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New Blood for Soviet Academy

LONDON—Younger directors will soon be appointed to about one-half of the 260 institutions directed by the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. This follows the recent announcement by the new president of the academy, Guri Marchuk, that directors must retire at age 70 rather than holding their appointments for life, as is now the case. In addition to directors now being "prematurely" retired, many other senior scientists who enjoyed lifelong tenure will have to leave their posts when they re

By | May 18, 1987

LONDON—Younger directors will soon be appointed to about one-half of the 260 institutions directed by the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. This follows the recent announcement by the new president of the academy, Guri Marchuk, that directors must retire at age 70 rather than holding their appointments for life, as is now the case. In addition to directors now being "prematurely" retired, many other senior scientists who enjoyed lifelong tenure will have to leave their posts when they reach age 65.

The rejuvenation of Soviet science is being hastened by theintroduction of "recertification" for researchers. According to Izvestia, more than 2 percent of the scientists have failed these tests and been dismissed, while an additional 5 percent have been demoted. The future of scientists who fail recertification is uncertain, but the septuagenarian directors now leaving their posts will continue to draw their present salaries after being given such titles as "counselor to the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences."

"Everything gets fatigued—even metal," writes Yevgeniya Albats in Moscow News in explaining Marchuk's "reconstruction" of the Academy. "The same is true of people, even those with outstanding potential.

"Science calls for a versatile mind and new ideas," Albats continued. "It doesn't tolerate stagnation. Authoritarianism in science is equal to death. The essence of this innovation by the Academy consists precisely in that it recognizes that one must not hold a position all his life, and it is inadvisable to make one single person's (even a great one's) point of view absolute."

Emigre Soviet biologist Thores Medvedev welcomed these moves as likely to bring much-needed new blood into the hierarchy of science in the Soviet Union. "These developments are by far the most important brought about in scientific research by Mikhail Gorbachev. Indeed, they are virtually the only significant changes that we have seen so far," he said.

The article by Albats points out that the average director is nearly 70 years old. "Albert Einstein had formulated his general theory of relativity by the age of 36.... An improper comparison, you think? But would it be proper if today's young scientists, brimming with ideas and initiative, became independent only just before retiring on pension, having wasted their initiative, ideas, and not infrequently some moral principles?"

Dixon is European editor of The Scientist.

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