Unabomber and Fabricant

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Sep 25 15:42:36 EST 1995

On 25 Sep 1995, Arthur Smith wrote:

> I wasn't consider responding in any way to the Unabomber. I was wondering
> how we can respond to the rather large segment of the population that
> seems to, for the most part, agree with his sentiments. 

In this most interesting discussion I wonder that nobody
so far brought up an analogy with a 3-year old case of 
Valery Fabrikant, professor of Mechanical Engineering at
Concordia University, Montreal. This case, despite some
differences, has appalingly strong overlap with Unabomber. 

For a long period Fabrikant complained to various
officials about the abuses of research funds, under-the-table
grantsmanship deals, etc. All his complainces were bluntly 
ignored. As a result, in a splash of an outrage, he, in 
a single shooting gun spree (in August 1992 ?), killed 4 of 
his colleagues-professors and is now serving a life sentence 
(there is no capital punishement in Canada, althogh there 
is a strong drive in the country for its re-establishing).    

Subsequent inquiry by a reputable interdisciplinary
committee of professors ("Arthur's report") did 
confirm that Fabrikant's allegations were indeed to
a large degree valid. This is is major shame to all the
ideology of the "production driven" research ethos, 
which is actively supported by granting councils. 
Bogus philosophy of "winneres-and-loosers" in the
style of Tonya Harding and rat-race "competition" for
funding based on secretive and unaccountable "peer review" 
kills the spirit of curiocity, enforces conformism and
mediocrity, and makes scientific community internally 
splitted and weakened in its very basis. 

No matter what people may take from Unabomber's ramblings,
some of his quotes posted recently, do reflect ( unfortunately
for us, scientists), problems of how we are perceived by the 
society at large. The feeling that the prestige of science
is going with an alarming speed is almost universal - there
are numerous materials on this effect in recently published
literature. There is no way scientific community can face
outside challenges of societal perception unless the core
of this problem (grantsmanship warfare, "me first"
philosophy, etc) will be addressed BY US FROM INSIDE. Don't
blame "them" for not giving us "enough money". We first 
have to learn how to use what we have much more fairly and

The first thing to do is to stop participating in a secretive
system of peer review for grants and turn to more democratic
and equitable distribution schemes. Needless to say, this is
an anathema for all the grantsmanship mafia and funding
bureaucracy. However, there is no way we can restore the 
decency of our profession unless we find the way to address
this constructively and with results. 

[ much deleted ]

> >   Our common goal in science is to promote life in the universe through a
> >process of gaining understanding of existence and applying it. 
> But is that really the goal that motivates each one of us as scientists?

> "Promoting life in the universe" isn't very high on the list, as far
> as I can tell.
> And of course there are the Stacy Ferguson's for whom the purpose
> of research is to win out over everybody else and "succeed" in science...
> As I've commented elsewhere, the current scientific system has a bias
> in its selection process that works AGAINST people with altruistic
> backgrounds, and FOR people motivated by selfishness and greed.

Precisely. This is what the present NSF/NIH/NSERC, etc.
grantsmanship is all about.

[ much ]
> Can anything we personally do help turn things around? 

Yes, the first thing to do is the abolishing
of the present secrecy in research funding.
The key is anonymous peer review for FUNDING 
(for journals I would leave it for a while,
it's going to collapse soon anyway in electronic
publishing environment).

Introduce more equitable funding schemes.
Fund RESEARCHERS, not "proposals". Criticise
openly and in press present funding selectivity
policy of granting agencies. Anonymous peer review 
of proposals is by DEFINITION a conflict of interest 
(peer reviewers are competitors by definition)
and as such should be declared illegal. Instead of
it funding ranking by an open panel based on the
ACTUAL research record should be used.    
( a lot of literature is available on this).

>I've tried
> to promote scientific and technological solutions on other newsgroups
> (alt.society.futures for example) with rather stunning lack of success.

Of course, they all busy writing their grant
applications to keep paper shufflers of 
granting councils well fed.

> > As to motivation: Carl Jung observed
> >in his exhaustive survey of human culture that every society holds the
> >common good as the highest ideal and that our urge to come to the aid of
> >our neighbor is such a constant that it must have genetic origins. 

Try to say it to grantsmanship bureaucrats.

> 	Arthur

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