Friday, April 24, 2015 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Bureaucracy and corruption in European science and education

In recent years, I gave something like two dozens of public talks at various universities, high schools, and pro-science organizations – mostly about theoretical physics, some of them about the climate issues. Sometimes I got paid, sometimes I didn't. In the first case, there is often some bureaucracy. I was once requested to sign 53 times just because I gave a talk. On the other hand, I was once given a fair amount of money collected from the audience – with no strings or signatures attached.

But it has never happened to me that I was expected to fill 5 distinct multi-page documents because of a 90-minute talk. Well, that's what they asked me to do today because of a talk that was scheduled in the middle of May. Because of numerous reasons, I wrote "No, that can't work", to my former classmate from the high school, basic school, and kindergarten who is now a teacher at that school and who invited me. She won't be happy about my response but no one can force me to do something that I consider both an immense waste of time and an immoral act.

This package of activities was supposed to bring me $150 or so. One of the "forms" had 14 pages. The instructions warned me to recheck every box in the forms with the sender. There was even a warning that some form has to be printed differently for a black-and-white and color printer (I don't really have any printer at home – my struggles with the drying ink are a lesson that I don't want to change anything about it – so the printing itself would have to occur elsewhere). Well, there doesn't look too good: even in similar bureaucracy-heavy situations that looked much more generous to start with, there have always been almost neverending frustrating interactions and problems. To do all these things correctly would probably take more than those 12 hours for which I was supposed to be paid.

The average U.S. tax return made me virtually unproductive for 3 weeks. I got audited twice, too.

But even if it took fewer hours, why? Why should someone who talks about an innocent physics topic for 90 minutes undergo this unbelievable bureaucratic torture? Hasn't anyone asked such a simple question? I prefer to spend 30 more minutes to write a rant about my frustration. It really takes much less time and makes me feel much more relaxed when it's over. ;-) Normal people aren't experts in filling these 5 different types of long forms.

But the paperwork wasn't the only aspect that I found unacceptable; a sponsor is troublesome. The five sponsors of the event included

  1. the European Social Fund
  2. the European Union
  3. Czech ministry of education
  4. some organization for competitiveness
  5. University of Western Bohemia
To quote "the European Union" as a sponsor looks very vague. The European Union is some relationship between 28 European countries and some shared institutions that they decided to affect the territory of all these member states. It does lots of different things – more controversial ones, less controversial ones, and useful ones, too. Who is exactly funding it? The money ultimately come from assorted European taxpayers, right? So it's the European taxpayers one should be grateful to. And the European Union "kind of" represents all of them. But there are many ways how the Europeans may be represented and how and by whom the funding is decided and verified. To list "the European Union" as a sponsor really means "don't ask any of these questions, shut up, and worship the EU" as if the EU were the original source of the money (and everything that is good on our continent).

There is nothing shocking about the ministry of education. It would be normal if the ministry paid everything. And the university appears for a sensible reason, too. But why is there the organization for competitiveness organizing such things?

It's strange but I wouldn't mind. But what I do care about is the sponsor #1, the European Social Fund. It's plausible that they contributed some money to some previous talks but I was never forced to notice – I was only asked to write my signature. The assumption was that we're doing just what we agreed to do; there is no serious catch. I would trust the person who invited me. But if I am supposed to fill, print, and send forms with these sponsors, forms that may contain implicit catches and pledges, it is pretty much impossible not to notice.

And my problems with the European Social Fund are severe. Look at this ESF page. It's some EU-wide fund that tries to help workers to adapt. So far so good – although it's not clear why it's funding science festivals at high schools. But one-half of the page explicitly says that they spread the propaganda about "disadvantaged groups".

The page says that they only try to "help" those groups that may or may not exist, that may or may not be correctly identified. But if you make a further search and penetrate beneath the surface, you will see that the primary purpose of the fund is to pay people to be compatible with the dishonest far left ideology about "discrimination all around us".

(By the way, Amnesty International launched another attack on Czechia and our practical schools [basic schools for less intellectually ready pupils] yesterday – because of the elevated percentage of the Romani students there – I discussed the same topic e.g. in 2010. Thank God, at least the Czech [social democratic] minister of education and the vice-ombudsman vigorously replied that these accusations of discrimination are untrue. They showed AI the door. In some sense, I feel that the Czech official response was more appropriate than what some would-be "right-wing" governments would offer a few years ago.)

But to see that the European Social Fund is working hard to spread the ideology, make a simple search and you will immediately get to this grant page. Someone has earned $30,000 (CZK 740,000) from ESF for completing "research" about "Discrimination in the Czech Republic: the victim of discrimination and the hurdles in his or her access to justice". The winner was "FOCUS – Center for the social and marketing analyses Ltd". Wow, some immoral enough people know how to make tons of money.

