The Truth about Liviu Constantinescu vs. the Untruth spread by Constantin Roman

by Dan H. Constantinescu

(20 August 2003)

Unde vei găsi cuvântul
Ce exprimă adevărul?

-- Mihai Eminescu

Liviu Constantinescu (1914-1997) was Professor of Geophysics at the University of Bucharest and Fellow of the Romanian Academy. Among many offices he held in national and international geophysical organizations were those of President of the Romanian Geophysical Society and Vice-President of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. His research covered topics in geomagnetism, gravimetry and seismology. Together with the elder Sabba S. Ștefănescu, he co-founded the Romanian school of geophysics. Many generations of former students and collaborators remember him as Profesorul, a man of moral dignity and professional integrity.

One former student, Constantin Roman, expresses quite different opinions in his book Continental Drift -- Colliding Continents, Converging Cultures (Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia, 2000, ISBN 0 7503 0686 6), a Romanian translation of which is published on the Web under the title Deriva Continentală. An anecdotal autobiography of sorts, this book makes many explicit references to Liviu Constantinescu, each one of them a slanderous untruth. I am the son of Liviu Constantinescu, and I owe it to the memory of my father to expose and denounce such untruth.

Here is the master portrait of Liviu Constantinescu, by the hand of his former student Constantin Roman:

[page 13] Amongst the plethora of sixty or so professors and lecturers we had in Bucharest, the Head of Geophysics, Professor Liviu Constantinescu, was odd for a variety of reasons. He combined his patrician-like demeanour with Communist Party membership, where he was an active member. This position allowed him access to a passport and foreign travel, generally denied to non-party members. Liviu Constantinescu spoke fluent French, English, Russian and German and was appointed to many national and international committees. This secured for him in addition the extraordinary advantage of regular foreign travel, contacts with western academics and their research topics, as well as a number of subscriptions to foreign scientific journals, which he kept locked up in his office.

This massive bunch of untruths needs to be taken apart one by one:

Liviu Constantinescu never was a member of the communist party, nor of any other political party. For repeatedly refusing to join the communist party, he had to stand open trial, in cultural revolution style, at the University of Bucharest in 1975. After this public humiliation he was banned from teaching and forced into early retirement at age 60. There followed years of isolation: I was a political refugee in Germany, and my mother's death, after a long illness, made my father's solitude complete. He emerged after fifteen years of banishment, in December 1989, with enough energy to help rebuild the Romanian Academy and the geophysical institutions in Romania after the fall of the communist regime.

Foreign travel on scientific assignment (I think he never made a private trip abroad, for lack of a travel permit and foreign currency) was always an undertaking with uncertain outcome. Far from having "access to a passport" and the "advantage of regular foreign travel", the political, bureaucratic and financial obstacles were enormous. In the late 1950s he was asked by the Securitate (the secret police) to become an agent and spy on his geologist colleagues, who were suspected of sabotaging oil drilling. He flatly refused, and was punished with an absolute interdiction on traveling abroad, which lasted for three years. The situation hardened even more in the early 1970s, when Elena Ceaușescu, the wife of the communist dictator, took over the administration of science and technology: foreign travel by Fellows of the Academy had to be approved personally by her. She directed her special anger to my father, who had become too known internationally, and ordered her subordinates to "stop the advertising for that one" -- which meant to cut his contacts with his colleagues abroad.

Liviu Constantinescu was indeed a member of many scientific, non-political, organizations, national and international, and that on his own scientific merit. The suggestion that he might have been "appointed" by the communist party is utterly ridiculous, as illustrated by the following two short stories:

Before commenting on the "subscriptions to foreign scientific journals, which he kept locked up in his office", here are a few more passages in the same vein:

[Page 14] Behind the Iron Curtain, with the paucity of scientific information imposed by ideological censorship, continental drift had the same mysterious attraction as the Sphinx's riddle to which only Liviu Constantinescu had the answer.

[Page 14] It was a pleasant surprise to receive reprints of scientific papers, which until recently were the sole preserve of Constantinescu.

[Page 45] Back in Bucharest, only the Head of Department had a subscription to a couple of journals, which he would keep under lock and key until they became obsolete. This restrictive practice would convey the Professor a clear advantage over his peers and turned the whole exercise into a power game, which was our scientific Nemesis.

