Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Russian science still 'thriving'

By Katia Moskvitch
BBC Russian Service

Russian Soyuz rocket in Kazakhstan, 8 Nov 2009
The academy rejects the idea that Russian science is lagging

The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) has hit back at a letter from prominent academics warning that science in Russia is on the verge of collapse.

Some 185 leading Russian scientists, living in the West, sent an open letter to the Kremlin in October.

They wrote that Russian science was regressing and the scale of the problem was being underestimated.

But RAS Vice-President Alexander Nekipelov said Russian research was still thriving.

"I believe the authors are being overdramatic. Science is still very much alive in Russia, despite a number of significant problems," Mr Nekipelov told the BBC Russian Service.

The letter would "also give the wrong signal to our young graduates who will quickly understand that to get a good job they first have to go abroad", he added.

Brain drain

One of the authors of the October letter, Oxford University Professor Andrei Nomerotsky, said the number one problem was the brain-drain of young Russian scientists.

To get them to stay, the government could start by creating more modern, captivating scientific projects inside the country, he said.

Mr Nomerotsky added that science in modern Russia lagged far behind the rest of the world.

Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva
Some Russian scientists want to see projects like the Large Hadron Collider

"Many of my colleagues are excited by the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, a product of the collective work of European, American and Russian scientists," he said. "In Russia, there hasn't been a project of that scale in years."

In response to the letter, President Dmitry Medvedev has asked his government to look into the scientists' proposals for improving the "catastrophic" state of science in Russia.

The proposals include integrating Russian science into global research efforts; ensuring transparent financing of science projects; introducing international assessment standards; and resorting to the practice of independent grants.

Free market

For his part, Mr Nekipelov rejected the suggestion that the situation was "catastrophic".

The RAS vice-president said that over the past few years a significant proportion of the state budget had been assigned to science, but that the global economic crisis turned everything on its head.

Before the credit crunch, the Russian government earmarked more than $9.3bn (£5bn) for science in 2010.

But a few months later, this was slashed by almost half.

Money from the government has been virtually the only source of funds for Russian science since the Soviet era.

But times have changed. The Russian economy now operates according to free market rules making it more difficult to access state funding.

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