01.02.2018 Adil Ibraev regarding corruption in scientific community and performance of the National Scientific Councils

The President of NCSSTE in an interview with stated that at the stage of scientific expertise all loopholes for corruption are blocked.


F: Adil Zhunusovich, at the end of January, "apocalyptic" statements about "corruption-steeped" science appear in the Internet, some scholars directly address state bodies and public organizations with complaints, and all this is connected with the decisions of the National Scientific Councils (NSC) regarding the issue of financing of research projects. As a head of the National Center for State Scientific and Technical Evaluation and an organizer of the process, could you kindly comment upon these statements?

- The key word here is an organizer. To the decisions of NRC regarding funding of projects, our center has nothing to do with. As soon as the results of scientific and technical evaluation process were available on our websites, some researches, academicians, and their supporters reached me. They said: "Adeke, it's in your power to change points, because my (his, her) work is so important, so urgent!"

Firstly, they did not want to understand that initially everything was transparent - the points were immediately available online, they were all seen and given the opportunity to compare. Secondly, it cost me tremendous spiritual and physical strength to explain to all my respected interlocutors for the tenth time: manipulating points, putting pressure on experts is a criminal offense. I specially built the center's work all the year after the reorganization of NCSSTE so as to close all loopholes for corruption, sweet-heart deals, profitable connections, and so on, and after that I had to rudely get into the affairs that can compromise me, as a head of this institution? With some people, I confess, the relationship has gone wrong. People are offended. Do you know what troubles me? We all complain about injustice, corruption, we abuse authority brutally, but when it comes to ourselves, we are ready to admit both. They say it's just a little bit, it's a special case! Although here from such special cases there is a general bad picture. In a word, I would like to remind all interested parties: the National Center for State Scientific and Technical Evaluation does not have any relation to the problems that arose at the stage of making decisions regarding financing of projects, as well as the results of expert assessments.

F: Well, there must be anything that concerns NCSSTE?

- Read the rules of state scientific and technical evaluation process, which are available on several information resources - on the website of the Science Committee of MES RK, on the website of the National Center for State Scientific and Technical Evaluation, on the website "Nauka", and also they were delivered to all NSC members. Now I am replying to those who claim that there is no rules for running the calls. Everything is there for a long time - from the moment of its creation, NCSSTE is guided by these rules, and this rules have not fallen from the moon. The rules were approved by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan Decree No. 891 d.d. August 1, 2011. In particular, it says that the principles of carrying out the STE are the independence, anonymity and competence of experts; scientific approach, all-roundness, objectivity of research of objects of STE; completeness and validity of expert opinions; openness of the results of the STE.
  I can declare with full responsibility that NCSSTE is a stickler for the principals. Otherwise today we would have heard complaints not only about the performance of NSC, but also about the experts. And there are no such complaints. As well as there are no complaints about the organization of the calls.

Call for grant and program-targeted funding for 2018-2020
Results of state scientific and technical evaluation process

Distribution of proposals by priority areas (Grant Funding)

F: Let's turn our attention to the experts. Not all, but some researchers say: why do we need foreign experts, they will find out our secrets?!

  - Are you serious?!

F: Serious about what?

- "About secrets." Yes, there are classified works, their secrecy is determined by the heads of research projects, as well as by the authorized bodies - the Science Committee of the MES RK, ministries and departments. Of course, they are being reer-reviewed by domestic researchers. But in most cases, we have nothing to hide. If the readers remember, then President Nursultan Nazarbayev has set a task for researchers of the country to bring Kazakhstani science to the international level and has spoken in a number of his speeches and messages to the people of Kazakhstan about the need to involve well-known foreign researchers having a high H-index in the state scientific and technical evaluation process.
  Along with publications of Kazakhstanis in peer-reviewed scientific journals, subscription to authoritative sources of information, the participation of foreign researcher in the peer-review process should contribute to improving the quality of research work, its relevance in society and the state. The President constantly draws us forward and calls for integrating Kazakhstan's science into the global scientific community, increasing the activity of researchers in international publications, initiating the transition to an international system for defending dissertations and qualifications of researchers, to international accreditation of universities, he created a whole university working by Western models, and we rest against it, because it is more familiar and convenient in the old way.
  If you followed the events, then you should remember that there was the inquiry of deputy of Nur Otan party for the name of the Minister of Education and Science regarding the practicability of carrying out evaluation process with participation of foreign experts. And the Minister of Education and Ecience explained that the necessity of attracting the foreign experts is due to the cases of expressed affiliation of the representatives of Kazakhstani scientific community and the lack of domestic experts on some limited fields of science. The advanced world practice shows that the involvement of foreign researchers to the process of scientific and technical evaluation is an essential tool for determining the level of objective science.
  This year 1923 foreign and 233 Kazakhstani researchers were attracted to the peer-review process in the framework of grant funding; for the proposals of program-targeted financing – 513 foreign and 67 Kazakhstani experts were involved. These researchers and specialists reviewed about 5000 proposals for 2018-2020. In addition, there was carried out a peer-review process of proposals, applied for the call of program-targeted funding by the sectoral ministries and departments: Aerospace Committee, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Health of RK. All the results of scientific and technical evaluation process were passed to the relevant NSC by 7 categories.

