Russian Doctorate Corruption

By | November 10, 2017

On October 20, 2017, the Presidium of the Higher Attestation Commission (VAK) recommended not to deprive Vladimir Medinsky, Russian Minister of Culture, of the degree of Doctor of Historical Sciences. The Expert Council of VAK on History had previously voted for the deprivation of the academic degree, stating that Medinsky lacked the basic skills and knowledge necessary for a historian and that the initial granting of the Doctor degree was conducted with numerous violations of formal rules.

The decision on Medinsky’s thesis was taken by the Humanitarian Section of the Presidium. This Section includes only two historians, Sergei Mironenko, Scientific Adviser of the Russian State Archive (GARF), and a consistent critic of Medinsky’s dissertation, and Igor Danilevsky, Professor of the Higher School of Economics. There is also the third so-called historian in the VAK, Doctor of Historical Sciences Vladimir Pavlov, head of a department in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), about whose scientific achievements nothing is known. The rest of the Humanitarian Section members are philologists, sociologists, lawyers and scholars in other humanitarian fields, as well as several VAK representatives.

The names of the six scientists who voted to deprive Medinsky of his Doctor degree at the meeting were given in the press: the philologist Yevgeny Golovko, Director of the Institute of Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN); the economist Alexander Auzan, Dean of the Moscow State University Economics Department; historians Sergey Mironenko and Igor Danilevsky; the political scientist Maria Fedorova from the Institute of Philosophy of RAN; and the economist Alexander Muraviev, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics. The other fourteen Presidium members voted against the deprivation. At least one member, the philologist Nikolai Kazansky, abstained.

During the meeting, Sergei Mironenko demanded the mathematician Vladimir Filippov, VAK Chairman, and former Russian Education Minister from 19982004, present Medinsky’s dissertation file that might contain documents showing violations of formal rules of the dissertation defense process. Filippov simply stated: “I won’t give it to you.”

According to the press reports, Medinsky himself came to the meeting, which was closed to journalists, as well as historian Konstantin Averyanov, who defended the minister’s position. Averyanov was the VAK Presidium member who had approved, on December 30, 2012, Medinsky’s dissertation without, it being considered by the VAK Expert Council on History, which was a direct violation of VAK’s basic rules.

Sergei Chernyakhovsky, professor of political science and defender of Medinsky, who was present at the meeting, later declared: “Medinsky brilliantly performed. Our role was to support him, but we did not even need it. Sometimes his speech evoked the applause of the hall with the richness of his answers.”

Olga Vasilieva, Russian Minister of Education and Science, who was not present at the meeting, reported that Medinsky answered questions of the participants of the meeting for one and a half hours and gave “very correct and clear answers that confirm not just authorship but deep knowledge.” Among those who asked questions, there was one of the initiators of the fight to deprive Medinsky of his academic degree, the philologist Ivan Babitsky, and he had a different assessment of the quality of the answers:

He answered extremely extensively and in his usual style. For example, I asked about whether his conscious position is that in Russia under Ivan the Terrible church books were in Russian, and books of Protestants were in Latin. He replied that I should know that languages change with time, and the Russian language in the 16th century did not differ from the Church Slavonic one and only since that time it began to differ.

Sergei Mironenko commented: “What can a person say who does not know what the Church Slavonic and Old Russian languages are?” Evgeny Golovko called the minister’s idea of liturgical texts “naive”.

Academician Aleksandr Chubaryan, Director of the Institute of World History of RAN, was invited to the meeting by the VAK Chairman Filippov. Chubaryan told the press: “For a long time I was the chairman of the expert council,” so “I’m interested in this.” During the meeting, he gave a speech against the deprivation. As he later described, “I spoke on the general issue. You do not need to set a precedent . . .The legal field is plagiarism. And if there is no plagiarism, all the rest is not grounds, it is not necessary to open a Pandora’s box and introduce censorship and prohibit free writing.”

It is not surprising why Chubaryan and Filippov were against the deprivation of Medinsky of a scientific degree. From 1999 to 2007, Chubaryan chaired the Expert Council of VAK on History, while Filippov was Minister of Education and Science.  At the same time, from 1999 to 2012, deputy chair of Chubaryan’s Expert Council was Professor Andrei Danilov, a specialist on the history of the USSR Communist Party, who also chaired the Dissertation Council on History at Moscow State Pedagogical University (MGPU). In fact, this council was a “falsification factory”: from 2001 to 2012, about 100 falsified and plagarized dissertations were “defended” at the meetings of this council.

Chubaryan’s Expert Council and Minister Filippov were in charge of approval of the degrees provided by Danilov’s Council. In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science ordered the disbanding of Danilov’s Council and recommended depriving 17 people who had defended their “dissertations” in that Council, of their science degrees. Danilov was fired from the MGPU and VAK’s Expert Council. To the press, he said: “I already had to leave VAK due to rotation.” Formally, Medinsky “defended” his “dissertation” at a meeting of a similar “falsification factory”, and neither Chubaryan, nor Filippov was interested in depriving Medinsky of his degree since this could lead to a new investigation of other dissertations approved during their tenure in the VAK and Ministry.

