Russia loses science powerhouse standing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Political turmoil, a brain drain of scientists and waning interest have transformed Russia from a nation that launched the first satellite into an increasingly minor player in the world of science, according to a Thomson Reuters report released on Tuesday.

The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, October 12, 2008. REUTERS/NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout

An analysis of research papers published by Russian scientists shows an almost across-the-board decrease, which reflects Russia’s shrinking influence not only in science but in science-based industries such as nuclear power, the authors of the Thomson Reuters report said.

“Russia’s research base has a problem, and it shows little sign of a solution,” the report reads.

“Russia has been a leader in scientific research and intellectual thinking across Europe and the world for so long that it comes not only as a surprise but a shock to see that it has a small and dwindling share of world activity as well as real attrition of its core strengths.”

In October, more than 170 expatriate Russian scientists signed a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, complaining about “the catastrophic conditions of fundamental science.”

“While other countries have increased their research output, Russia has struggled to maintain its output and even slipped backwards in areas like physics and space science, historically its core strengths,” said Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation at Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters.

More information on the research is availablehere.

Adams and colleagues use a Thomson Reuters database to track scientific publications.


Russian research accounts for about 2.6 percent of the world’s papers published in journals indexed by Thomson Reuters over five years, the report found.

“For comparison, this is more than Brazil (102,000 papers, 2.1 percent of world) but less than India (144,000 papers, 2.9 percent) and far less than China (415,000 papers, 8.4 percent).”

The main focus was on physics and chemistry, with little research in agriculture or computer science.

The United States, the world leader in scientific research, has displaced Germany as the top collaborator with Russian researchers, the report found.

“The opportunities for other countries to link to Russia’s institutions of learning must be extensive,” the report reads.

“The gains for partners are likely to be significant, based simply on Russia’s historical contributions. But partners may need to bring resources to the party to enable Russia to participate.”

Cuts in funding and an aging work force have not helped, the report said.

“By one 2007 account, a few of the best Russian research institutes have budgets for research amounting to 3-5 percent of comparably sized institutes in the United States,” the report reads.

The average age for a member of the Russian Academy of Science is over 50, and the prestige of a field that gave birth to Sputnik as the ultimate expression of Cold War rivalry has plummeted. Just 1 percent of Russians polled in 2006 named science as a prestigious career.

Editing by Eric Walsh