Artem Oganov: «A scientist who is dishonest is a dead scientist»
Vladimir Legoyda
Read More


- Forgiveness is another difficult topic for us. We have already slightly touched upon it, but we can talk in more detail here. One of my acquaintances from Sarov, who works at the Federal Nuclear Center, says that science doesn’t forgive intellectual hubris. Well, as I understand it, he means what we have already started talking about. And I understand that you most likely agree with this. What else doesn’t science forgive?

- Dishonesty. A scientist who is dishonest, who falsifies his or her achievements for whatever reason is a dead scientist. And it will be extremely difficult to resurrect this scientist. It sometimes happens that the dead are brought back to life, but this is a miracle. This looks like fantasy. And, unfortunately, this kind of scientists, who are engaged in fraud and forgery, is not so rare. Sometimes career is the motivation. Especially in the West or in China, where competition is tough. You must run ahead of others, generate ideas that will shake the world. And if these results don’t come by themselves, what is there to do? After all, career is career. But let me pretend my wishful thinking is real - and off we go. 

There are people who made a brilliant career using this trick. But then their schemes were exposed, since there is a time all cats eventually get out of the bag. In such a situation, nothing will save the fraudster. Science will be merciless. Stories of this sort end up dramatically, even with deaths and suicides. Something of the kind happened in Japan. Terrible. 

In Russia, I haven’t yet seen such cutthroat competition for a place in the sun. Rather the opposite: there is a void, a lack of talent. There are more places where you can show yourself than there are talented people who could take these places under the sun. Therefore, I really would like those scientists who left, to return. This will benefit both them and the country. There is another bane in our country – to pander to authorities. If the big boss says that the cold thermonuke exists, then there will be a bunch of people who will helpfully sing along: the cold thermonuke exists. People would laugh at them in the West, but not in Russia. The boss says that, for instance, he has devised a material harder than diamond. So be it. And his subordinates will readily confirm this. Although this isn’t true, and the results are contradictory. They would contradict common sense and one another. People either don’t see this, or don’t want to see this. Toady ways destroy people as scientists. This can help them with their bosses for a while, but this will not help them in the long-term perspective. Sooner or later, these people would have to break with the past, or I don’t know...

- You said that sometimes the dead come back to life.

- They do.

- This requires some courage.

- That’s right. This requires courage. And I wish these people courage. Of course, I do.

- You have just talked about what arises as a result of moral choice. Just now I recalled an American movie, where a scientist came to a hospital looking for a job. They asked him what he was doing before. He answered: I hadn’t worked in a hospital before. He said he tried to get something from annelids, I’m not sure I remember this exactly now... These people told him that it was impossible. He said he knew it wasn’t, and that he had been trying to prove this for five years, to no avail. It's awesome. You keep doing something for five years, hoping to prove something. After five years it turns out that you were wrong. Maybe it’s just hard to admit it. Or is it part of the job? Have you ever had something like that?

- No, I have been lucky. I haven’t had such a…

- People say, that what you predict you synthesize after.

- No. I was wrong sometimes. Every scientist may make mistakes.

- Well, of course.

- Only the one who does nothing never errs.

- That’s right.

- But I don’t remember that I persisted in my mistakes. I think that a scientist, like any person in general, will benefit from admitting his or her mistakes. An honest and honorable admission of mistakes will help one to become better as a scientist. There is no other way. You know, Einstein made mistakes and admitted this. I can't name a single scientist right off the bat, but I believe every scientist might be wrong every now and then. For example, the founder of the Soviet and Russian school of crystallography, Nikolai Belov. He also was wrong sometimes. He incorrectly defined the structure of the tourmaline mineral. And another scientist identified it correctly. Nikolai Belov, who, by the way, was a believer in the Soviet years, received a title of academician in 1953. When he published his book, he put the correct tourmaline structure on the cover, even though it was discovered by somebody else. It was a kind of reproach to himself. Where will you find greater humility and greater nobility? This is how one should relate to scientific results and the truth. Scientists strive for the truth. A scientist who doesn’t strive for the truth is not a scientist. Salt, which has ceased to be salty - what is it good for?

- You once said in an interview that the scientific world is the same as the ordinary world of ordinary people. Have you had an opportunity to forgive or not to forgive in this scientific world? Have you asked for forgiveness? In the scientific environment, as they say, on a scientific occasion.

