Archive for August 21st, 2009

The revolutionary “privilege” of getting rid of the country’s best scientists

August 21, 2009

(Este post en español aquí)


The mediocrity of the revolution has invaded all spaces of human activity in Venezuela. Nothing escapes the actions of the ignorant and resentful members of the Chavista bureaucracy, even if they are part of the academic world, where you would expect  better even from the most radical fanatics.

Their latest antic, for lack of a better word, is to decide to get rid of 27 of the most distinguished scientists in Venezuela who work at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas (IVIC), Venezuela’s former premier research center which is being turned into a Chavista fiefdom devoted to harebrained schemes, most of which have little to do with real scientific work or science.

Well, when the Minister of Science and Technology is Jesse Chacon, you could not expect anything else, no?

But let me go back to the beginning. At IVIC, they are thinking of doing away with the program that allows retired researchers to continue working there. Basically, since it is possible to retire so early in Venezuela, IVIC established some basic rules so that you could stay working there after retirement.

I have written before about Venezuela’s rules for retirement in academia. At universities you can retire after 25 years of service. At IVIC, it is a little “tougher” you can either retire at 60 or after 30 years of service. Service is defined as the first date at which your received a salary, so that people regularly retire at 50-55.

Why retire at all? Many reasons. First of all, in Venezuela if you retire, your pension pays no taxes. But more importantly, scientists retired in order to be freer to move around, visit other labs, institutions and the like.

So IVIC created some rules in order to regulate this. You had to prove you were publishing, you had responsibilities and you would just not disappear, wasting resources. IVIC currently has 27 researchers who are retired, but quite active. In fact, these guys are so active, that they represent roughly 25% of the researchers of IVIC, but produce around 70% of its publications.

But, there is always a but, most of these guys do not sympathize with Chavez and they embarrassed the Government by repeatedly voting against the Chavista candidate for Director, forcing Chavez to name as Director someone who had not obtained a majority and in some cases, received a ridiculously low number of votes.

So these brainiacs came up with a brilliant scheme: Eliminate the program of having retired researchers remain active. Then, in one swipe, they could get rid of them, fewer votes against and use the resources for their hair brained schemes, most of which have little to do with real scientific work.

And the reasoning behind this, according to the mediocre scientist that currently poses as IVIC’s Director and goes by the name of Angel Viloria is that to do research for the Government is a privilege and extending that privilege would go against the “spirit” of the Vth. Republic, whatever the hell that means.

Unfortunately these people are so crass, that they do not even care about appearances and they made this “wise” decision when considering the case of Reinaldo DiPolo. Reinaldo, whom I know quite well for too many reasons beyond this article, is Venezuela’s most cited scientist. Period. Citations is when your work gets cited by other publications in your field. While the absolute number of citations varies from field to field, anyone with hundreds of citations lifetime is quite good no matter what field you are talking about. Well, Reinaldo was in the hundreds twenty years ago and even though I have not checked recently, I am sure that he is still either number one or number two for a scientist working in Venezuela and his citations run in the thousands. I could talk about what he has done, awards and honors he has received and the like, but you get the picture.**

Reinaldo retired in 1997 and has continued working since then, publishing 39 research articles in well known international journals, since he retired twelve years ago. That would be a great productivity for someone in the peak of his “active” research career.

But Reinaldo is not a Chavista sympathizer. And since you can not attack his academic credentials, they argue that he has enjoyed this “privilege” of doing good science for Venezuela for too long. Morover they claim, he does not follow well the IVIC daily schedule which is a no-no, even if you are someone as accomplished, famous and world known as Reinaldo.

Thus, the revolutionary solution is to wipe out this over privileged class of people who dared to abuse their position by being productive and world class scientists. Thus, they turned it out around and it is the revolution that will have the “privilege” of getting rid of them, shutting down their labs even if there is nobody to follow up in their line of work, but they will free space and funds for them to do whatever misconceptions they have about what science is or should be.

And if you get rid of the best in Reinaldo, you have to throw in the other 27 retired scientists who are active and get rid of them all.  Thus it becomes the ultra privilege of getting rid of some of Venezuela’s most respected and accomplished scientists.

Of course, there are a couple of Chavista-friendly people in the bunch, like Maximo Garcia Sucre and Raul Padron,  both of whom are retired and active but are members of the Board of IVIC that is making these decisions, but you can be sure that exceptions will be created for them, so that they can enjoy like good revolutionaries and oligarchs the privilege of remaining active and that of getting rid of those that are certainly more accomplished that them.

Because these new born revolutionaries have taken advantage of the same privileges, abusing them, and justifying their work for years, except that now they have seen the light and everything they defended before like the long term value of basic science or the defense of excellence is now a thing of their silly past. They have joined forces with the ignorant mob that thinks or promotes that buying a satellite from the Chinese is science, that having Internet access is science, that buying a turnkey cell phone factory to manufacture a phallicly named subsidized obsolete phone is also science.

They are the new tropical Lysenkos, backed by the same type of militaristic and mediocre know it alls that destroyed Venezuela’s premier oil research center, while they cheered. And these little Lysenkos wannabes have thrown overboard everything they believed in to enjoy the temporary perks and privileges of the fake Chavista revolution.

But history will know very well how to judge them…and it will not be pretty.

** A reader was nice enough to take the trouble and look up DiPolo’s citations and found that his 186 publications have been cited 2,321 times for an average of 12.48 per publication. The current IVIC Director has 12 publications cited 21 times, Garcia Sucre has 20 publication cited 44 times and Padron 91 publications cited 497 times. You can be the judge.