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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Sociology Bodies Should Be Expelled from International Groups Just as Soviet Psychiatric Ones Were, Yakovenko Says
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Staunton, VA, January 8, 2016 -- One of the most important steps Western scholars took near the end of Soviet times was to successfully demand that Soviet psychiatric organizations be expelled from international ones for the horrific role Soviet psychiatrists played in misusing their field to support the Kremlin and suppress dissent.

Now the time has come, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko says to do the same thing with Russian sociological organizations given the shameful way in which many in them have prostituted themselves and their profession to support Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian regime.

Indeed, he declares, “’punitive sociology’ in present-day Russia is a no less anti-natural phenomenon than ‘punitive psychiatry’ was in the USSR,” adding that because Russian sociologists lack the resources to fight it on their own, they, again like their Soviet predecessors, need the help of Western scholars.

One finds it hard to imagine an astrologer being asked to speak to the Russian Astronomical and Geodesic Society or some faith healer being allowed to address the medical section of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but something analogous is happening with sociology “almost every day,” Yakovenko says.

Consider the following, he says. “There is the International Sociological Association of which the Russian Society of Sociologists is a member. [And] there is VTsIOM, the most well-known sociological organization in Russia which Valery Fedorov heads and which in the name of sociology … makes all kinds of declarations, predictions and prognostications.”

Not long ago, it said it had taken a poll in Crimea showing that “more than 90 percent” of residents would rather live in cold and darkness than give up their status as part of Russia. “A week passed, and there was no reaction. The heavens didn’t fall. No one from the ISA or the Russian Sociology of Sociologists jumped up and cried … “’Get out of the profession!’”

Yakovenko says he would have been more surprised if there had been a reaction now given the failure of ISA and other bodies to react at any point since September 2030 when Fedorov was imposed on sociology and began actions which can only be characterized as “the total discrediting of sociological science.”

Fedorov gives as an example of this the way in which VTsIOM misrepresented the real situation in the run up to the Moscow mayoral elections in 2013. Its figures were off by far more than the margin of error because they corresponded to what Russian officials wanted to be the case rather than to what Russian people were saying.

When the margin for error is 3-4 percent and the reports show an error of 15 to 20 percent, “this is not an error. This is something else.” It is a betrayal of the principles of sociology by those who want to serve the state above all else and will prostitute their field to do so.

“In any science, there will be mistakes,” Yakovenko continues. The important thing is how the field reacts to them. When the three major US polling agencies called the 1948 election wrong, there were demands at various levels from scholars to Congress that their methods be examined and corrected. That took time, but it eventually happened.

Yakovenko recalls that “the Soviet powers that be widely used ‘punitive psychiatry.” This involved the incarceration of “healthy but critically thinking people in special hospitals” where they were subjected to “cures” by psychiatrists working for the state. Such psychiatrists from the Serbsky Institute were “at times more horrific than KGB officers and camp bosses.”

“Over the course of a number of years, the World Psychiatric Association conducted a struggle with punitive psychiatry in the USSR” ultimately resulting in the expulsion of the Soviet psychiatric organization from that body.

In Soviet times, Yakovenko points out, “sociology wasn’t used for political abuse. Historical materialism, the ‘Short Course’ and the KGB were sufficient.” But “today ‘Fedorov-style sociology’ works hand in glove with ‘the Churov elections,” and “’punitive sociology’ in present-day Russia is a no less unnatural phenomenon” as its Soviet predecessor in psychiatry.

Given that Russian sociologists lack the resources to fight this on their own, “it would be correct to suspend the membership of the Russian Society of Sociologists in the ISA” until Russian sociologists use their science as it is intended rather than “for the deception of their compatriots.”