Oleh Stasyk – about the effectiveness of Ukrainian science, competition with German researchers, and about the type of the science that may be funded by the USA.
Innovation House met Oleh Stasyk, Head of Department of Cell Signaling and Deputy Director for Science at the Institute of Cell Biology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. This year he was among 24 other scientists, who entered the first composition of the Scientific Committee of the National Council for Science & Technology Development. This authority, established pursuant to the Law “On scientific and scientific and technical activities”, is now basically obliged to reform the scientific field.
We had a talk with Oleh Stasyk about the reforms in science and discussed many other issues as well.
About the state of science
As a scientist and Scientific Committee member, I believe that our science fails to achieve optimum effect. There are good teams, there are good institutions too, but the same cannot be said of all the structure that was inherited by us from the Soviet Union and is rather bulky. It is very unfortunate that no reforms were made at the proper time. They could gradually and systematically introduce competitive working principles of scientific teams. In other words, the one, who works more efficiently, delivers more scientific products of high international level (articles, patents, etc.), shall get more funds for his work – just like in business. It is obvious that at this point have archaic leveling, rather than rules that may promote qualitative science. We almost have no independent agencies for the grant funding of researches.
If you take a look at international statistics of impacted publications in the Web of Science (international classifier that separates proper magazines from low-quality ones), then you will see that the share of Ukraine is going down both on a world-wide and European scales. It is worth noting that the share of Russia is showing the slight growth. Perhaps, this was achieved thanks to the reforms that are being made by them in their Academy of Sciences. The share of such countries, as Poland, for instance, where reforms has begun 15 years ago, is rising at a much faster rate.
About scientific degrees
There are more than 100,000 Doctors and Candidates of Science in Ukraine. If we calculate their work performance in terms of number of publications per person, then we will see that we are in the cellar among all the European countries. This is explained by the fact that major portion of these people do not work in the field of science as such. They neither deal with scientific discoveries, nor with the search for something new. Instead of this, many of them get cash benefits for their titles for no good reason.
Moreover, every single year several hundred of Doctors of Science and several-fold more Candidates of Science present their theses in Ukraine! If you go down this list, you will see legal, pedagogical and medical sciences.
We have “theses factories” that write papers of various levels, and no one is responsible for this
Enormous number of theses in these four fields attests to the fact that these are papers of poor quality. Moreover, most of these theses – I would go as far as saying – are fake. This is falsification, compilation of well-known facts, and plagiarism. We have “theses factories” that write papers of various levels, and no one is responsible for this. The state has lost control over this process. This is also noticed by foreign countries and they are starting to be curious what is going on in Ukraine. These questions shall first be addressed to the State Accreditation Commission (SAC) and to the Ministry of Education and Science (MES). It seems that they try to take no notice of these phenomena.
There are so-called trash-journals that support fake theses presentations. They publish everything and anything and manage to stay in the lists of accredited or professional periodicals, recognized by the SAC and the MES. There are some distinctive features that may help you to detect these journals: they simultaneously publish papers from all branches of science, they take money for their publication services, they have no peer review (type of independent anonymous scientific review – Editor’s note).
I do not want to mention “proffesor” Yanukovych (4th President of Ukraine – Editor’s note) one more time, who have never written his thesis. But there are well-known surnames among present-day politicians, whose theses bear plagiarism and falsification marks. Most notably this refers to the persons having degrees in the fields of economic and legal sciences. They are the one, who make use of experience gained by them and by their workmates, in natural and exact sciences, for instance. They do this because they believe that imitation is holding dominant position in all the fields of science. But that’s not so. Our Scientific Committee jointly with the MES is developing the new theses presentation rules. We hope that they will soon be adopted, since this is not about the good will of the science only, this is a financial issue too, because scientific degree provides for the salary increments. The state is unable to effectually spent vast sums of money for them. This money is comparable to the funding of entire academies.
Thousands of other undisclosed plagiarism cases in scientific papers are at the back of every single case, unveiled to us by the mass media. Therefore, I, for one, stand for end-to-end plagiarism check of theses. Moreover, I also stand for the development of mechanism to deprive of scientific titles. In some countries you will be deprived of scientific title if the plagiarism is detected within ten years upon presentation of your thesis. If plagiarism is detected later, nothing bad will happen to you. If it was up to me, I would set lower limit for our country in 1991, when Ukraine has achieved its nationhood. Then, probably, we will kick off considerable part of those Candidates and Doctors of Sciences, whose number exceeds 100,000. We need the mechanism to check theses, and this shall be funded. Otherwise, we will remove only separate needles from the haystack.
About the Scientific Committee
We had several meetings of complete composition of the Scientific Committee, and my opinion is quite favorable. I thought it would be worse, but the International Identification Committee did a decent job (and I’m very grateful to them for this). Scientists, who came to the Scientific Committee, even despite different worldviews – sometimes extremely different – are concerned persons trying to change the situation for the better.
The government has no smart scientific policy. The Scientific Committee’s goal is to offer this policy to the government
The government has no smart scientific policy. The Scientific Committee’s goal is to offer this policy to the government. Unfortunately, neither government, nor the Verkhovna Rada are lack of competent experts. They have few experts there and they are either economists or politologists, who have no clue of the specific features peculiar to experimental sciences. We have no proper expert communication between the government on the one hand and the Academy of Sciences and system of higher education on the other hand. Perhaps the situation with the MES is slightly better, but as for me, it also has insufficient number of experts, namely in the field of innovative process.
