Boris G. Saltykov   Nature   03-Jul-1997   Russia has suffered considerable losses
Boris Saltykov titles his article optimistically as the "reform" of Russian science, whereas a more objective description might have been the "destruction" of Russian science, or even the "handing over of Russian science to the West."

It may also be worthy of note that George Soros is cited for playing a "leading role" but what that leading role was is not elaborated.  If the observed effect has been the migration of Soviet scientists to the West, then George Soros's leading role might be inferred to have been the encouragement of this migration, an encouragement which he could have effected by means of travel grants.

The final sentence that I quote below contains a puzzling optimism: "We are rapidly advancing toward full integration into the world scientific community."  It sounds good, but what does it mean?  Would Saltykov say that Argentina or Brazil or Peru have been fully integrated into the world scientific community, and that such full integration constitutes an attractive model for Russia to follow?  Or would Saltykov say that Canada was fully integrated into the world scientific community, and that this integration too offered an attractive model for Russia to follow?  In the case of Canada, the dependable skimming of Canada's finest brains, and Canada's consequent economic and scientific under-performance, has been frequently noted (as, for example, by April Lindgren, Mark Stevenson, and Reuven Brenner), and again might not be a model worth seeking to emulate.

The following presents only a few excerpts from Saltykov's original article which contains many valuable insights relating to Russian science, which however were not directly relevant here.  A photograph of the author in the original article which is not reproduced below has the following caption:

Boris G. Saltykov was appointed Minister of Science and Technology Policy in President Boris Yeltsin's first government in November 1991, and held this position until August 1996.  A physicist by training, he is currently director of the Russian House for International Scientific and Technological Cooperation in Moscow.

The reform of Russian science
Six years after the end of Communist rule in Russia, attempts to reform Russian science have produced a mixed scorecard.  There have been some substantial achievements, but there is still need for further changes.

Boris G. Saltykov

Many still believe that the former Soviet system ... provided almost ideal conditions for carrying out basic research and development work.  The intellectual and educational level of researchers was very high, and some excellent basic research was produced by a system which inevitably relied heavily upon the traditions of pre-revolutionary science in Russia.


Indeed, studies have suggested that Soviet science achieved its most impressive results in the 1960s and 1970s, when the rate of recruitment to the scientific community was between 5 and 7 per cent per year.  When the rate of recruitment started to fall in the early 1980s, eventually reaching almost zero, the effectiveness of the way that the system was organized fell dramatically, and Soviet science began to lag behind that in the West.

Perestroika paves the way to reform

In the mid-1980s, at the beginning of the period known as perestroika, Soviet science was, at least when measured by quantitative factors such as the overall number of researchers or the share of the gross domestic product devoted to research, comparable to that of the United States.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent formation of newly independent states, Russia inherited approximately half of the former Soviet Union's population, and a much greater share between 65 and 70 per cent of its science resources.

Taking into account only the more efficient parts of the research system, especially basic research and that carried out for military purposes, Russia's share of the Soviet scientific inheritance was even larger.


Overall, the shift in science finance has been dramatic.  In 1992, the first year of the reform, government spending on science, measured in constant prices, fell by about half, and it continued falling until 1994, when it reached a level of about 30 per cent of what it had been in 1991.  In fact, the situation for most research groups was even worse, because the impact of the budgetary cuts was compounded by two other negative factors.  One was the drying-up of orders from industry, with the result that government agencies became virtually the only source of finance for research institutions.  The second factor was an enormous escalation of the costs of electricity, heat, water and other utilities which had previously been negligible that followed the liberalization of prices in 1992.

One result of these various factors was that the average official salary for scientists dropped dramatically to about 65 per cent of the national average in 1996.  (In the years preceding the reforms, the average salary in science was 10 to 20 per cent higher than the national average.)

Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a significant internal brain drain out of research, with a substantial exodus of scientists and engineers towards new or modernized parts of the domestic economy such as commercial banks, financial and legal companies and the telecommunications industry, as well as general administration and management.  Admittedly, this improved the prospects for those who stayed in research.  And the brain drain was probably inevitable, since at the beginning of the post-Communist era science and education were the only sources of recruits for the new sectors of Russia's economy.  But unfortunately those who left science were often the most energetic and highly motivated young researchers.


By the beginning of 1996, the number of those employed in science and related services had fallen by 57 per cent from its level in 1991....  The smallest reduction was in the academic sector down 17 per cent.


The transformation of Russia's scientific community has been greatly influenced by a new policy of openness and support for international cooperation.  Not all aspects of this have been positive.  For example, Russia has suffered considerable losses because of the brain drain.  It has been estimated that between 11,000 and 12,000 scientists and engineers have emigrated from Russia during the past five or six years, and a similar number are working abroad on (supposedly temporary) contracts.

This exodus is an inevitable, if unfortunate, consequence of Russia's continuing economic crisis.  But the effect of the unprecedented growth and increased effectiveness of international scientific contacts should not be underestimated.  Russia's new science policy has helped to attract large amounts of foreign aid for our scientists.

The leading role here has been played by George Soros' International Science Foundation, and by aid from European countries through the INTAS program.  Support has also come from many private foundations, including the MacArthur Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Credit must also be given to the support provided to Russia's scientists by foreign learned societies and professional associations.


...  Acknowledged for the high quality of its basic research, Russia, even in times of deep economic crisis, continues to invest heavily in science, and so in the production of knowledge.  Russian universities and institutes still train excellent specialists, many of whom subsequently move to developed countries, including the United States.  We are rapidly advancing toward full integration into the world scientific community.