Dec. 24, 1997 Scientists are less respected than politicians, journalists and peasants
WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 -- An estimated 70,000 to 90,000 scientists emigrate from Russia every year, according to an article published in the Dec. 22 issue of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. Because they are in the 30- to 45-year-old range, almost an entire generation of scientists has been lost to one of the world's largest countries.
This extraordinary brain drain is the result of a bleak situation in the former Soviet Union, due to unusually low salaries, lack of materials and modern equipment, and a decline in funding for research and development. At the Institute of Chemical Physics in Moscow, for example, even basic utilities like electricity are available only half the time, because it is all the Institute can afford. And at the University of Vladivostok, one Russian chemist predicts they won't be doing any chemistry there in two years, because all they will have left is chalk. Some of the other observations made by author Michael Freemantle of C&EN's London Bureau are:
During the Soviet period, 75 percent of research was funded by the Defense Ministry, but that has virtually disappeared and the links to applied industry have been broken.
Pitiful salary levels that average $100 - $150 a month force many scientists to seek additional employment. One Moscow physicist uses his private car as a taxi whenever possible.
At the Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis in Moscow, government funding for fundamental research is eight to 10 times less than it was in the Soviet period.
A faltering Russian economy places Russia at the bottom of the industrialized countries in terms of the percent of the gross domestic product spent on research. And in spite of a state law mandating that research receive four percent of the federal budget, in 1998 it will only receive 2.8 percent.
In spite of this dismal picture, some positive trends have emerged for Russian research:
Institutes and universities have more autonomy than in the past,
there are no limitations on international activities; and
research has changed direction, with much of the former military effort now replaced by medicine.
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