“Overtake foreign scientists without catching up with them”. Who opposes the fight against pseudoscience in Russia
The Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences transferred the functions of the Commission for Combating Pseudoscience functions to an expert council, lowering its status and making it more dependent on the organisation’s leadership.
The Academy established the anti-pseudoscience commission in 1998 on the Nobel laureate Vitaly Ginzburg’s initiative. In 2009, the commission’s members criticised the “nano filters for water purification” promoted by Boris Gryzlov, the former speaker of the Russian parliament. The public outcry almost destroyed Mr Gryzlov’s career. In 2011, he retired from the parliament and disappeared from the political arena for ten years. In early 2022, the former speaker resurfaced and became the Russian ambassador to Belarus.
In 2017, the commission came up with perhaps its most high-profile decision: officially recognising homoeopathy as a pseudoscience. The commission ruled that the “super-low-dose treatment” of homoeopathic medicines had no “scientific basis and justification” and advised the Russian Ministry of Health to withdraw all homoeopathic medicines from public clinics.
Stepan Kalmykov, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences expert council, became the leading proponent of the reorganisation. He reassures the public, promising to retain the commission’s functions as part of a council subordinate to him.
Who is Stepan Kalmykov anyway? He is 48 years old, a young age by Russian academic standards. He is a radiochemist and scientific supervisor of the chemistry faculty at Moscow State University. Dr Kalmykov is rapidly rising in the scientific ranks: in 2022, he was elected as an academician, and later that year, he became vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
In a recent interview, he said:
“Unique scientific mega-science facilities are something beyond the horizon. With it, we can overtake foreign scientists by many years without catching up with them.”
The Russian Academy of Sciences vice-president also has interesting ideas about environmental education: “People start to panic: they get the feeling that they are being bullied all the time, that they are always under threat, and so on. Somewhere this may be so, but not everywhere. We need to show people an objective picture of the world.”
Finally, justifying the construction of a highway in Moscow next to a radioactive waste repository, Stepan Kalmykov explained in 2019 that there is nothing to be afraid of: “The risks to health and death are negligible. Especially when compared to the risks of smoking.”
Now Stepan Kalmykov has subjugated one of the last independent associations within the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.