Letters to the Editor

[Letter to the Editor]

Reply to "Equality, equity, diversity, parity and discrimination"

I feel obliged to respond to Massimo Nespolo's letter, "Equality, equity, diversity, parity and discrimination” [IUCr Newsletter (2021). 29(4)]. Nespolo wonders why, in an era of positive discrimination towards minorities, there is an "astonishing contrast with the deafening silence against other discriminations". 

He expresses some concern as to whether women "are happy to be solicited because of their gender, rather than just because of their skills". I suggest that he discuss that concern with women.

A second issue of apparent concern rests on "discrimination" against the COVID-unvaccinated. In particular, he is worried about the upcoming Congress and General Assembly of 2023, to be held in Melbourne, "where the zero-COVID policy has enforced a severe deprivation of freedom and where freedom of speech is today brutally repressed when it comes to the “vaccines”, as live video recordings continue to show."

I am not associated with organisation of the Melbourne meeting, nor do I live in Melbourne. However, I am closer to the seat of "repression" than many other readers of Nespolo's letter, writing from Sydney. In short, his claims are nonsensical. There was violence on the streets and there was repression. In both cases, propagated by an odd people's army of conspiracy theorists, mirroring similar movements elsewhere, claiming to fight for the freedom of "the people" of Melbourne... the freedom to contract and spread COVID among a population who overwhelmingly and repeatedly agreed with a directive for certain workers to either get vaccinated or stay away from worksites.

Participation in 2023 in Melbourne will surely be afforded to "bona fide scientists", even if required to be fully vaccinated on entry to Melbourne. Objection to that requirement is anyone's right. However, that view contradicts a substantial corpus of bona fide science, so I see no grounds for concern.

Stephen Hyde, School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
23 December 2021 


Support for Ukraine: how scientific organizations and facilities perceive the military attack on Ukraine

The only “sin” committed by Ukraine was her wish to join the European Union and NATO, i.e. organizations offering economic and political stability and support in development to a country that had experienced the terror inflicted by the Red Army in 1918–1920, the Great Famine of 1932–1933, which took 10 million lives, and all the awfulnesses of the Second World War. The unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russia on Ukraine on 24 February 2022 started a war against civilians, patterned after the invasion of Poland in September 1939, when noncombatants were targeted and killed by the Nazi and Soviet military machines hellbent on breaking their spirit and willpower to defend their country against the invaders. The destruction of Kharkov, to name just one of many Ukrainian cities that suffered a similar fate, brings to mind a Saxon colonel Hoffmann artillery operation that led to a total destruction of Kalisz (a beautiful 2000-year-old city) and the air attack on little Wieluń (5000 victims after a single bombing). Both these Polish towns were systematically razed to the ground at the very beginning of WWI and WWII, respectively.

As I write these words, I am looking at a photograph of a destroyed apartment building (see below) in a residential district about 20 km from Kiev. It was hit by the aggressor tanks during the first days of the war, or should I say a "special military operation" (this official name suggests a peaceful action), which left one of the professors of Taras Shevchenko University (Kiev) homeless, as his flat was one of many that were hit (for the others, see the following photo). It is quite symbolic that a professor in solid-state physics is a target of a shell; he and his wife would not have survived if they had not noticed the first volley, and then had jumped straight to the underground shelter. This scientist and his younger colleagues were forced to leave their homes and they headed west, hoping to save a life. The bombing of towns and villages resulted in an unprecedented exodus of weeping women, children and older people at the scale of about 120,000 persons crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border each day (3.6 million in the month scale, counting this border, only).

[Fig. 1]
Destroyed apartment of the scientist’s flat located near Kiev (middle segment, 2nd floor, left photo). Perforation of two neighboring buildings in the same settlement (right photo). The buildings were hit by shells fired from about 1.2 km distant tanks.

This brutal and devastating war has been condemned by all peace-loving societies which are now trying to help Ukraine in many different ways. In particular, multiple key scientific institutes and organizations took note of the unprecedented attacks and decided to voice their protest. A number of such protests were distributed even before the appeal of the Ukrainian scientists for strong support (dated 4 March 2022, see https://lnu.edu.ua/en/zvernennia-naukovtsiv-ta-osvitian-ukrainy-do-mizhnarodnoi-spilnoty/) signed by the Minister of Education and Sciences of Ukraine and many tens of Rectors and Directors. For example, the International Union of Crystallography denounces the invasion and calls for a halt to hostilities and for a peaceful end to this crisis (https://www.iucr.org/news/notices/announcements/iucr-denounces-the-invasion-of-ukraine). Protests of Polish institutions can be found on their webpages, in particular that of the Polish Academy of Sciences (https://informacje.pan.pl/informacje/materialy-dla-prasy/3531-polska-akademia-nauk-solidarna-z-ukraina).

