Russia’s lost science generation
For the past decade, Russia has been pouring money into scientific research, trying to make up for the collapse of the 1990s, but innovation is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism.world Updated: Dec 23, 2011 01:34 IST
For the past decade, Russia has been pouring money into scientific research, trying to make up for the collapse of the 1990s, but innovation is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism.
In a rut and out of favour, the labs are barely wheezing here at Pushchino, once one of the brimming engines of Soviet science, a special closed city devoted to prestigious biological research. The government has turned its focus to newer ventures.
But the result has been like a great deal else in this country: expensive, flashy and largely hollow.
Shot through with back-scratching and favoritism, the government’s science program has tripled its spending in the past 10 years — and achieved very little. The number of papers published in scientific journals is the same as it was in 2000 and as it was in 1990, even while the rest of the world’s output has exploded.
The impact could extend even to the United States, which depends on Russian rockets, troubled by engineering failures, to carry astronauts to the international space station.Twenty years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, a generation of scientists has been lost, young scientists say, and another is on the way out. Many are lining up to escape abroad, just as in the dark, poverty-stricken 1990s.
Science had prestige and plenty of support in the USSR. The Soviets wielded a formidable nuclear arsenal, put the first satellite into space, then the first man into space. Dedicated biologists nurtured what may have been the world’s foremost seed bank, ensuring its survival even through the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad. Nine Nobel Prizes for physics and one for chemistry acknowledged Soviet achievements.
Pushchino, founded in 1966 in a woodsy spot along the Oka River, about 75 miles south of Moscow, was one of several dozen special science cities built across the Soviet Union, owned and governed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
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First Published: Dec 23, 2011 00:44 IST