Communist science mindcraft

The second of my two comments on the article Taiwan academics told to identify as Chinese in journal by Charlie Parker in The Times, 10 October 2020. Polish version: Uniwersytecka myśl w obcęgach.

Lech S Borkowski second comment in The Times 10 October 2020 part 1
Lech S Borkowski, second comment in The Times, 10 October 2020, part 1
Lech S Borkowski second comment in The Times 10 October 2020 part 2
Lech S Borkowski, second comment in The Times, 10 October 2020, part 2
Lech S Borkowski second comment in The Times 10 October 2020 part 3
Lech S Borkowski, second comment in The Times, 10 October 2020, part 3

The academic world in Communist countries executes strictly instructions from the authorities. They avoid usually admitting it, but there should be no illusion about it. They obey the authorities and they are the authorities’ strong arm. They are an indispensable part of the system of power and control.

Communists went to great lengths to create myths about alleged ‘independence’ and ‘freedom-loving’ of the academic world in their totalitarian countries. These stories, however, are not supported by empirical evidence. I experienced this both as a student in Poland during the 1980s and later as a researcher and an associate professor post-1990.

I am a physicist with a PhD from a well-known university in the US. I returned to Poland in 1995 with the intention of doing research and pursuing my academic goals. I hit the restrictions and the wall immediately, even before I set my foot in the university hallways. First, I was excluded from a conference in Poland, where my presence would not only be natural but also desirable, given the conference’s profile and the research I carried out during my American doctorate.

I was then sidelined in the teaching activities. Instead of being assigned normal teaching duties, I was forced to teach courses related more to computer science than physics. I had also no choice but come to work with my private laptop, as the department refused to provide even the most basic equipment. The farthest they went was to provide a stationary PC shared with another person. Only once. Curiously enough, as I later found out, this was probably son of a Communist general, i.e. a person on the opposite side of the totalitarian axis.

I was also given an office shared with that same son of a Communist general. This was in a brand new university building with an overabundance of office space. However, trivial details such as office space must have been taken care of long before. The mantra of endless excuses was well rehearsed and repeated ad nauseam, whenever I tried to raise the issue.

Even the architecture of the entire department building availed itself to a detailed system of who-goes-where and who-does-what control. It was like a well-designed prison. My key opened only a small number of doors and to access most sections of the department I had to ring a bell and request someone else’s personal assistance. This was a civilian university, not a military or intelligence institution. Or was it? Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, Department of Physics.

I was never part of the normal information flow. I had to beg for information even in the case of courses I was supposed to teach.

Department’s head office did their best to discourage me from working there and did their best to get rid of me.

It was passion and my dogged perseverance that kept me there. When I applied for tenure during the process known as habilitation, the academic authorities did their best to violate the law and sabotage the process.

I won’t go into details. Suffice it to say, one of the reviewers of this process was a well-known former principal (president) of a Polish university, who called me ‘arrogant’ in his review, although I have never met the guy in person. There was no overlap of my research with his. I saw him only once or twice on tv.

I understood later that this was a provocation, a typical Communist trap.

I know, of course, that Poland has been promoted as a country that overthrew the Communist rule. All I can say now is the following: you have been misinformed.

Now, back to the theme of scientific journals, which is the article’s subject. When I submitted a paper for publication in a journal published by the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2013, I received eventually a copy which was falsified by the editorial office. One of the basic symbols used in my paper was falsified in a way that would violate normal scientific conventions. The editorial board insisted on me making couple of dozen corrections for each instance of the symbol’s appearance instead of just one for the entire paper. My original submission had the correct form of this symbol. The editor altered it into a farcical form. I would have to make dozens of corrections just to return the paper to its original form.

How much more Communist can you get? I decided to wait and see. They rushed to publish the damaged paper without waiting for my approval. This was clearly a Communist provocation.

You might ask at this point, where did it all go wrong for me. Well, it did go wrong in January 1945, when my father decided to desert from the Soviet-controlled army because the Soviets were killing members of the Polish WWII resistance. I strongly support my father’s choice. And my mother’s as well. They were both prisoners of Communist concentration camps after WWII.

So, you should accept as quite natural course of events that I was fired from the university in Poland in 2015 and came to the UK to make ends meet and to support my family. Here I am working as a greengrocer’s assistant in west London. I had the opportunity to serve both UK’s former PM and the former Chancellor in my new role.

I did not have a financial cushion to pursue avenues of activity more naturally aligned with my professional profile, if you ask me about my current status.

I have not received even a single expression of support during my struggles with the Communist scientific authorities in Poland.

I happened to speak at a conference at the Trinity College in Cambridge in 2012. This was due to my unexpected discovery of effects in the area of neural dynamics which were completely missed in earlier studies. Polish authorities were not impressed, however. I was too stubborn a scientist for their taste. They fired me in 2015. My pianist wife was fired from a Polish state institution in 2015 as well.