Two large scientific institutions, DESY (Hamburg) and MAX IV (Lund) operating powerful European synchrotron rings, widely distributed the information regarding the immediate cession of collaboration with scientists affiliated with the Russian Federation and its partner, Belarus; Belarus enables attacks on Kiev from sites close to its border with Ukraine. These institutions cancelled all the already allocated beamtimes with the participation of those scientists. Moreover, DESY and MAX IV strictly forbid publishing their scientific results jointly with researchers from Russian Federation or Belarus. 

The Management of the ESRF, another world-leading synchrotron facility, "wishes to express its full solidarity with all colleagues and people affected, either directly or indirectly, by the ongoing tragic events following the aggression in Ukraine by the Russian Federation." New and stronger measures that express the ESRF protest against the Ukraine war are foreseen (https://www.esrf.fr/home/news/general/content-news/general/statement-following-the-aggression-in-ukraine-by-the-russian-federation.html). CERN (the operator of the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider) has suspended the observer status of the Russian Federation and stopped all collaboration. Multiple Swiss educational and scientific institutions strongly condemn Russia's military invasion and they "will do everything in their power to support and welcome their Ukrainian colleagues" (https://www.psi.ch/en/media/our-research/solidarity-with-ukraine); as we see, neutrality does not mean indifference.

The above decisions cut off the Russian Federation from modern research facilities serving for the most advanced investigations of matter. These decisions were taken by large facilities whose activities are chiefly based on international collaboration and so could be seen as damaging for their operations. However, as we understand it, the managements felt that it was their first duty to express their strongest condemnation of the aggression by the Russian Federation of Ukraine. And they used the means that were available to them, not only just words. The present bans do not target individual scientists, but are intended to demonstrate that the civilized world does not accept organizations that support the undoubtedly unjustified cruel act of aggression. Please show me any official scientific or other organization in the Russian Federation or Belarus that has protested against this war, if you disagree. No doubt, silence can be interpreted as tacit agreement.

Wojciech Paszkowicz, Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
13 March 2022 


We must not pretend that we do business as usual

The National Committee for Crystallography (NCC), which is the adhering body representing Poland in the IUCr, has proposed a motion to the IUCr Executive, to suspend the membership of Russia in the Union, with the motivation that the IUCr is an association of civilized members, and not of barbaric countries committing crimes on our brothers and sisters. Many learned societies and institutions throughout the world are undertaking all types of measures, to express their outrage at the barbarous acts committed by Russia in free and democratic Ukraine. A long list of official declarations can be found at the website of the International Science Council (https://council.science/current/news/statements-international-scientific-community-conflict-ukraine/), of which our Union is a member. Sadly, as of 13 March 2022, the IUCr is not listed there. These actions are not directed against our Russian colleagues, but are meant to condemn the lawless actions of Russia and to express our solidarity with Ukraine.

The vote within the NCC was overwhelmingly in favour of the petition. Two voices cautioned that such suspension may be counterproductive and may actually hurt Russian crystallographers, especially those in opposition to the official line, and – above all – arguing that science should be apolitical and should work to unite people and not to divide. But for such – quite rational – arguments, there are strong counter arguments. Even if some pain will be inflicted on our Russian colleagues, the level of harm is beyond any comparison with the suffering of the innocent Ukrainians. And then, if we condemn, and indeed denounce, the inhuman and lawless behaviour of Russia, we can do this only with the weapons we have at our disposal. When innocent people are being killed by scores and displaced by millions, we cannot look the other way and pretend that business can be carried out as usual.

Mariusz Jaskólski and Marek Wołcyrz, on behalf of the Polish National Committee for Crystallography
13 March 2022

Editor's note: the IUCr declaration is now included on the International Science Council's website.


Over-reactions to the Ukraine conflict

The conflict in Ukraine has raised a wave of over-reactions, now spreading faster than SARS-CoV-2 in this Orwellian world where all those who do not comply with the allowed unique opinion are rapidly becoming outcast. Three examples:

The Cardiff Philharmonic has cancelled an all-Tchaikovsky programme
Perhaps they did not realize that Tchaikovsky died well before the birth of Putin?

Russian Paralympic athletes excluded from Beijing 2022
Handicapped athletes are clearly guilty of promoting this war!

The International Cat Federation bans Russian felines from competitions
As everybody knows, cats have huge responsibilities in this war!

I now see calls for banning Russian scientists from the forthcoming international congresses. Are those who propose such a ban aware of the basic policy of non-discrimination of the International Science Council (ISC), of which the IUCr is a member, according to which "International scientific meetings, events, teaching opportunities or research collaborations arranged or sponsored by the ISC itself or its members must be free from discrimination in attendance based on political or other opinion, ethnic origin, language, religion, citizenship, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age"?

I urge my fellow colleagues to avoid falling into the trap of Manicheism and guarantee the participation of Russian scientists, to show our solidarity with the victims of shameful discrimination striking people – even cats! – who are just "guilty" of being born in Russia, a country that has gifted the world with a huge number of treasures in art, literature and science.

Massimo Nespolo, Institut Jean Barriol, Faculté des Sciences et Technologies, Université de Lorraine, Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France
13 March 2022 
14 March 2022

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