For several years Liviu Constantinescu received a number of scientific journals from abroad. Friends and relatives living in the West were paying for him the membership fees in a few associations of geophysicists, which entitled him to receive free of charge the journals published by these associations. There was also a period in which the communist establishment allowed persons holding an academic position -- not a party position -- to spend yearly a small amount of foreign currency, paid from their own pockets at the official exchange rate, on scientific books and journals; this practice was eventually stopped.

The books and journals acquired this way were the private property of my father. Most of them were kept at the Department of Geophysics to make them available to other people, and many a geophysicist has found his information there. When Liviu Constantinescu was purged from the University of Bucharest, his scientific archive was moved to his home. After my father's death, I donated his collection of books, journals and documents relating to geophysics to the Department of Geophysics; it is now back there where it belongs, and continues to be a source of information for whoever wants to consult it.

The grotesque story of journals kept "under lock and key" as "sole preserve of Constantinescu", to "convey the Professor a clear advantage over his peers" in an imaginary "power game" is pure innuendo. Flourishes like "the Sphinx's riddle" or "our scientific Nemesis" are part of Constantin Roman's box of tools for conveying the untruth, more of which is to come.

And here is the portrait of the former student Constantin Roman, made by his own hand thirty years later:

[Page 15] I absorbed ravenously the contents of the scientific paper reprints which were sent to me from abroad and within a short period of time I had enough confidence to request that my diploma dissertation should be in palaeomagnetism. This sounds an easier choice than it seemed at the time, as it went against the grain of the established system: in effect the Head of the Department had devised forty or so different topics of research, one for each student in his final year. We were supposed to choose the subject in the order of our exam success. I was towards the bottom of this league, for my unorthodox and much frowned upon practice of being selective in my performance, but I still had to jump through the hoops. I found little choice in Constantinescu's list to fire my imagination for a proposed MA dissertation. I said that I wanted none of the topics on the list and I preferred instead a subject in palaeomagnetism. Far from being pleased about the enthusiasm inspired by one of his own lectures, the professor retorted that I could do as I pleased, but that he could not condone it and would not guarantee success. In fact, he used this excuse to wash his hands of all responsibility in what appeared to be an unconventional choice.

[Page 17] The same summer of 1966 I had my finals and part of these involved the writing of the MA dissertation and an oral presentation to a panel of examiners. To this end I already had several scientific articles to my name, including the Belgrade paper and several articles on physics applied to archaeology. I also took recorded interviews from known geologists presenting contradictory views on the genetics of the copper mine deposits. This put me in the invidious position of being a kind of scientific referee with an undisputed new method of deciding the 'truth' and this fired me with a youthful enthusiasm. I should have got 10 out of 10 for my work, but, mindful of my academic past, the examiners could not come to terms with this success and marked me with 9/10. This represented 50% of the whole score with the other 50% being the average of the 60 odd exam results taken over the previous five years. Furthemore, the examiners knew and I knew it too, that I had repeated the fourth year of my studies for having failed my test in seismics. This meant that it took me six years, instead of five, to get an MA degree.

This is the fake image of the good Constantin Roman persecuted by the bad Liviu Constantinescu, which will recur later in the book. Here the persecutor is aided by other bad people in the Department of Geophysics: they give Constantin Roman low marks "for my unorthodox and much frowned upon practice of being selective in my performance", they fail him at the seismics test ("twice", he remembers on [page 91]) so he has to repeat a year, they give him only 9/10 points when he "should have got 10 out of 10". There are two very disquieting passages here:

It is appalling to see, throughout the entire book, how Constantin Roman manipulates the notions of truth and responsibility, arbitrarily twisting them to serve his purposes.

The geophysicist Constantin Roman travels to Newcastle to attend a scientific meeting but arrives late. The Head of the School of Physics, Keith Runcorn, allows him to stay on as visiting student. His Romanian permit to stay abroad expires, and he writes to his parents in Romania that "should the Bucharest authorities grant my re-entry visa to Romania I would be home by September, when my visiting Research Studentship in Newcastle would expire" [page 42]; the text continues:

[page 42] The School of Physics applied to the Romanian Embassy in London to acknowledge my student status in England and, in parallel, my poor old father in Bucharest was desperately trying to enlist the help of the Communist bureaucracy.

