On Science, Putin Worse than Stalin

From this story in the UK Telegraph:

Since it was founded by Tsar Peter I in 1724, the Academy [of Sciences] has enjoyed immunity from government interference. Freedom to think and work unfettered has enabled 17 of its alumni since 1904 to win science’s highest plaudit, the Nobel prize. Of those, 14 have been within the past 50 years and the most recent, Vitaly Ginzburg and Alexei Abrikosov, shared the prize for physics in 2003. . . .

Kremlin officials claim the institution needs dragging into the modern world to harness its members’ brainpower for lucrative scientific patents and commerce. But critics fear it will fall victim to Mr Putin’s appetite for control and his distrust of free-thinking institutions.

Prof Vitaly Ginzburg, who is 90 yet still academically active, said Mr Putin’s Russia was worse than Stalin’s Soviet Union. “Of course, in Stalin’s times the Academy was under the control of the central committee of the Communist Party,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

“But in those days you could come up with an idea and create – that’s how we put the first Sputnik satellite into space. Now the government thinks science must bring only income and profit, which is absurd.”

He added: “Of course it is about Putin. Our democracy is far from ideal.”

The Kremlin tried last year to gain political leverage, but its officials failed to gain election to the academy. Some were said be so ignorant they could not explain the law of gravity.

We have no doubt that those same Kremlin officials will soon pass a new, stricter, law of gravity. Under Putin, as in Orwell, free speech equals dissent and free thought equals thought crime. And who needs science and innovation when you have oil at $65/barrel? Science is just another resource to be put under Kremlin control and squeezed dry.

As Garry Kasparov wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial last August, “I am horrified as I watch my country turn into an oil-and-gas empire. From struggling workers in Vladivostok to top-notch lawyers in Moscow, we are a people proud of our intellectual traditions. Russia is a country of great literature and scientific accomplishments. It should not be our destiny to become another Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, to quite literally fuel the achievements of other nations while we lose ground.”