02 November, 2006

Living in the Past oder wir waren Weltklasse

Living in the Past

The University of Vienna is among the worlds top sites for innovative and influential research. Within a decade, it has been home to six Nobel laureates. Other people working here, never awarded with this distinctive prize but no less influential for the future developement of their disciplines, include: Kurt Gödel in mathematics, Siegmund Freud in psychology, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper in philosophy; even in linguistics, Nikolai S. Trubeckoj is working here, who may be called the founder of Phonology, for all the flaws his theories may have from a present day perspective. If you are searching for a leading scientist and don't know where he (unfortunately, rarely ever she) is from, it's a good idea to check Vienna first.

This was in the decade 1927-1936. In the last seventy years, only two people from Vienna University recieved the distinction, and of the other people working at the university, I cannot think of a single one that comes anywhere close in significance to the ones mentioned above. 1938 and the Nazi terror (well supported by a significant part of the local population, and major groups in academia) put an abrupt end to this period. Many of Vienna's most excellent researchers where killed or fled the terror, most never came back, many where never officially invited to return. Vienna started to get covered in the dust of provinciality and insignificance, which it suffers up to this day. Others, who were not personally endangered, chose not to work under such an impoverished environment. And, yes, yet others arranged themselves with the regime.

Nonetheless, even today the University has a list of its Nobel laureates linked very prominently from its homepage. The list does not include a discussion of the historical tragedy, only when reading the biographies of the laureates, it turns out that three out of six where forced to emigrate in 1938.

Link: http://www.univie.ac.at/archiv/tour/21.htm

Forward and don't look back


70 years after this golden time, political leaders of different parties want Austrian academia to get rid of the dust. We're going to become world class, the proclaim, we need centres of excellence. If you think they want to promote a more open and cosmopolitian atmosphere at our universities, you are sadly mistaken. Indeed, they are not speaking of any of the existing universities; they carefully avoid to mention our previous age of excellence - apparently it is to much of a hot potato for at least one of the parties involved. What they want to do is found a new research institute, with international staff and every kind of equipment needed, outside of Vienna and beyond of reach for mostly everyone here. It will be focussing on Technology and Applied Sciences, totally ignoring our great history at the foundations of science and philosophy. And the existing universites? May they rot in the dust of the centuries, may provinciality be paired with lack of funding, insignificance with impoverishment in research areas. Whatever. Doesn't matter. People there are too rebellious anyway, better get rid of them.

Link: http://www.bmbwk.gv.at/fremdsprachig/en/science/ista.xml

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