Interestingly, in the later Romanian version the author chooses to add a reference to Liviu Constantinescu, and this passage now reads:

[Romanian version, page 44] Scoala de Fizica a inaintat o adeverinta Ambasadei Romaniei de la Londra, unde se aducea la cunostinta statutul meu de student in Anglia, iar in paralel, saracul meu tata incerca, cu disperare, sa obtina un ajutor de la birocratia comunista si chiar dela Liviu Constantinescu, fostul meu profesor, dar in zadar. Acesta, departe de a incuraja fostul sau student in initiativa lui de cercetare, s-a comportat in cea mai buna traditie a nomenklaturistului facandu-l pe bietul meu tata, iesit la pensie sa faca indelungat anticamera, doar ca sa se eschiveze de responsabilitatea care ii apartinea.

or, in English translation:

[Romanian version, page 44, translated into English] The School of Physics sent to the Embassy of Romania in London a certificate in which my student status in England was confirmed and, in parallel, my poor father in Bucharest was desperately trying to obtain help from the Communist bureaucracy, and even from Liviu Constantinescu, my former professor, but in vain. That one, far from encouraging his former student in his research initiative, behaved in the best tradition of the nomenklaturist, making my poor father, who had retired, to wait long times in his anteroom, only to dodge the responsibility that belonged to him.

This text has been patched with pure inventions like the "nomenklaturist" and the non-existent "responsibility". Liviu Constantinescu was in no position to help with the passport authorities and had no responsibility whatsoever to that effect. And the patch shows: forgetting that he "would be home by September", Constantin Roman now talks about his "research initiative", implying that he would stay in Newcastle.

Indeed, Constantin Roman does not return to Romania. After keeping him as "pet on one pound a day" [pages 41-72] for some time, Keith Runcorn asks Liviu Constantinescu, whom he knows personally, for a reference:

[page 56] Back home, my former Professors at the University of Bucharest would not even dream of being asked for a reference, as such practice in Romania was not necessary. There was instead in operation a system of portable personal files, like a 'convict file'. We were all, I presume, 'social convicts': still, in England, I had no other option but to ask for a reference. I pondered for a split second -- after all, my supervisor in Bucharest took for granted the hospitality he received from his colleagues in the West: how could he be seen again on his next trip to Newcastle if he had not bothered to respond? The answer to Runcorn's request to my Romanian supervisor Liviu Constantinescu, for a reference, took ages to materialize. Doubtless, in the process, the Communist Party apparatchiks had to be consulted before a reference could be sent.

"Yes, I was his student, yes I got my MA degree" -- as for encouraging me to do further studies my professor could not condone it, as he 'disapproved of a fait accompli, even if it was a very good one'.

[page 91] Some two years previously he had written to Runcorn, in Newcastle, saying that he 'could not approve of my staying in England to take a PhD, for having put the authorities in front of a fait accompli'.

The "fait accompli" is clearly an indirect way of telling Runcorn what could not be openly told in a letter subject to censorship: Constantin Roman's decision to stay in England was considered illegal by the authorities, and under such circumstances Liviu Constantinescu was in the practical impossibility of sending a formal reference. Still, in fairness and not without danger for himself, he expressed the opinion that Constantin Roman's action was "a very good one".

But Constantin Roman, although well aware of the reality, continues to deceive the reader by stating that the existence of the dreaded personal files had rendered references "not necessary", so professors like Liviu Constantinescu "would not even dream of being asked for a reference", and "the Communist Party apparatchiks had to be consulted". Who has known Liviu Constantinescu as a man and a scientist knows that he has written many references; his criteria were always objective, based on the subject's scientific and moral profile, and strictly non-political.

Constantin Roman leaves Newcastle -- not before Keith Runcorn had told him "You are a nuisance" [page 63]. He goes to Cambridge as graduate student: his supervisor is Dan McKenzie, his subject is plate tectonics. He presents his first results at the 1970 General Assembly of the European Seismological Commission in Luxemburg:

[page 91] My presentation in Luxembourg caused a commotion amongst the Romanian seismologists: one of them my former Head of Department, Professor of Gravity and Magnetics and erstwhile supervisor, Professor Liviu Constantinescu. Some two years previously he had written to Runcorn, in Newcastle, saying that 'he could not approve of my staying on in England to take a PhD, for having put the authorities in front of a fait accompli'.

