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Scientific Freedom and Human Rights: Scientists of Conscience During the Cold War Paperback – May 18, 2012
About the Author
Jack Minker is Professor Emeritus, Computer Science (CS), at the University of Maryland. He is a leading authority in artificial intelligence, deductive databases, logic programming, and nonmonotonic reasoning. He is also an internationally recognized leader in the field of scientific freedom and human rights and has worked in this field since 1972. Minker graduated Brooklyn College in 1949 with a BA degree, cum laude, with honors in mathematics. He then received a Teaching Assistantship (1949-1950) from the University of Wisconsin, where he received an MS degree in mathematics in 1950. He received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in mathematics in 1959. Minker’s career spans work in industry and academia. He worked in industry at the Bell Aircraft Corporation (1951–1952), at RCA (1952–1963), and at the Auerbach Corporation (1963–1967). His career in academia started in 1967, when he joined the University of Maryland. At Maryland he became the founding chair of the Department of Computer Science in 1974. Minker has had a long and distinguished career in CS and has received numerous awards, both for technical contributions and for his truly unprecedented role in organizing and stimulating scientific discourse around the world. Organizations that have recognized Minker’s work include the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Minker is a Fellow of the IEEE, the AAAS, the ACM, and the AAAI. Minker has received several major awards: the 1985 ACM Outstanding Contribution Award for his work in scientific freedom and human rights; the 1996 University of Maryland President’s Medal, recognizing a member of the College Park community who has made extraordinary contributions to the social, intellectual, and cultural life of the campus (the highest honor awarded by the university); the 2005 Allen Newell Award for his fundamental contributions to logic-based methods in computer science; and the 2011 Heinz R. Pagels Award from the New York Academy of Sciences: Human Rights Committee, first received by Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet physicist, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace laureate.
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This book describes, in detail, how he did it, persistently and ingeniously, sometimes with success, sometimes without success -- in which case he patiently and tirelessly continued his struggle. To us, this book bring back the memories of dark times under the brutal communist dictatorship, of desperation -- and of joy of realizing that we are not alone.
My only concern about this book is that it may leave the readers with a false impression that while a few dissidents were against the regime, a lot of scientists were supporting it. In the communist times, this impression was easy to get when visiting Soviet Union (or when talking to a person who is allowed to go abroad): you ask a person and he tells you about his support of the government idiocy and brutality. What we all knew -- and what many foreigners did not realize -- is that if you openly criticize the government oppression, if you openly defend Sakharov and other victims of the regime, you may end up in jail yourself, for "slandering" the Communist paradise. I have met many scientific bosses, some of them were great people, a few were anti-Semitic scoundrels, but I have never met a person who sincerely supported the regime. Among the Soviet bosses described somewhat negatively in the book, I have personally met G. I. Marchuk when he was President of the Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences; he un-hesitantly hired me for an academic job after KGB forced me out of the University instructor position and was threatening me with jail for being a "social parasite"; in my presence, he did not hesitate to curse the Communist dictators as dirty gods. I did not personally know Velikhov, another boss described in the book, but a lot of Samizdat books that I read came from him -- via a common colleague.
The Big Bad Witch is dead, the communist dictatorship is no more. Is live perfect? Alas, no. In the past, our own US government was an epitome of scientific rights. Now routinely at US conferences several participants cannot come because they could not get the visa; this has happened to people from India, from Iran, from many other countries -- at conferences that I organized, at conferences that I attended. The world is better -- largely due to heroes like Jack Minker, but the world is still imperfect, it still needs hardworking heroes.
Many thanks to Professor Minker for his work, and many thanks for this book. We all need to do more to make this world a better place, and this book encourages us to do it.