Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Academicians declare war on charlatans

"Kommersant daily" 2005-09-16

Yesterday the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences] Commission to Combat Pseudoscience began work with an expanded membership. Its plans include the introduction of authorized Commission representatives to fight pseudoscience in the all large cities in Russia. Their main goal is to be the struggle against folk healers.

The first meeting of the RAN Commission after the three-month summer vacation was mainly devoted to two issues. First, President Yuriy Osipov presented a diploma to a foreign member of the RAN, French mathematician Olivier [Piranneaux], and then the Presidium approved the new membership of the Commission to Fight Pseudoscience and the Falsification of Scientific Information, expanding it from 12 to 40 members. Academician Eduard Kruglyakov of the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the RAN, who has headed the Commission since it was founded in 2000, was re-elected. In the words of Mr. Kruglyakov, the cardinal expansion of the Commission's membership "has been necessary for a long time since the volume of its work has grown". "As before, many requests for discoveries and inventions come from our permanent clients, who offer designs for perpetual motion engines and torsion field generators, but the number of requests for expert assessments from the President's administration has increased notably", reported Academician Eduard Kruglyakov. Mr. Kruglyakov declined to report what inventions and discoveries the Kremlin is specifically interested in, referring to the secrecy of this information. He only let it be known that this was about the design of "a new wonder weapon".

In the words of the academician, during the 1990s RAN management repeatedly raised the question of the need for an expert assessment of all scientific projects which were being financed from the state budget. As an example of such a pseudoscientific project Mr. Kruglyakov cited the development of a means of getting energy from granite for which, in his words, in 1992 President Boris Yeltsin budgeted 150 million rubles. "Only during the presidency of Vladimir Putin has the matter moved from a standstill", added the academician. In 2000 our Commission was created under the RAN Presidium and now its membership has been expanded, and a staff has appeared which includes two doctors of science". In the words of the chairman, the Commission's immediate plans include the creation of the institution of authorized representatives to combat pseudoscience in all the university cities of Russia.

As Valeriy Kuvakin, the deputy chief of the Commission, explained, its final goal is "to force pseudoscientific phenomena completely out of existence". In the words of Mr. Kuvakin, this means the creation of expert commissions which will examine a particular scientific discovery and present their expert conclusions. "It will become a matter of principle for any self-respecting pseudoscientific school to receive a favorable conclusion from an expert commission", he added. The lack of such a conclusion will mean the admission of complete groundlessness". A priority direction in this activity will be the struggle against pseudomedicine, for which the Commission has enlisted Andrey Vorob'yev, an academician of the RAN and the RAMN [Russian Academy of Medical Sciences] who, in the words of Academician Eduard Kruglyakov, "was the RF Minister of Health and knows the state of affairs in medicine well, for which he was discharged from the position of minister".

The healers themselves call the academicians' struggle against pseudomedicine "a hopeless undertaking". "I am ready to take any test but, as I will explain to academicians, a malignant tumor needs to be rolled out with a hen's egg, but are the pathogenic zones of the human organism to be changed with the aid of a coil [spiral']?", declared Oleg Kozlov, a member of a medical association of healers. On this question Yakov Gal'perin, the head of the All-Russian Scientific Research Center of Folk Medicine, added that "charlatans are everywhere, but they are exactly the same in [folk] healing as in academic medicine, about 13%".

However, the academicians have supporters for their initiative. For example, Bishop Mark Yegor'evsky, the coadjutor bishop (an assistant to the Patriarch), declared: "Pseudosciences cause harm to the physical and spiritual health of a person and direct him toward false goals. We think that the formation of the Commission is a positive development in itself. I only ought to warn that its work will not have a positive result if it relies on atheistic principles".

Pavel Korobov, Yuliya Osipova, Sergey Petukhov

Translated by Gary Goldberg