The second participant in the Romanian delegation, was my former lecturer in seismology from Bucharest, through whose good offices I had twice failed my exam and was made to repeat a year. He could not understand at all how one of his former students, whom he failed at the exam, could now present a paper with new ideas to an international conference! Had I still been in Romania, these two seismologists would have made absolutely sure that I was never allowed to air any views in public; but as I was in Cambridge, supervised by Bullard, there was precious little that they could do to stop me. The third Romanian participant at the conference was a researcher from the Seismological Institute in Bucharest, who, much like his bosses, considered the Romanian earthquakes to be his sole and exclusive prerogative, on which nobody else could make a pronouncement.

Here we have again the good Constantin Roman persecuted by the bad Liviu Constantinescu and his associates, but the former victim has turned victor: his talk "caused a commotion amongst the Romanian seismologists", and "there was precious little that they could do to stop me". That is grotesquely ridicule; but there is more serious, noxious, untruth here, because Constantin Roman openly attacks the professional integrity of the Romanian geophysicists:

[page 92] I noticed in the audience my erstwhile supervisor from Bucharest, Professor Liviu Constantinescu, and went to shake his hand. There were no congratulations from him, just surprise that I was 'no longer at Newcastle, rather at Cambridge and researching a different subject'.

"You are a bit young for plate tectonics", he quipped in Romanian.

This "gratuitious and hurtful" remark triggers an emotional outburst from Constantin Roman:

[page 92] Memories came flooding back of past snippets of dialogue:

"May I speak, Comrade Professor?"

"Would you please receive me for five minutes, Comrade Professor?"

Then, of the unspoken word:

"Never mind if you made me wait for hours in your antechamber! This is your little power game, we got used to it!"

Well, I did not! I never got used to it! I never accepted that attitude of subservience! Was Liviu Constantinescu still afraid of my lack of subservience, even from such a distance?"

This horror description is pure malicious fake. The atmosphere at the Department of Geophysics in Bucharest was relaxed and friendly. The two professors, Sabba S. Ștefănescu and Liviu Constantinescu, were known, with respect and affection, as Domnul Sabba and Domnul Liviu -- not as "Comrade Professor". Liviu Constantinescu called his graduate students and collaborators by their first name, and there was no "subservience" involved when they addressed him with the traditional Domnule Profesor.

On my father's birthday these younger geophysicists would come to that modest apartment in Șoseaua Mihai Bravu and be met with an open heart. Despite economic hardship, there was good food, good wine, and a sense of togetherness that transcended the political reality. Occasionally, you could hear a political joke -- but never "Comrade Professor".

Strangely, Constantin Roman switches to a new supervisor, Sir Edward Bullard. He offers no explanation for that unusual fact, except that "by then communication with my young supervisor had become more difficult, as he appeared progressively more dismissive", and "Drum Matthews promised to ask Teddy if he would supervise me" [page 78]. The serious researcher who wanted to assess the scientific achievements and ethical conduct of Constantin Roman will need to pay close attention to the circumstances under which the latter published the 1970 paper in Nature [pages 77-78] and the 1973 paper in New Scientist [pages 102-108]; that serious researcher will need to keep in mind that in Constantin Roman's book truth and responsibility mean whatever the author wishes them to mean.

But the scope of this essay is restricted to exposing and denouncing the untruth spread by Constantin Roman about Liviu Constantinescu, and it is time to come to the conclusion:

In his book Continental Drift -- Colliding Continents, Converging Cultures, Constantin Roman has told the untruth about Liviu Constantinescu. Intentionally, maliciously, systematically, persistently, he has spread the untruth, attacking the human dignity and professional integrity of Liviu Constantinescu, after his death. Why did he do it? It is not my task here, nor my wish, to probe into the depths of Constantin Roman's soul. Suffice to say that he has broken an old rule of moral conduct which is a pillar of civilized society: "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another." (Leviticus 19:11)

The motto of this essay is taken from the Romanian national poet Mihai Eminescu, and in plain translation it reads: "Where will you find the word / That expresses the truth?"

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