Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Startling Fact About Russia

A few days ago we posted a brief note about the explosive growth in scientific publications in China. Now at well over 120,000 peer reviewed articles per year, we see China excelling. In contrast we see in an article in Science that Russia is going the other way. The article states:

Russian researchers at home and abroad have long warned that Russian basic research is in a dangerous, even terminal, decline. Last week, information provider Thomson Reuters confirmed their fears, releasing an analysis* of worldwide publications that shows that Russia's research output has continued to slide since the demise of the Soviet Union. After a peak of more than 29,000 papers published in 1994, the total slumped to 22,000 in 2006, although it bounced back somewhat in the following 2 years. In the 5 years from 2004 to 2008, Russia produced only 127,000 papers, 2.6% of the world's total. During that time, Russia ranked behind countries such as China (8.4%), Canada (4.7%), Australia (3.0%), and India (2.9%) and was only slightly ahead of the Netherlands (2.5%).

That means that Russia, once a powerhouse of scientific innovation, is down to one sixth that of China! Russia was a strong player across the board in science. It is not the loss of funds, because Russia as a state has had ups and downs but with the oil revenues can support a good research environment. In my opinion it is the fact that the interest in science is declining and unlike the US which invites foreign nationals, Russia is not as open, by far.

The article ends with:

Last year, some expatriate Russian scientists sent President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a letter warning of "the catastrophic conditions of fundamental science." Particle physicist Alexander Belyaev of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, one of the authors, says there was a positive reaction—the president mentioned the letter in speeches—but little has changed. "The government doesn't seem to understand the difference between fundamental and applied science," he says. Grad students don't get enough to live on, Belyaev says, so anyone who is serious is forced to move abroad. More than 190 scientists have signed the letter online.

I believe it is not just money but the culture has changed. There are other opportunities in Russia and money and the making of money has become a drive which parallels that of US students. Whatever the drivers, this presents a clear long term threat to Russia and its position in the world.