F: But they talk about insufficient level of transparence of the competition…

- They talk about it, but complaints do not concern the stage of acceptance and the passage of proposals. Every participant of the call knows that it was maximally clear. Unlike the call in 2017 when the reception of proposals was automated. We developed and launched the information system for the registry of proposals of research supervisors, project executors. There was made an online manual about how to work with this system, in order to support the scientists.
  This system accounts for the next moments: unified point of access to the service of “proposal submission”, informing of participants of the call about the stages of evaluation process and its results; quick exchange of electronic documents between the customers, organizers and applicants; the creation of the story of participation of researchers in the field of science, and data maintenance; perception, automated processing, and the information holding on the incoming proposals and reports to NCSSTE; quick formation of statistics and reports on the objects submitted and examined by state evaluation process; information about planned and announced calls. That is, every researcher, who singed in the "Personal Cabinet", received all this very valuable information. Since the launch of IS, about 31000 users have registered in it.

Apart from the fact that the specialist of SNTE department have consulted 24 hours a day the participants via dedicated online chat (5696 entries), e-mail of the technical support and the call center during the call. I would like to note that the information support system have been continuously improved.


  F: Returning to the subject of the assessment, is there an experts registry?

There is no registry, we have the experts’ data base. These DBs have been continuously updated since 2011. We ensure their anonymity.

F: Do you agree with the results of NSCs?

- I can judge as a wingside spectator. We run the NSCs, we just provide venue to hold meetings, all the equipment required, and particularly, we hand out tablets for voting and direct communication. In addition, we made provisions for video recording of all the meetings, which we keep in our center. As for the content of the work, here we, like all researchers, are interested in the objectivity of the decisions of the councils, but we cannot influence them in any way, according to the law and the current regulatory and legal acts.

Now for your question. To increase the objectivity of the decisions, NSCs should be guided, firstly, by priority areas of science development, defined by the head of the state and government programs, and secondly by expert conclusions. And those proposals that received the highest scores should be regarded from the point of view of the State needs, both of science itself and of the country's economy. This is what the work of the National Scientific Souncils should consist of. That is, those proposals that received the highest scores of experts should be considered also from the position of state interests.
  The problem should be solved as it is. But we prefer other methods. For example, now there was raised the issue of returning the head office back to Astana. Although the decision regarding its reorganization was taken at the level of the government of the RK in November 2016, based on the urgent need. Almost all of Kazakhstan's science institutions are located in Almaty, the largest universities, research institutes, laboratories, the Academy of Science are the entire key fund here, there are all the necessary information, material and technical resources and personnel available on the basis of merged the National Center for Scientific and Technical Information and NCSSTE.
  In order to support researchers there was created a new powerful scientific and intellectual center. Now it feels like it is all over with this center. Nobody cares about the fact that our government has spent a lot of money to establish the most important scientific structure, to hire a capable team of young and experienced researchers and specialists, most of them received high-quality education aboard. I work with every employee and I open up to them the prospects for professional growth - the team is imbued with the importance of its mission for science of Kazakhstan. With deep understanding, my team approached the task of running a call for funding research projects on the basis of openness, publicity and objectivity. I cannot help asking how the country will benefit from a new redeployment, that needs new spending, loss of precious time and human resources? We work daily in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Committee of Science: we advise, inform, consult, carry out assignments, produce reports, discuss all problems face to face. Our branch in Astana is helping us in this. We do not have insuperable differences and misunderstandings.
  Today, there is also a desire to take away functions for organizing national subscription to electronic recourses from NCSTE, although in recent years, we have established constructive work with foreign partners. Together with them, we organize seminars and trainings, as well as online sessions, in all regions of the country. Researchers are explained how to successfully publish in rating journals with a high impact factor, how to avoid so-called "predatory" journals. I devoted a number of my speeches in the media (on popular Internet sites) to the topic of publications in international journals. Moreover, in recent years, a publication activity of our domestic researchers has sharply increased. Among their publications there are those that are included in 1% of the most cited in the scientific world.
  In general, I believe that science of Kazakhstan has a great future. Yes, there are difficult moments, difficulties, which could be solved in principle, if the interests of the state are put at the forefront. The leadership of the republic is interested in increasing the effectiveness of science. Even in the current economically difficult times, research teams, individual researchers receive support by the government. This means that our scientific community needs to change its views and approaches: if NRC requires reforms, let's think about how to improve this work. For those who can efficiently perform their duties, we will give the opportunity to move forward.

Anton Morozov