Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted its fair share of deranged responses from Western elites, including the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra’s decision to remove Tchaikovsky from its program because his masterpiece 1812 commemorates a Russian military victory (from two hundred years ago).
However, perhaps the most inane example of virtue-signalling that does nothing to help Ukraine comes from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
According to the Guardian, no academic papers have been published by the scientists working there since last March. Why? Because some of them object to co-authorship with Russian institutes and “even with the individuals working for them”. In other words: they don’t want to have their names listed on a paper alongside Russian scientists and funding bodies.
One Russian scientist who spoke to the paper mentioned that none of his fellow Russian colleagues “can accept what Russia is doing in Ukraine”. And a British scientist confirmed that some have even signed open letters protesting the war (presumably at some personal risk). Yet this wasn’t enough to pacify the activists.
“Most of my Ukrainian colleagues do not extend responsibility for the invasion to their colleagues from Russian institutes,” the Russian scientist explained. But “some of my EU colleagues are much more radical.” So it’s not even Ukrainians behind this; it’s Europeans virtue-signalling on their behalf.
As the Guardian notes, more than 70 papers are now stuck in the pipeline, with potential negative consequences for the younger researchers involved: because academia is obsessed with credentials, it’s much harder to get a job if your work doesn’t appear in peer-reviewed journals.
Among Robert K. Merton’s four norms for ideal scientific practice is “universalism” – the norm that scientists be judged on impersonal criteria. “To restrict scientific careers on grounds other than lack of competence,” Merton notes, “is to prejudice the furtherance of knowledge.”
If every scientist refused to collaborate with people or organisations from countries with objectionable governments, science could never make any progress. Should we have abandoned American scientists during the Iraq war?
Of course, holding up scientific publications because you don’t want your name listed next to a Russian colleague’s isn’t about helping Ukraine; it’s about sending the message “I am a good person, I deserve to be thought highly of” (although in my view, it sends the opposite message).
If scientists at the LHC really want to help Ukraine, they could make a private donation to one of the charities working there. Making a fuss about co-authorship, and in the process undermining Merton’s norm of universalism, doesn’t help anyone. It only hurts science.
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