There is no institutionalized discrimination in the Czech Republic. Some groups are disadvantaged – it's often groups that are not discussed at all. And in most cases, when whole groups are disadvantaged, it's by the reality, by their own talents etc., not by some deliberately evil or unfair behavior of everyone else, behavior that could be fixed. As far as I am concerned, the people in FOCUS may be charged with treason for their work on this $30,000 ESF plot.

There are some other grants that may have helped some real people to find real jobs. But many of the most well-paid projects are ideological. One intermediate example: A program about social elimination in Trmice, $40,000. Trmice is a small town with 3,200 people. A part of the money went to terrain work and some barrier-free access or whatever; another part was about "activation of families". I doubt we're rich enough to have barrier-free access to all public buildings in all towns of Trmice's caliber; but much of the money wasn't even going to "real things".

OK, I simply dislike this institution and its toxic influence on our political discourse and our education system. I won't actively look for their funds because I would feel that I am almost on par with the likes of "FOCUS Ltd". It seems spectacularly clear to me that I am the first – or almost the first – person who could have a problem with this money. These are the people who are actively spreading victimism, multiculturalism, and probably also the climate alarmism and many other -isms everywhere in our schools – and in related environments.

Teachers have fixed contracts to get their money from the ministry of education. However, the ESF money are a "bonus" that depends on their behaving in a way that the ESF finds desirable. People will do almost anything for the money. Don't be surprised that the children are taught so many wrong things.

Corruption of teachers, researchers, speakers etc. occurs at many levels. Some sponsors don't care. And of course, if sponsors are claiming to fund "true science", they just shouldn't "bribe" the researchers to reach certain conclusions or others. Ultimately, the main responsibility is on the scientist, however. He or she just shouldn't get corrupt. In practice, he or she usually does if the amount of money depends on the "product".

In the late 1980s, Czechoslovak people were no longer executed for their political opinions. There were lots of "milder" tools for the regime to manipulate with the society. You could have lost your job; or your children didn't get to a good school if you did something "politically incorrect" (according to the criteria of the late 1980s socialism). But there were even "milder" tools that I remember.

When we came to the high school, we were expected to join the Socialist Union of Youth (SSM), the Czechoslovak counterpart of Komsomol. About 99% of the students did, I don't know the exact number. I was firmly decided not to because it looked like "joining the communist party over two" to me. But there were subtle tricks to make such an outcome impossible.

Before we joined SSM, we were given some gifts – namely a book of lyrics by Vladimir Vysotsky, a Russian songmaker (who wasn't quite pro-regime). We accepted it and a day later, we were told that it was a gift for our joining SSM. Now, this was a trick to make me feel like a thief. I have already accepted the book so I am obliged to join, am I not? Well, of course, I decided that I was not. You just gave me a book, that's OK, I will keep it, but I didn't make any pledge – we didn't consensually agree on any agreement, you know – so I would stick to my decision not to join SSM.

(Hidden pledges are incorporated deliberately by various institutions. People love to attack banks or other companies that may make you sign a dangerous "catch". However, almost no one dares to challenge government institutions or universities etc. doing the same thing. For example, I was once shocked when I heard that I was not allowed to have a romantic relationship with a Harvard student. It wasn't something that immediately affected me – even though I don't quite understand whom the Harvard students should have a relationship with LOL – but anyway, I asked: What? I have never signed any agreement that would strip me of this basic human right that every janitor has. Certain people don't care. They think that I don't even have to sign anything to be stripped of the basic rights.)

Organizations like the ESF are doing lots of things that used to be done by SSM. In fact, as I recently wrote, the indoctrination of children today seems to be more intense than during late communism, as participants of a debate agreed.

The far left ideologies have penetrated so deeply into the fabric of the education system that virtually no one questions them anymore. People are paid bonuses all the time – so of course they will agree with anything that the ESF wants to be agreed with. The first generation of such "recipients" knows that they're corrupt. But their younger colleagues come into an environment and they don't see (and they're not told) that it's corrupt anymore. Many of them start to absorb the colleagues' opinions and genuinely believe all these things.

The first sponsor is the ESF, a body spreading the ideas about victimism across the EU. Most TRF readers realize that it is a highly problematic ideology. But it has conquered the education system so thoroughly that almost no one in that environment even asks such questions.

