Academia in Upheaval: Origins, Transfers, and Transformations of the Communist Academic Regime in Russia and East Central Europe

By Michael David-Fox; György Péteri | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
How Willing Are Scientists to Reform Their Own Institutions?

Loren R. Graham

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s a major effort, or series of efforts, was made to reform the organization of science in Russia. The old system had been inherited from the Soviet Union and still displayed many characteristics of Stalinism. At a time when other institutions throughout the former Soviet Union were being swept by change, it seemed reasonable and logical that fundamental science, and especially the Academy of Sciences, would also be reorganized. Today we can see that this effort failed. The Russian Academy of Sciences is largely a carbon copy of the old Academy of Sciences of the USSR, distinguished from its predecessor primarily by poverty, not by organizational reform.

How did this happen? Why did fundamental science prove to be one of the most conservative institutions of the old Soviet Union, able to resist the waves of criticism that swept over it during the last months of the Soviet regime and the first months of the new Russian one? In this chapter I shall try to answer this question by analyzing the history of the relations between the Soviet and Russian governments, on the one hand, and the scientists, on the other. In the process I hope not only to emphasize several of the specific features of Russian and Soviet history, but the specific features of fundamental science, a social institution quite unlike many others. And in the final section of the chapter I maintain that the debates over science in Russia in recent years, so intense that they might actually be called "wars over science," tell us a few things about the

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