Three days later the Council on Science of the Ministry of Education and Science adopted the following resolution:

The Council for Science expresses deep concern about the unmotivated decision of the session of the humanitarian and social sciences of the Presidium of the Higher Attestation Commission, which retained the doctor of historical sciences for V. R. Medinsky, despite the reasoned conclusion of the VAK Expert Council on History. […] The session of the humanitarian and social sciences of the VAK Presidium violated its direct duties, which discredits not only the VAK, but also the system of scientific certification in Russia as a whole.

The Council recommended “to abolish the decision of the session […], as adopted in violation of the procedures and rules governing the activities of the VAK Presidium,” and to create “an independent expert commission for preparation of a reasoned conclusion on the application for deprivation of V. R. Medinsky of scientific degree of Doctor of Historical Sciences.”

On October 25, 39 scientists-members of VAK and its expert councils published a letter addressed to Olga Vasilieva, Minister of Education and Science, in which they also demanded the creation of an expert group for consideration of the deprivation of Medinsky of his Doctor degree.

Of course, the demands of the scientific community were ignored. On October 28, Minister Vasilieva signed an order re-affirming the scientific degree of the Doctor of Sciences received by Medinsky.

Interestingly, during battles around Medinsky’s dissertation and Doctor degree in 2016-2017, the Russian scientific community did not choose to recall that in 2014, there was an international scandal around Medinsky who received an Honorary Fellowship at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy. A hundred professors and lecturers of the University protested against Medinsky’s nationalistic, homophobic, and ignorant statements, as well as the plagiarism in his dissertation, and 50 Russian intellectuals published an open letter in Italy protesting the award.  

Many of Medinsky’s expressions in his dissertation have already become infamous among professional historians; some of them I’ve already cited in my previous reviews of Medinsky’s situation. Here is one more of them:

In fact, the Russian people, in comparison with foreigners, were real nondrinkers. After all, they were allowed to drink alcohol only a few days a year, during four large church holidays. Foreigners, on the contrary, drank soundly and daily.

But, possibly, here Medinsky’s main masterpiece and biological discovery:

I believe that after all the catastrophes that struck Russia in the twentieth century, beginning with First World War I and ending with the “perestroika”, the fact that Russia is still preserved and developing, says that our people have an extra chromosome.

Obviously, the Minister and Doctor of Sciences doesn’t know that the presence of “an extra chromosome” in humans leads to serious genetic diseases, in particular, a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 causes Downs syndrome.

The new “doctor of history” Medinsky is only an example of what is going on with scientific dissertations in current Russia. According to experts, “over the past two decades, more than three thousand persons became doctors of “history” science and more than 16,000, became candidates of “history” science. And this happened despite the fact that in recent years, the number of defenses has been reduced by almost a half (!), and the number of dissertation councils has been reduced by three times…  And those three thousand [of doctor dissertations] are under a question mark.”

Of 2,034 Dissertation Councils in the country, 382 approved 1,486 falsified dissertation theses. The Council of Moscow State Pedagogical University was the “champion,” it approved 232 dissertations that contained plagiarism, the council of the Russian Academy of State Service that reports to President Vladimir Putin has the second place, approving 182 falsified dissertations, and Tambov State University has the third place, 126 false dissertations. Although some of these 382 councils have already been closed, such councils as the Dissertation Council on Economy of the Ural State Agrarian University continues to approve dissertations with plagiarism (40 dissertations).

Igor Ryzhkov, Doctor of Economic Sciences and former Professor at the State Academy of Construction, Housing and Communal Complex, chaired the council that approved 45 falsified dissertations, Anatoly Yegorov, Professor at the Institute of Economics of RAN, chaired the council that approved 41 falsified dissertations, and Fedor Sterlikov, Professor at Moscow State University of Technology and Management, chaired the council that approved 40 fake dissertations. Economics, literature and jurisprudence are the most problematic disciplines in which most of the false dissertations are produced.

And on December 30, 2011, in one day the VAK Presidium approved 399 doctor dissertations that had not been evaluated by Expert Councils of VAK.

During Putin’s years, writing theses and defending dissertations for money became a profitable business in Russia. As Andrei Zayakin, a co-founder of the Dissernet, an informal network of experts, researchers and reporters, recently wrote, “in the previous years [before the Dissernet creation], about 10 thousand dissertations were defended each year, and currently, 20 thousand are defended. On the black market, the defending of a thesis costs from 10 to 25 thousand dollars; in total, this business reaches $200 million a year. For this sum you could be not only slandered, but seriously hurt.”

Author: Vadim Birstein

Dr. Vadim J. Birstein is a historian and geneticist. He is the author of over 300 scientific papers and books and has written two scholarly historical works, "The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science" and "SMERSH, Stalin's Secret Weapon: Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII". He received the inaugural "St. Ermin's Intelligence Book Award" in 2012 for SMERSH.

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