- Let me remember. I had to forgive. I had to forget insults. As for not to forgive - well, in a way, it also happened. You know, it is very important for me not to hate. It's kind of forgiveness. In this sense, I have forgiven everyone. For example, I know that there is a dishonest scientist. He is dishonest both as a scientist, because he is a fraudster, and as a person, because he steals other people's achievements. I know there is such a person. Have I changed my mind about him? - No. Do I hate him? - No. Will I give him my hand? - Well, hardly. Will I fight him? – Do I have nothing else to do? I won't. Let him live as he can. I know several people like him. As Mao Zedong said, let all flowers bloom. Let such kind of person and other people like him find the strength to become better, become scientists, become people. Would I help them? - Of course, I would help if they asked. When I lived in London, I saw there, in the very center of the city - on Whitehall Street ... or on Charing Cross Street, I don’t really remember - a monument from World War I. It was a monument to some famous British woman. And her words were engraved there. They deeply touched my heart. Remember the following about World War I: how important it is - something was written there - not to feel hatred even towards enemies. I believe it’s very important not to accumulate ill feelings in your soul. In that sense, yes, that is forgiveness. But the most important forgiveness is to forgive yourself. Because each of us carries a great emotional burden. Conversion to Christianity helped me get rid of this terrible burden. I think that as a rather conscientious person I wouldn’t have been able to bear this emotional burden. I've been dragging all these stories by myself.

You know, scientists are human, too. And now I will tell you a story. Just one, although I am burdened with quite a lot of such stories. We had a boy with a mental disorder at school. His name was Kostya. I think his disorder was called oligophrenia. He spoke funny and he was mentally retarded. I thought it was very funny to mock him. I also persuaded others to do the same. We used every opportunity to sneer at him! I remember our teacher of mathematics – by the way, an outstanding teacher – telling us off: “How dare you! He's small. Leave him alone, be human.” But we didn’t calm down. We thought it was very funny. Even the fact that the teacher told us off was wild fun. And we continued to mock him. Later I remembered: how could I do this? How could I be such a monster? I mocked a guy who was miserable. We mocked his dad. The rumor was that his dad was the director of some fish factory. That was why he paid off his retarded boy’s way to a regular school. So we mocked his dad: “Ah ha hah, director of a fish factory, ah ha hah, your son is a moron, you had it coming” and all that ... And now I think: I remember this dad. The dad held his son by the hand while they were walking in our park. They were walking in circles for kilometers in silence. You could see that the dad was feeling so much at that moment. His heart was bleeding. And now I'm looking at it and think what a moron I was! Now, if I saw this Kostya or his dad (dad is probably long gone by now), I would fall on my knees and ask for forgiveness. 

I remember my first confession. I was so ashamed of this and of many other things. Some of it I don’t even dare tell you about now. I didn’t sleep before the confession. I couldn’t figure out how it would all be - to tell a priest, a stranger, all this filth. All the abomination that I was afraid to tell even myself. Everything that made me feel bad inside. But I still thought that I had to do it. I told him everything. The priest was very kind to me, very merciful. I remember crying after this. It was a huge load off my mind. I remember how I sobbed even though I literally don't know how to cry. I rarely do it. I remember how I sobbed like a beluga. I remember the happiness, this lasting feeling, when you realize that you finally have a clear conscience. And now if I could find this Kostya somewhere, find his dad, even though I know that I am forgiven, I would fall on my knees and ask for forgiveness in front of them. I understand now that when we bullied this defenseless Kostya and his defenseless honorable dad, we were actually bullying Christ – defenseless and innocent. 

Of course, this is wrong. It is very important to forgive yourself. It is very important to forgive others. Don’t feel judgmental towards others or towards yourself. In particular to yourself, because otherwise you can’t forgive yourself. You just constantly destroy yourself with this. When you are at piece and not at war with yourself, you are competing with yourself. War is turning into a sport. And each of your achievements, when you get higher, brings you joy. By the way, asking someone else for forgiveness is a victory over oneself. It is this very sport. This is when war turns into a sport. This victory over oneself is the most difficult victory. That was what my experience of faith has given me.


- In an interview, you once said that when you studied and worked in London, you volunteered to give food to homeless. Can you call it an experience of love?

- Perhaps.

- Back then or now?

- Perhaps, that’s what it is - love. This was an experience of learning to me. Because we had a rule…

- I am sorry for interruption. Why did you go there at all? Because you were living in a Catholic dormitory?

- Yes.

- So it was a condition for your stay?

- No, it was absolutely voluntarily.

- Voluntarily?

- Those who wanted to do this, did it. Those who didn’t want to, didn’t. I wanted. This was a very important learning experience for me. We often hear of a trite belief that the homeless in the West are just crazy or sluggish folks. That they simply like to live this way. Well, this is absolute nonsense. The homeless of London amazed me. I can tell you of a couple of cases, portraits. Here is a student from Malaysia who graduated from the University of London. He received good education, but couldn’t find a job. What would an ordinary person do? He would return to Malaysia with a London diploma and find a great job. But he couldn’t do this, because everyone in Malaysia would think that this was a failure. And he was stubborn like a ram. He continued looking for a job in London. But without a job, you cannot pay rent, and then you become homeless. Being homeless, you can no longer get a job. So he became homeless for good. But he still thinks even now, 20 years later, that tomorrow someone will offer him a job. But to tell you the truth, no one will give him a job. This man made perhaps the only mistake in his life - he didn’t return to his country.