About the science funding
American Research Professor James M. Cregg, for whom I worked during my secondment program, once said the USA is rather rich country to pour cash into good science, but not so rich to pour cash into bad science of non-international level. And this is the USA – world’s most powerful scientific system.
But we are in Ukraine, we smear little money over the “plane” and we show no proper interest in how efficiently this money is being spent. Therefore, we have no assessment system of work done by certain scientists, teams, institutes, though this may be easily assessed and this is already being done abroad. First of all, this relates to the quality and quantity of international publications and quotations of them, number of patents and licenses, talks at international conferences. We shall introduce different assessment system for various academic disciplines. For culturologist or philologist, for instance, monographies are more important. However, sometimes the monograph of the biologist is getting out of date six months upon its publication. What is important for us is to have publications in international professional journals, ranking of which is headed by Nature, Science, Cell, etc. Unfortunately, we are facing with misunderstanding or frank non-acceptance of innovations among by the aged scientists, who have formed their opinions in the Soviet-era coordinate system.
Ukraine allocates one of the smallest percent of its GDP to the science, and this is the road to well-formed decline
In Western countries, scientists are inspired by the grant financing system of researchers. This means that scientific group may file application in support of their idea and if this application scores a success – they will get money. From 7% to 15% of applications usually win grants. Winners receive money that may be really used to conduct scientific work.
In our country such grant systems have existed and currently exist in some embryonic form, however the allocation of funds is non-transparent. Sometimes it is even corruptive. On frequent occasions, we have clash of interests between those, who create such programs, and those, who will then get funds, – sometimes these are the same persons. But the scientific competition cannot work this way. This system shall be changed, and the Scientific Committee shall offer here new rules for the allocation of grant funds, that will show open, fair competition and compulsory no conflict situation. By all means, we need individual grants for young scientists at various stages of their scientific career.
Moreover, we will do nothing without the international expertise, since Ukraine has small circle of scientists in certain fields. This means that reviewers and contestants will know each other. Therefore, we will bring up the question in such a manner that grants exceeding a certain amount shall be allocated only upon the anonymous international examination. All this is a universal truth for the competitive science in advanced countries, the need or which is underestimated in Ukraine in broader terms.
We shall realize that the budget of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, if converted into EUR, amounts to about one hundred million – this is the budget of the average German university. By the way, Ukraine, allocates one of the smallest percent of its GDP to the science, and this is the road to well-formed decline. Regardless of whether we want it or not – we shall do assessment system and shall leave the qualitative science only, but this remaining qualitative science shall be funded in a qualitative manner. We shall try to increase funding gradually. We shall also enquire about the results of their work, shall make targeted use assessment of grants and developed scientific products with the participation of independent experts.
About the National Research Foundation
One of the first tasks of the Scientific Committee is to create the National Research Foundation. This is grantmaker structure that will deal with competitive grants in various fields of science. We have already had similar structures, but, as a general rule, they were small and underfunded. Now we have the State Fund for Fundamental Research of Ukraine, based on which the National Research Foundation will be established. In an ideal scenario, this will be done in 2018.
First and foremost, its key dissimilarity from the predecessors will be (I hope so) the new operational principle and increased funding. Grants will be received by the scientists regardless of their age and subordination – both employed at the National and industry-specific Academies of Sciences, and at the system of higher education. Moreover, while creating the National Research Foundation, we take example by the experience of European grantmaking systems.
To develop the basic science, Ukrainian scientist shall pay big custom duties for some sort of imported enzyme or antibody, and this is nonsense
About the role and attitude of the state
It is a challenging task to make international level publication in experimental branches of science. This is associated with rather expensive consumables, imported reagents, equipment that shall be delivered from abroad. To develop the basic science, Ukrainian scientist shall pay big custom duties for some sort of imported enzyme or antibody, and this is nonsense. Ukrainian biologist cannot compete with German biologist, because the consumables are twice as expensive. In such a case, this work shall preferably be conducted in Germany. Therefore, we need legislative changes able to solve this and many other issues. I am hopeful that the Scientific Committee will initiate such changes.
The most important thing is to set apart the real invention – useful and, perhaps, commercially attractive – and “blank control sample”, yet another perpetuum mobile. We have no compulsory functional system. We need independent structures that will assess inventions, innovative offers, recent technologies and will be able to isolate all the best, that may be of valid applied interest, from the pseudoscience – we have ample of it. Such ideas shall remain in Ukraine, rather than run away outside the country. And such structures, dealing with innovative ideas and technologies shall be supported by the state, shall be independent and separated from any impacts “from above” in equal measure.
We need wide open legislation, highly attractive for the innovative ideas to be implemented in Ukraine. This means that experience of Singapore, Finland, Israel, Baltic states shall be used by the Ukrainian legislation to its full extent. There shall be no state barriers. Perhaps this will sound inappropriate for someone, but the state shall not deal with innovations as a manager, since this is where corruption begins in this case. On the other hand, the state shall exert all efforts to support the financial development of startups at an early stage of their growth, when they shall stand on their own feet.
Instead of parting words
As of today, Ukraine is in such a historical stage, when we shall move and develop ourselves in a speedy fashion, like Alice in Wonderland did, to remain the advanced society, to be abreast with or neighbors, or to move forward. We still waste precious time to discuss issues that were resolved long time ago in developed countries. However, we cannot wait for the physical change of generations that will trigger the reforms in the field of science and innovations. The time has come for action.