Thursday, January 5, 2017

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's "The Power of Systems"

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė is a Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University London, UK. She is a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Public Administration, Gothenburg University, Sweden, author of Constructing Soviet Cultural Policy: Cybernetics and Governance in Lithuania after World War II (2008) and co-editor of The Struggle for the Long Term in Transnational Science and Politics: Forging the Future (2015).

Rindzeviciute applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened Up the Cold War World, and reported the following:
In The Power of Systems, I introduce readers to one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War: the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, an international think tank established by the U.S. and Soviet governments to advance scientific collaboration. From 1972 until the late 1980s IIASA in Austria was one of the very few permanent platforms where policy scientists from both sides of the Cold War divide could work together to articulate and solve world problems. This think tank was a rare zone of freedom, communication, and negotiation, where leading Soviet scientists could try out their innovative ideas, benefit from access to Western literature, and develop social networks, thus paving the way for some of the key science and policy breakthroughs of the twentieth century.

From page 99:
Yet informality does not automatically result from merely disregarding formal rules or bureaucratic regulations. Informality is always a context- bound condition that revolves around an organization’s specific rules and draws on the organization’s knowledge. This became evident in the mediation of the differences between Eastern and Western organizational cultures: a particular version of informality had to be developed that would enable IIASA to serve as a bridge between East and West. Whereas Raiffa’s in-depth knowledge of social relations and individual cultural habits was instrumental in bringing top US scholars to IIASA, neither he nor anyone else at that time had any detailed knowledge, or even intuition, about many of incoming Soviet scholars. Could an internal mechanism of evaluation be enforced to sort out productive scientists from less productive ones? This was not considered to be a solution. Retrospectively, Raiffa explained his staffing strategy, saying that the formal evaluation of scholarly output was irrelevant, because scholars were primarily self- motivated and competing against other scholars:
There is little to gain and a lot, possibly, to lose in morale if we attempt to control the output of our scientists. Our most effective means of controlling the quantity, quality and suitability of our output is to select wisely the people who are supposed to produce this output.
But was not this approach severely limited, given that the control over the inflow of Soviet scientists was so limited? Whereas Western scholars could be approached individually, contacts with Soviet scholars were funneled through the GKNT and the Academy of Sciences. All official invitations to Soviet scientists had to trickle down through the complex bureaucratic system, a slow and painstaking process during which the lists of invitees were modified to accommodate competing interests within the Soviet research institutes and the GKNT.
Page 99 contains actually quite an important part of my argument on the role of informality in building diplomatic and scientific bridges between East and West during the Cold War.
Visit Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's website, and learn more about The Power of Systems at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue