Birstein, Vadim J. 1944-
BIRSTEIN, Vadim J. 1944-
PERSONAL: Born October 10, 1944, in Moscow, USSR (now Russia); son of a professor (father) and pediatrician (mother); married; one child. Education: Moscow State University, B.S. (biological sciences), 1966, Ph.D. (biology/genetics), 1971; Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Biological Sciences, 1988.
ADDRESSES: Home—331 West 57th St., No. 159, New York, NY 10019. Offıce—Fisk Building, 250 West 57th St., Suite 2402, New York, NY 10107. E-mail— [email protected]
CAREER: Biologist and author. All-Union Research Institute of Restoration, USSR, research scientist in applied biochemistry department, 1971-74; Belozersky Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Bioorganic Chemistry, Moscow State University, Moscow, research scientist, 1975-83; Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology, USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow, research scientist, 1984-85, 1990-98; Murmansk Institute of Marine Biology, Kola Peninsula, USSR, senior research scientist, 1986-89; Moscow State University, Russia, professor of biology, 1988-89; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, adjunct professor of biology, 1993-96. Lecturer at universities, including University of Pisa and Naples, 1988, and Uppsala University, Sweden, 1991. Visiting Scientist, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 1992-2000, and National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France, 1997. Species Survival Commission, IUCN, chairman of sturgeon specialist group, 1994-98.
AWARDS, HONORS: Moscow Society of Naturalists award, 1989; American Museum of Natural History Lerner Gray Memorial Fund grant, 1992-93; grants from National Science Foundation, Hudson River Foundation, and Sturgeon Society (New York).
Molecular and Cytogenetic Characteristics of EarlyAnamnian Development (Amphibians and Teleosts) (in Russian), Nauka Publishers (Moscow, USSR), 1987.
Cytogenetic and Molecular Aspects of Vertebrate Evolutions (in Russian), Nauka Publishers (Moscow, USSR), 1987.
(Editor, with J. R. Waldman and W. E. Bemis, and contributor) Sturgeon Biodiversity and Conservation, Kluwer Academic Publishers (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 1997.
(Editor, with A. Bauer and A. Kaiser-Pohlmann) Sturgeon Stocks and Caviar Trade Workshop, IUCN Press (Cambridge, England), 1997.
The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of SovietScience, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 2001.
Also author of scientific papers published in journals, including Genetica, Conservation Biology, Sturgeon Quarterly, Cytometry, Species, Hydrobiologia, Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution, Copeia, Nature, and Res Publica.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Two books on the Soviet Secret Service activity during and after World War II. Ongoing research, with scientists at Russia's Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Problems and elsewhere, on a joint project studying the seasonal and genetic structure of Eurasian sturgeons.
SIDELIGHTS: Russian-born Vadim J. Birstein is a molecular geneticist who specializes in animal evolution. In addition to his prominent career as a biologist, he is also an avid historian with expert knowledge pertaining to the former Soviet government's control and censorship of science, as well as their programs in human experimentation. In his 2001 book, The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science, Birstein "takes a well-documented and highly disquieting tour through the abominations of Soviet science," according to a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.
While Birstein is widely published in his field—by 2003 he had over 140 scientific papers, three scientific books, and several historical articles to his credit—it is his historically focused book on Soviet science that received the largest public notice. The Perversion of Knowledge delves into the controversial practices of the former Soviet government—as well as the more recent noncommunist government—regarding such areas as nuclear-weapons testing on human prisoners, secret-service tortures, and political assassinations accomplished with the use of chemical weaponry, just to name a few. Birstein utilizes personal knowledge, translated archival materials, and biographical information, as well as information gained from reviewing classified documents written in the metaphoric language used by Soviet NKVD/KGB officials. Due to the fact that many of these documents—released to public inspection during the 1980s—are still held by the Russian government and are often difficult to follow, "casual readers might not be willing to wind their way through to the end" of Birstein's book, in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Despite the complexity of the information presented, Booklist contributor William Beatty noted that the book is still necessary reading, because it "provokes concern about Russia's current lack of support for science and how dangerous it may be." David A. Dyker commented in Europe-Asia Studies that, through his "meticulous" work, Birstein has "added enormously to our knowledge of the bizarre, sometimes grim story of Soviet science, and in so doing . . . [has] managed to throw a good deal of light on some of the more peculiar features of contemporary Russia."
Birstein told CA: "I am a historian and a long-time human rights activist. In the 1970s-80s, I was an individual Amnesty International member in Moscow. Since 1989 I have been a researcher for the Russian human rights group Memorial, based in Moscow. I am an expert on the subject of foreign prisoners in the Gulag, the fate of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, and Soviet doctors' experimentation on humans."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 2001, William Beatty, review of The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science, p. 614.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February, 2003, David Holloway, review of The Perversion of Knowledge, p. 69.
Choice, April, 2002, L. W. Moore, review of ThePerversion of Knowledge, p. 1441.
Europe-Asia Studies, September, 2003, David A. Dyker, review of The Perversion of Knowledge, p. 949.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of ThePerversion of Knowledge, p. 1463.
National Journal, November 8, 2001, Anne Wagner, review of The Perversion of Knowledge.
Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2001, review of ThePerversion of Knowledge, p. 52.
Quarterly Review of Biology, September, 2002, Joan Klobe Pratt, review of The Perversion of Knowledge, p. 310.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), April 28, 2002, Anne Applebaum, review of The Perversion of Knowledge, p. 16.
Trends in Genetics, September, 2002, Benno Müller-Hill, review of The Perversion of Knowledge, p. 487.