Toughening of requirements for the scientific papers, categorization of scientific periodicals, struggle against pseudoscientists – how shall we cure the scientific community, affected by diseases?
Underfunding, plagiarism, uncontrolled “handing over” of scientific degrees, swollen pseudoscience, depressing quality of theses – Ukrainian science has more than enough problems. Representatives of scientific community, the Verkhovna Rada, and Innovation House puzzled out how one of the most important fields for the country shall recover from principal diseases.
On December 6 Innovation House held round table conference and panel discussion on topic “The enemies within: who is unneeded in Ukrainian science?”. Oleksiy Kolezhuk, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Deputy Head of the Scientific Committee of the National Council for Science & Technology Development, Oleksiy Boldyriev, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Editor at My Science popular scientific web-portal, Irina Yehorchenko, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Mathematics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and Nana Voitenko, Doctor of Biological Sciences, Member of the Scientific Committee, have discussed the state of things and figured the way out of current maddening situation.
Inna Sovsun, Vice President at Kyiv School of Economics, former First Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Petro Borovyk, Vice President at the Ukrainian Association of Patent Attorneys, Managing Partner at Borovyk & Partners law firm, Olena Panych, Advising Assistant of the First Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Science and Education, and Mykola Guk, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Neurosurgeon, employee of Romodanov Neurosurgery Institute have also given their talks.
Despite the persistent attempts of Innovation House to include in the discussion the representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, as well as the representatives of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, none of them, alas, find time to join the round table. As it was said by Inna Sovsun, perhaps, they were dealing with the matter of national importance. They made it for no good reason – event participants recalled the Ministry of Education and Science quite often.
Not all, who have presented the theses, are the scientists
Oleksiy Kolezhuk, Deputy Head of the Scientific Committee, believes that over the last years Ukrainian scientific community became degraded as to its ability to fight against internal diseases. There are many diseases, and, like in a living organism, all they are interconnected.
Thus, according to the scientist, every year an average of 8,000 scientific papers are presented – 1,000 Doctoral theses and 7,000 Candidate’s theses, however, the quality of many of them is rather doubtful.
“Rank and additional payments for the degree are the current incentives for the presentation of scientific papers,” – Oleksiy Kolezhuk said. A great many of those, who have presented their theses, turn into so-called “wild scientists” – that is, persons, who have the scientific degree, but who are not actually the scientists.
“We pursue our careers, while running up the bureaucratic stairs of closed-circuit system of scientific degrees, that are internationally deprecatingly recognised as local sciences,” – said one of the speakers of the round table – neurosurgeon Mykola Guk.
This is a multi-pronged problem, and this is confirmed by the second major “disease” – low requirements for the scientific publications that are the fundamental for the presentation of Candidate’s of Doctoral thesis. Nana Voitenko, Doctor of Biological Sciences, believes that we shall tighten the rules for the scientific journals estimation and requirements for their editorial boards. According to her, one hand is currently washing the other – unfair scientists publish “whatever they want and where they want”, and afterwards theses are presented based on this. In spite of the fact that during the past year their number has decreased by 15% – to 4,500 Candidate’s and 811 Doctoral theses, – the quality of theses still leaves much to be desired.
“Journal may be considered to be scientific if only global scientific community believes that it is scientific, – said Nana Voitenko during the round table discussion. Most of Ukrainian so-called scientific periodicals are out of international scientometric databases Scopus and Web of Science.”
Mrs. Voitenko believes that the worst of it is that most of the nominally scientific national editorial offices agree that instead of doing in-depth peer review, they simply ask the authors of the articles to bring the reviews by themselves. Nevertheless, publication of research results in national journals is currently quite suitable to present scientific work based on it.
Moreover, from the perspective of Nana Voitenko, focus on local scientific publications may actually cause severe damage. There is a substantial risk that while Ukrainian scientists, who made the great progress, publish the results of their researches in Ukrainian journals, they are kept ahead by their foreign workmates published in peer reviewed international media.
Stealing is not excusable
Publication of scientific papers suffers from yet another dangerous and very unpleasant “disease” – plagiarism.
“Children in Ukraine are taught how to plagiarise even when they are in kindergarten. There are many cases, when nursery teacher makes “handicrafts” and instructs children to tell their parents that it was made by themselves. That’s that,” – became outraged Irina Yehorchenko, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and plagiarism-fighter. Or handmade experts receive orders from pupils to make their schoolwork in handicraft lessons. In other words, plagiarism is the problem at the level of society as a whole.
The position of the state regarding the plagiarism in scientific field is that it shall be defined by the legal review, rather than by the scientists. According to Irina Yehorchenko, the cost of such review is often unaffordable. For instance, in case of scandal-ridden thesis of Kateryna Kyrylenko, wife of the politician Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, the cost of such review had to reach UAH 360,000 ($13,300). “In other words, best efforts are exerted not to conduct this review,” – Ms. Yehorchenko said.
