«The strike is directed at a wrong target»

Machine assist­ed translation

A mem­ber of the T-invari­ant, Coordinating Council, Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg Aleksei Oskolski adds a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant argu­ments to the dis­cus­sion of the idea of boy­cotting sci­en­tists on the cri­te­ri­on of Russian affil­i­a­tion that our pub­li­ca­tion has begun. In his opin­ion, the effect of such actions will be direct­ly oppo­site to that intend­ed by Ukrainian sci­en­tists, who called for a boy­cott in their open let­ter. Following this call would only strength­en Putin’s regime and, at the same time, set a prece­dent that would be threat­en­ing to the entire world of science.

I stand in sol­i­dar­i­ty with Ukrainian schol­ars in their desire to help their coun­try, which is fight­ing a just bat­tle against unjus­ti­fied Russian aggres­sion. I under­stand their moti­va­tions. However, I do not con­sid­er the mea­sures they pro­pose aimed at the per­son­al inter­na­tion­al iso­la­tion of Russian sci­en­tists to be justified.

The let­ter from Ukrainian col­leagues is writ­ten in the log­ic of mil­i­tary action. In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, when sci­en­tists are sep­a­rat­ed by a front line, pub­li­ca­tions and reports indi­cat­ing Russian affil­i­a­tion are per­ceived by them as ene­my pro­pa­gan­da, sup­port­ing a pos­i­tive image of the aggres­sor coun­try. An attempt to rec­ti­fy this image by iso­lat­ing Russian sci­en­tists from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty leads, how­ev­er, to worse consequences.

First of all, the strike is aimed at a wrong tar­get. The major­i­ty of Russian sci­en­tists (espe­cial­ly those involved in inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion) do not approve their coun­try’s aggres­sion against Ukraine. This is evi­denced not only by my expe­ri­ence with my col­leagues cur­rent­ly in Russia, but also by the more than 8,000 sig­na­tures of Russian sci­en­tists under an open let­ter con­demn­ing the inva­sion of Russian troops in Ukraine (sim­i­lar actions of sci­en­tists in sup­port of the inva­sion have gar­nered only about a thou­sand sig­na­tures). Boycotting poten­tial allies is short­sight­ed to say the least.

In addi­tion, the media effect of iso­lat­ing Russian sci­en­tists is unlike­ly to seri­ous­ly affect Ukraine’s econ­o­my, the com­bat effi­cien­cy of its armed forces, and its inter­na­tion­al sup­port. At the same time, such mea­sures would pro­vide a pow­er­ful pro­pa­gan­da lever­age for the cur­rent Russian regime and con­tribute to the mil­i­tary mobi­liza­tion of the Russian pop­u­la­tion. The Ukrainian schol­ars’ pro­pos­als are ful­ly in line with the Kremlin’s inter­nal pol­i­cy of «besieged fortress».

Of course, quite a few Russian sci­en­tists are involved in mil­i­tary devel­op­ments that are used in the cur­rent war against Ukraine. However, these sci­en­tists are weak­ly inte­grat­ed into inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion, and a boy­cott is unlike­ly to affect them much. At the same time, the iso­la­tion of sci­en­tists who are not cur­rent­ly involved in weapons devel­op­ment may force some of them to go to work in the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al sector.

The last but not least, Ukrainian col­leagues insist on tak­ing non-sci­en­tif­ic cir­cum­stances into account when mak­ing deci­sions about the pub­li­ca­tion of sci­en­tif­ic papers. The noble goals pur­sued by all this, in fact, jus­ti­fy a devi­a­tion from one of the basic prin­ci­ples of sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion and open wide oppor­tu­ni­ties for ide­o­log­i­cal pres­sure on sci­ence. If some­one in the future were to demand, say, that arti­cles be pub­lished only with the “cor­rect” gen­der or racial com­po­si­tion of the author’s team, they could well refer to this prece­dent. Thus, the con­se­quences of boy­cotting sci­en­tists with Russian affil­i­a­tion could prove detri­men­tal to sci­en­tif­ic dis­course as such.

In sum­ma­ry, I con­sid­er any mea­sures aimed at actu­al­ly weak­en­ing the eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary poten­tial of Russia, which is wag­ing an unjust war of con­quest, to be jus­ti­fied. This includes sanc­tions against Russian orga­ni­za­tions, espe­cial­ly those asso­ci­at­ed with the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al sec­tor. At the same time, Russian affil­i­a­tion as such should not be a rea­son to iso­late a sci­en­tist from the inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Such a boy­cott is know­ing­ly counterproductive.