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Russia's Mad Scientists

Russian research scientists are mad as heck and they aren’t going to take it anymore!  They recently took to Moscow’s streets to stage a protest the regulatory behemoth that keeps getting in the way of their work.  The WaPo reports:

The protesters were not asking for more money (for the most part) but more discretion over how they can spend what they get now. Russian budget figures show a fivefold increase in spending for science over the past decade, but with that have come rules that make purchasing of even the most basic equipment a nightmare. And while overall spending has gone up, a fund that dispenses the grants that are a lifeline to many researchers has seen its share of budget money halved.

Creative people generally hate bureaucracies; Russia’s best and brightest are trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare of third rate bureaucrats, often corrupt.  And it doesn’t stop at the lab; a top grievance of Russian biologists is that the imported lab rats (with special gene lines) that they order from overseas die of neglect during their long waits in customs.

This all takes its toll.  The Post further reports that the government’s budget for research has quintupled over the past decade, but “the number of published papers by Russian scientists … has been virtually stagnant over the past 10 years.”

The gradual decay of Russia’s once-mighty educational and scientific establishments is one of the areas where the Putinocracy has not yet managed to halt a decline that began in the Soviet era.  That Russia is pumping money into science is a good thing; that its administration is so palsied and corrupt that it can’t manage the influx is a sign of just how deep Russia’s problems go — and of how hard it will be to change course.

In the meantime, the Via Meadia recommendation: Russia’s loss is our gain.  The US should do everything in its power to offer visas and fellowships to the best and the brightest representatives of what, even in decline, is one of the greatest scientific establishments ever built.  A country can’t have too much talent.

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  • Jim.

    Does the decline of Russia’s population explain the stagnant nature of its science community?

  • higgins1990

    “…that (Russia’s) administration is so palsied and corrupt that it can’t manage the influx is a sign of just how deep Russia’s problems go — and of how hard it will be to change course.”

    Bureaucratic entanglement was in Russia before the revolution. But corruption intensified under 80 years of communist rule. Corruption is seen at every level of society. To deal with it, among other things, overall wages need to increase. Also there needs to be a judicial system that operates under rule of law (instead of a law of rules), a system in which citizens, business owners and entrepreneurs have a modicum of good faith.

    When Putin came to power he tried to force the other 80 governors outside of Moscow to adhere to the federal code. The governors were so entrenched, and so powerful, that they pretty much did what they wanted. So Putin assigned seven “super governors” with the authority to fire and replace any governor that was not implementing reform. But it was, for the most part, business as usual. Nepotism is as rampant as corruption. “Elections” don’t mean a thing. How many governors were fired? Zero.

    So then Putin had the Duma pass a law that gave the president power to replace governors. How was this reported in the West? “Putin is like Stalin!”

    There are ongoing efforts to fight corruption. Progress is small and incremental and often unnoticed. But it’s a viscous cycle here: Corruption -> bureaucracy -> stifled economic growth -> more corruption.

    Those who think that Putin is the problem don’t understand Russia.

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