Patent Attorney Petro Borovyk believes that the issue of combating against plagiarism is not only the matter of law.
“It is likely that the use of the rules of the law on copyright protection may lower the plagiarism level. But the academic plagiarism is a phenomenon that cannot be stopped solely by means of intellectual property law,” – Mr. Borovyk said. According to him, in most cases plagiarism is observed in scientific papers – this is the act of dishonesty with regard to the state bodies and society as a whole, but not the infringement of third party copyrights. Thus, the scientific community shall build up certain tolerance against such a phenomenon.
Not really the scientists
The rise of the pseudoscience is yet another painful point of any diligent scientist. Participants of round table, held by Innovation House, showed undivided opinion in this issue: pseudoscience may be extremely dangerous and has no right of existence.
“Scientists are not very tolerant people. First of all, they look at the quality of arguments, how the papers of their workmates meet the scientific method,” – emphasized Oleksiy Boldyriev, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Editor at My Science popular scientific web-portal.
In spite of the fact that sometimes scientists, like the other people, are liable to make mistakes, some of them are “got carried away” for miles and miles. What is more, sometimes, person is “mistaken” on some quite materialistic considerations – for the sake of money, fame. This phenomenon is extremely unpleasant for most of the scientists, inasmuch as it misrepresents the very basis of scientific cognition and destroys the confidence in the job, done by the workmates.
“Pseudoscientific papers, theories and hypotheses are usually ambitious, shocking. Their authors make claims for “breakthroughs in science”, shift of all the paradigm – alleging as their reason that they have discovered something great and significant, and all the others put together were mistaken! This depreciates the work of real scientists, which is frequently not so clear to broad public, compared to the ambitious statements of the scientific charlatans,” – Oleksiy Boldyriev said.
What is worse – allocation of funds to programs that are grounded on pseudoscientific ideas, often defunds really important and worthy of note researches.
How to fight down the “dark” side of the science
Our scientists have no all-in-one solution to fight down the pseudoscience in Ukraine, however the National Council for Science & Technology Development has several ideas that may work without a major hitch. For instance, Nana Voitenko offers to categorize the scientific journals to differentiate journals that publish valuable scientific papers and those that publish whatever is sent to the editorial office. She believes that we shall legislatively toughen requirements for the theses and shall change the system of funding.
“Sure thing, we shall call for the increased funding for science. But not the funding we have now or those in the days of the Soviet Union, when there were heaps of money and they were “smeared”. We need competitive funding to support what is really worth supporting,” – Nana Voitenko said.
Oleksiy Kolezhuk feels quite strongly that scientists need the public support and support of the pressmen as well. Each case of plagiarism and pseudoscience shall get wide media coverage and shall draw sharp criticism. “Publicity is needed to trigger the reputational factors so that next time no one will want to become a hero of such publications,” – the scientist believes. Oleksiy Boldyriev shares the same point of view: “There shall be a movement within the society, we shall join our forces and give signals to the society that Ukraine has science and scientists.”
Inna Sovsun supports the systematic approach too. She believes that solution of problems of Ukrainian science cannot come from one side only. There shall be some motion within the scientific community for the scientists themselves to be interested in major changes. Her experience in attending the meetings, where the issues on reformation of science were discussed, attests to the fact that the representatives of scientific institutions were usually interested in two issues as follows: we shall preserve the Academy of Sciences and pension benefits for the academicians. “Unfortunately, this is the level of present-day discussion,” – Ms. Sovsun said.
There is a need for better recognition on the part of the society and some controlling instruments on the part of the state. “Society shall realize that one cannot expect from the scientists working in the laboratories, that have the equipment of the 60s, to reach the outstanding results,” – Inna Sovsun believes.
“Perhaps this is a sound politics – to deprive of the scientific degrees because of the plagiarism and to toughen the requirements in a broad manner. But we are talking now about the consequences only. On top of all, we shall think about the reasons too,” – Olena Panych believes. According to her, one of the reasons for the dominant influence of plagiarism and pseudoscience in Ukraine is about those, who foster our scientists and how this is being done.
“Considering that work standards in our higher education institutions give the teacher 15 minutes only for the check of one report, and 3 hours only for the check of one term paper, there is nothing to teach, but the plagiarism,” – Ms. Panych explained. Therefore, she offers to reconsider the work standards that have destructive impact on the quality of Ukrainian science.
However, all these efforts may turn out to be ineffective without the political will. It appears that this is the most important thing. As of today, the state has no clear position as to the plagiarism and pseudoscience. As a consequence, even the most outrageous cases remain unpunished. This is evident from the fact that the representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, kindly invited by Innovation House, failed to make time to join the round table and to bring light on such a topical issue.