- Mr. Oganov, people say that a scientist should love the subject he or she is engaged in. Perhaps, my question sounds stupid… Well, let's say a philologist loves the writer he or she is studying. A zoologist loves animals. And what does a person who does what you do, like? Crystals?

- The process of learning. When you find something, that no one else has discovered yet…

- Hasn’t discovered yet?

- ...when you become a little bit smarter. I have already said, it’s a sport,  competition with yourself – be better, be taller, be smarter, develop new skills, new talents. This is what scientists love in their profession. In general, I adhere to the philosophy that every person is born into this world as a genius in something. So it is very important to find your place in life. If you have found your place, your calling in life, where you can realize and increase your talents, you will be a happy person. When you are in your place and you love this place, your job, it brings you joy. Because you realize your abilities and multiply them. This is love for what you do. Besides, I believe that if you don't love what you do, you won't be a happy person. In any job, including that of a scientist, every now and then there are things we have to do, even though we don't like them. Well, for example, applying for grants...

- Don’t you like it?

- Too many papers to fill in. I hate it! Sorry. Let’s record it again.

- OK.

- I love it.

- Yes, we will cut it out.

- I love it! Because I made myself love this, too. You know, if you don’t love something about the profession you love, there will be certain things you’ll have to put up with. So there’s nothing else to do but to love this, too. Otherwise, you won’t succeed in your profession.

- Well, sometimes I notice things. I wonder if you agree or not  - I’ve been teaching in a classroom since 1995, and I have an eye for things. I notice that today’s students and young employees are motivated mainly by an interest in what they do. It is a stronger motivation than money, than fear, punishment or reward. That is interesting: they do their best and work seven days a week. As a result, they lose interest quickly. Especially because there is a routine that they cannot bring themselves to love. So I wonder, firstly, whether you agree with this or not. And, secondly, how do you sustain interest? How to learn to keep it? Any piece of advice?

- I don’t know. Maybe patience is the solution. The one we spoke about earlier.

- Patience and forgiveness.

- Labor and patience defeat all resistance. Actually…

- Do you notice this in young people, postgraduates, or students? Or do you mostly work with the best ones?

- I only select those postgraduates and employees that are highly motivated. If they are, and if they work hard, I will work with them. I am not interested in an employee who needs a whip and a carrot all the time. I think that this is the right way to go. I don’t choose students to attend my lectures. Those who are not interested, simply skip them.

- Yes.

- I rarely put bad grades.

- Really?

- Yes, I rarely do. Most of the grades I put are excellent. I believe like 85% of them. The rest are almost all good ones. And if I put a satisfactory grade to a student, that means that the person is just a moron, whom I don’t want to see anymore, even at the retaking of the exam. I haven’t given a single unsatisfactory mark to anyone in my whole life.

- Why?

- Because I don’t want to see morons at the retaking.

- Well, I have put a lot of unsatisfactory marks in my life. And you’ve got me thinking a little. Maybe I should reconsider my approach. I am also very grateful to you for this. Nevertheless, unfortunately, we are approaching our final question.

And here’s my final question. If I may, I will begin with a quote. “I am conscious of my involvement in remarkable scientific and engineering achievements. As a result of these achievements humanity now possesses an almost inexhaustible source of energy. But now, being at quite a mature age, I am no longer sure that humanity has matured to possess this energy. I know we play a certain part in the terrible death of people, in the monstrous damage inflicted on nature, on our home - the Earth. Repentance won't change anything. May God grant those who follow us with ways to find firmness of spirit and determination. Let them strive for the best, and not do the worst." Yuliy Khariton is the one who spoke those words. I have already recalled him today. He said this in 1991 in memory of Oppenheimer. And here I want to ask you: what a scientist should do if he or she understands that the results of his or her research can be used for non-peaceful purposes? I understand that this question is complex. I would also like you to think about where to put the punctuation mark in the following sentence: "Continue not stop." Where would you put the punctuation mark here?

- “Continue, not stop.” I would put it this way. Because any scientific knowledge that has a practical dimension can work both for good and for evil. Nuclear energy is not the only example. Well, what about a catapult? They had a lever and were a product of classic mechanics. All the same – a bow and arrows, crossbows, whatever. If we give up science only out of fear that it could be harmful, we will have to give up all science entirely. But even in this case people will kill each other in the same way that Cain killed Abel. Human nature won’t become any better then. We will just make the quality of human life and the quality of knowledge that a person possesses worse. Therefore, science cannot be stopped. We can introduce some ethical restrictions on the use of scientific results. For example, banning nuclear weapons is a very good thing.

- Well, this is a political matter, not a scientific one.

- Yes, a political one. Scientists have to do what they can: reveal the secrets of this universe.

- Thank you very much for such an interesting talk.

- Thank you.

- Our guest today was Artem Oganov – a happy man and a father of four. Thank you very much.