Posted by: Administrator | 13/11/2009

Ted Voronov: The need for openness

With all the business concerning the proposed merger and the events that  followed its rejection by the Society members, I was amazed by the lack of information provided to the members through the Society official channels, the LMS website and the Newsletter. There was a clear impression of an internal censorship. Information have been appearing in homoeopathic doses;  till now, all the “official” announcements on the website have been cryptic and often had an obvious bias. (For example, what have appeared about the Council meeting in August where the nomination of the President-Designate was confirmed — and some officers resigned “as a consequence of this”.) I had lived a substantial part of my life under the Soviet communist regime. At those days, I, as well as many my compatriots, had learned how to read the official reports about the Politburo meetings published by Pravda and then republished word by word by all other newspapers, and similar party texts. It was a certain art to look through those lines composed by an anonymous trusted high-ranking party journalist (and thoroughly checked by several people before it could appear in press) and to figure out what was happening in reality. Everything mattered: the order of words, the very vocabulary used (sometimes the appearance of a new word might be a sign of a new campaign), how precisely the names of party bosses were quoted there, and so on.  Unfortunately, I had to apply that art again for reading the recent LMS announcements. I do not think it is healthy. The new LMS Council should change the situation completely. It is a learned society, not a business corporation. Openness is essential. To avoid turning the London Mathematical Society into something totally alien to its goals and dominated by the managerial (or “inner party”) spirit, was, I think, the main motivation for many who voted against the merger. The merger is dead; but we have to think about the future. The elections on the 20th November may be crucial from this viewpoint. After the elections, with the new Council, we want back the spirit of the society of mathematicians. Small grants, good publications, work mainly done by officers on a volunteer basis, openness, discussions, — yes; “lobbying”, spending money on bureaucracy, handling matters in secrecy, promoting the “party line”, and similar things, — thank you very much, no.

Ted Voronov

P.S. On a slightly different but related topic. There has been an apparent fall in standards in the recent time. I did not receive the October issue of the Newsletter with the voting papers. Initially I thought I have lost it myself, mysteriously, so it was my own fault; but then I have learned that one or possibly two of my colleagus did not receive that issue with the electoral papers either. Eventually I have obtained the ballot papers after I requested them from the secretary. Now, differently from the past, there is just a single small envelope for putting the ballot paper, on which we are supposed to write the name “in block capitals” and sign it. Before, there was a large second external envelope. It is just a detail, but it has probably played a role. Actually, it would be a good idea for the future to ask the Electoral Reform Services to help us to establish a secure and simple electronic voting system to avoid all this hassle with the paper ballots.


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