Two articles comment on the devastation wreaked on science by atheistic, totalitarian regimes.
Avi Loeb only refers briefly to Soviet Russia in an article in Nature:
The consequences of a closed scientific culture are wasted resources and misguided ‘progress’ — witness the dead end that was Soviet evolutionary biology. To truly move forward, free thought must be encouraged outside the mainstream. Multiple interpretations of existing data and alternative motivations for collecting new data must be supported.
The Harvard astronomer writes about his experience visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico, pondering the worldview blindness that prevented them from understanding what they so carefully calculated with their astronomical observations. He wonders if modern cosmologists have a similar blindness. The only way forward, he concludes, is to think outside the box, staying open to alternative explanations for data. The Soviets provide a bad example, because all Soviet science had to support the regime. Lysenko’s evolutionary biology was a dead end in more than one sense. It led to famines in Russia and China that killed millions of people (9/07/08, 12/28/08).
It has taken 50 years to recover from the “Cultural Revolution” instigated by Chairman Mao, says Medical Xpress.
For scores of years after the first medical school opened in China in 1886, the country progressed in building a medical education system for its fast-growing population. Then 50 years ago, it not only came to a screeching halt, but to a full reversal with the Cultural Revolution.
“Indeed, throughout the decade in question (1966 to 1976), all extant medical schools were effectively shuttered and their faculty disbanded,” write the authors of a new paper describing the history and current status of China’s medical education system. “It was only in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution and the passing of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976 that the medical education enterprise embarked on a slow recovery process during which some of the schools affected were allowed to reopen.”
Even today, the recovery is barely underway, the article says. Today’s Chinese should be alarmed that the current president has been given the same dictatorial title Mao had. In The Briefing for Nov 1, commentator Albert Mohler reports that”China elevates President Xi to ‘core’ leader, joining the ranks of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.” He considers the possible implications of investing that kind of totalitarian power in one man for a country that has suffered so greatly under previous “core leaders.”
One Vote, One Time
Sadly, dictatorial regimes don’t always die with their dictators. “When dictators die, stability reigns,” says Erica Frantz, political scientist at Michigan State on PhysOrg.
“We can therefore infer that dying dictators leave behind a set of players who support the status quo and the perks that it affords them,” the study says. “Such individuals have a strong incentive to converge on the selection of a successor in order to preserve their privileged access to the spoils of office.“
Chairman Mao died in luxury with no regrets for the suffering he had caused. Stalin was afflicted with a stroke while he was considering world conquest. And so decades after the famous communist dictators died, we have Xi in China, and Putin in Russia. Whatever research their scientists perform must be done to advance the regime.
Update 11/16/16: Nature celebrated the life of Joseph L. Birman (1927-2016), who devoted much of his scientific career to helping scientists escape the KGB and repression of the Soviet Union, and then China. His colleague Eugene M. Chudnovsky is forever grateful for what he did:
Birman used his travels and eminence to challenge the heads of Soviet research institutions on behalf of scientists caught in this plight. It is thanks to the efforts of him and his colleagues that I did not end up in jail, despite multiple KGB interrogations, and was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s, when many scientists in Russia were finally allowed to emigrate, Birman helped to establish the Program for Refugee Scientists in the United States, raising funds from private foundations. This supported visiting positions for more than a hundred émigré scientists in US universities and gave them time to secure permanent positions in industry and academia.
Birman played a crucial part, along with particle physicist Robert Marshak, in recovering a generation of Chinese physicists lost to Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, most scientific research ceased, concepts such as Einstein’s theory of relativity were denounced as bourgeois and scientists were sent to do manual labour in the countryside. In 1983, Birman and Marshak travelled to Beijing on behalf of the APS and signed an agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Education that brought more than 60 middle-aged physicists to work in labs throughout the United States for up to three years. Many leaders of Chinese physics are alumni of that programme, and the scientific cooperation between Chinese and US physicists that now exists evolved largely from it.
Notice the direction of emigration. Scientists were not exactly lining up to move into a socialist paradise. The resurgence of science in China, Chudnovsky says, is largely due to the freedom that the scientists enjoyed in America.
Want science? Get liberty. If you lean to the left, take a look at history. What political and economic systems have done the most for science? It is not the leftist, totalitarian dictatorships. People do their best work when they are free to pursue their dreams, when they have strong market-driven economies, and when governments respect freedom of speech and assembly. If rights are granted by dictators, they can be taken away. America has become a scientific lighthouse under founding documents that affirm that human rights are endowed by our Creator and, because of that, are unalienable.