What is happening with Russian science
In 2022, any accurate piece about the state of Russian science comes down to one sentence: everything is terrible and will get worse. Today, several problems overlap in Russian science: no money, no access to equipment, and no international cooperation.
With money, everything was bad even in peacetime. In 2021, Russian spending on science amounted to 1 per cent of GDP, while South Korea spent 4.81 per cent, the US spent 3.45 per cent, and China — 2.4 per cent of its GDP. In October 2022, experts calculated Russia’s losses due to low efficiency in the R&D sector to about 58 billion USD.
Without international collaboration and complex scientific installations that are impossible to produce in Russia, doing science is hard. Although some joint international projects continue, their number will be reduced with foreign scientists’ initiative and Western officials’ help.
In September 2022, the US State Department imposed sanctions on several physics research institutes. The reason was their participation in research that can be used for military purposes. For example, one of the institutes came under sanctions because a couple of its employees published fundamental articles about quantum computing. The problem is that such studies by Russian scientists are of little use in real life and will be of little help at the frontlines in the coming decades. Perhaps the Ministry of Defense would like to introduce quantum computers in military units. Still, recent news shows the Russian army is more comfortable with the technologies of the past, not the future.
But Russian officials and security forces are doing an excellent job of destroying science even without the help of their American counterparts. The appointment of a pro-Kremlin president of the Russian Academy of Sciences has destroyed the last remnants of its reputation. And the numerous arrests of scientists do not add confidence to their colleagues.
Under these conditions, the scientific exodus has started. A survey of 4100 scientists showed that 31.6 per cent of Russian researchers (and 51 per cent of scientists under 40) admitted they had thought more about emigration since the war in Ukraine started.
IT specialists follow scientists’ lead: by June 2022, almost 23 per cent of Russian developers who use the popular GitHub platform have changed their location information or deleted their profiles. With such a brain drain, the future of Russian science seems bleak.
However, even in such a turbulent time, scientific research does not stop for a minute. For example, Tomsk scientists recently proved that slugs and beetles are healthier than beef and pork.
Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.
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