Imagine that the first sponsor of the event would be an analogous institution with different opinions than the ESF, for example the "We don't want Islam in Czechia" NGO. I guess that there would be lots of boycotts, protest letters, and perhaps lawsuits. The sponsor would be eliminated or the event would be canceled. People would rightfully point out that it's bizarre for an organization with a clearly special political vision to fund an event dedicated to an unrelated, impartial scientific topic. When the first sponsor advocates – indeed, by bribing all sorts of people – exactly equally controversial political opinions that have the "politically correct" flavor, no one dares to even raise a question.

It's wrong to poison exciting topics such as physics (and physics talks) – or at least topics that should be generally understood as exciting by those who attend similar events – with loads of bureaucracy. It's wrong to do things just in order to earn some EU money. It's wrong for incompetent EU bureaucrats to "monitor" things they can't really understand. It's not right that science is being linked to particular political opinions. It's wrong for the European Union to establish uniform group think in the education system and research institutions. It's wrong for the EU to paint itself as the original source of the money that it sends to various places and to use this money as "bribes" encouraging the Europeans to support an unelected government in Brussels. It's wrong for the people in those environments to allow all these practices to continue and escalate. It's wrong not to notice subtle manipulation if the manipulation clearly occurs persistently and with an increasing intensity because the frog will be eventually boiled.

Add to Digg this Add to reddit

snail feedback (16) :

reader Mikael said...

Dear Lubos,
I can completely see your point about the bureaucracy. But the money from the ESF I would just take in your case. If they spend the money for your physics lecture, which is a good thing, they cannot spend the same money for some other useless thing.

reader Liam said...

Ha ha ha - the best part... "I prefer to spend 30 more minutes to write a rant about my frustration" :D :D

I know how you feel, I think we've all been there. Kafka would be proud, right?

reader John Archer said...

Invoice them $3,000 for your time in filling out the paperwork. Do this immediately. Tell them you've been kind enough to bill them at half your standard charge out rate and say you want payment up front before you fill out the form.

Get your secretary to write the covering letter and pp it.

reader yo yo yo said...

Hey Lubos,

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, yes, proud. But he probably loved frustration - it's what has made him famous. ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

I don't have a secretary, that is the issue! This paperwork would be worth less than $150 when done by a professional who is trained to do things like that 8 hours a day. But it probably *is* a bigger pain for someone who is not equipped.

It's questionable whether secretaries were always ready to help with similar issues when I had them. At the end, I do think that in those 10 years at U.S. universities, I did more bureaucratic and especially computer assistance for my secretaries than they did for me! ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Just an off-topic comment about the paperwork. Two decades ago, I and others laughed about Feynman's story "Thirteen Times"

in Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman. He agreed to give at most 13 signatures while giving a talk at a local college. A very similar situation I faced many times. This story was funny because 13 looked like an obscene number proving that bureaucracy wasgetting out of control over there. Well, these days, I rarely need less than 13 signatures, and it's often much more than that!

reader etudiant said...

Insight into the implications of bureaucracy may be an underappreciated expertise of the Czech people. Perhaps a legacy of centuries of experience dealing with alien administrations.
In any case, kudos on your resistance to the blob. Your readers modest contribution won't offset your loss, but we'll try to limit the damage.

reader Malacky said...
That's some heavy shit indeed

reader Tom Hendrix said...

To make a point (or tilt at a windmill) you could ask them to itemize the amount of your stipend provided by each sponsor and propose a smaller fee but fewer signatures.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thank you for you help, etudiant.

reader One pager said...

Hello Lubos,

Why don’t you create a one pager word/pdf with the contract terms and conditions (including blanks for fees, travel expenses, etc…) for public talks available for download from your blog. If someone wants to hire you, just tell them that they have to print out this pdf. This way you may avoid having to sign 53 pages…

reader Luboš Motl said...

Because it would be useless for situations like this one - when the superior role of the bureaucracy is clearly the intent, not an unlucky accident.

When things are organized in a sensible way, I don't face similar problems, and posting some data on the web isn't a necessary or good idea.

reader One pager said...

well, this depends I think, in some situations the institution will be superior (and you will need to fill in all their horrible paperwork), but if it is just a high school or smaller institution, the more precedents you create, the better for you. And regarding some data, just leave everything blank (also your data) and fill them in once you have exchanged emails in private

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, what you propose is to make me an enthusiastic talk-giving traveler. I don't mind giving a talk and sometimes it's fun but I am not really actively looking for that.

At any rate, after I decided that this particular hassle was responsible for 30% of my worse sleeping than what I had just a week ago, I sent a confirmation that my talk there won't take place.

reader Mark Luhman said...

Lubos You just found out what wrong with modern education, far to much paperwork, to little teaching.

(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i['GoogleAnalyticsObject']=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){ (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o), m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m) })(window,document,'script','//','ga'); ga('create', 'UA-1828728-1', 'auto'); ga('send', 'pageview');