have any bad social consequences, if he/she suddenly quits or changes the initially chosen team for some sound reason. At this point you will say – well, such a picture is throughout idealistic, something like this is sheer impossible. And we regret to agree with you … But then all of us have to forget about such things as fundamental scientific research, aren’t we ???.

To this end, it should be noted that the fundamental science most probably cannot recover after being drowned or vulgarized. For example, the fundamental science asphyxiated by Hitler for its slowness and unpredictability could not experience rebirth in the post-war Germany. After a small number of the leftover Soviet scientific research workers (not to confuse them with the scientific administrators !) will physically die out, the Russian science, which is now living solely from its rich traditions of the Soviet time, will also cease to exist. What would remain is the fundamental science in the USA and several scientific schools in Great Britain (if indeed !?!) – which is by far not enough for any real progress of the mankind. Moreover, global monopolies, who are not always interested in technological advances, can also easily block the development of the fundamental science.

The crisis in the science is in effect masking a terrible reality: The cognition as it is has ceased to be the main productive force.

This is shocking but, seemingly, one cannot avoid this.

The reason is simple and fundamental at the same time: with the advent of globalization, the mankind has rather concentrated its concerted efforts on changing itself (first of all, changing its own consciousness) – and not more on changing its environment. It is the latter aspect that represents an actual historical hallmark of the globalization, and by far not SMS-messages or pornosites.

The less the world surrounding us is an object of directed cognition, the more the human consciousness takes over the latter role. Consequently, the industry becomes less and less concentrated on producing some material goods or – as an intermediate stage – some services, but it is rather interested in creating and maintaining some definite, more or less pre-determined states of the human consciousness.

To change the world (along with its social component) we had to discern it first – and the science which helped us to accomplish this task was one of the most important instruments of the mankind.

However, what is being changed nowadays is not more the whole world, but its relatively small and by far not universal part – the human being itself. Furthermore, the changes are not even concerning the human being as a whole, but only its consciousness. Accordingly, one of the most important categories of the human activity, earlier devoted to studying literally everything what surrounds us, has now been occupied by a rather small group of people who are studying human consciousness and the methods to work with the latter. It should be noted here that due to the specificity of the topic (the object of study is now the very instrument of this study – the human consciousness), the scientists are not so numerous among those working with the human consciousness: such people are mostly narrow practitioners aimed at achieving some particular and specific results.

By and large, this probably constitutes the end of the scientific-technical revolution which has radically changed our world in the 50-ies of the last century – and, moreover, this marks an abrupt deceleration of the progress in the human capabilites.

May perhaps, this is just a manifestation of the human collective self-protection: the capabilities of the mankind to change the world have thus far overtaken its capability to fathom the consequences of its activities, and it is now really necessary to “have a break, have a Kit Kat”.

There is no doubt that the mankind will refurbish its cognitive instruments in some future. But this would not be a linear, painless process, as it looks like nowadays – so we may perhaps have to withstand a while, as long as this tendency really unfurls.

Although the new technologies of knowledge mining and processing will surely improve the situation in the due time, presently we seem to be heading into the new Mediaeval era, new Barbarian age, when the social success – and therefore the omnipotence of power – will belong to mediocrities who consequently neglect any knowledge.

3 Responses to Globalization and Scientific Research: Trying to Catch Black Cats in Dark Rooms ?

  1. latynina February 23, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Dear Donquixote! This is Julia Latynina. I cant’t reach you. Please send another message with your e-mail. Yes, but the abbreviated translation of the essay will appear tomorrow in Moscow Times

  2. donquixote5 February 15, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    Dear Daedalus2u,

    many thanks for your very positive comment ! I have only read the synopsis of your blog and realized – I have to go through it very carefully and seriously.

    I will definitely come back very soon with my questions/comments !

    Respectfully yours,


  3. daedalus2u February 14, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    This is an excellent and timely post. We are reaching a crisis, and it isn’t just in research. The financial sector melt-down is from the exact same thing. The US health care crisis too.

    Money can be used to buy social status and power. It can’t be used to buy wisdom.

    The dichotomy between social and technical ability is even greater than you suggest. My own hypothesis is that dichotomy is a normal consequence of differential position along the autism spectrum.

    The most important trait an innovator must have is the ability to ignore people telling him/her that he/she is wrong. That is the evolved “feature” that a touch of autism provides.

    The ability to ignore the groupthink. If you don’t have that, money can’t buy it for you.

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