Critical Vote for Russian Science

MOSCOW--Faced with declining funds and plummeting morale, the Russian Academy of Sciences on 29 October will elect a president with the unenviable task of leading the scientific behemoth into the next century. One candidate represents the status quo, another is plugging reforms that would support a core of basic researchers and grant more independence to the 300-odd Academy institutes, and a third's views are mainly unknown. Indications are that the Academy's old guard will opt for the status quo.

Rank-and-file scientists won't be voting. A select group of a few hundred academicians and institute representatives here for the Academy's annual meeting will choose from among three candidates. The leading candidate is incumbent Yuri Osipov, a mathematician who has declined to reveal his plans for a second 4-year term. Osipov's track record suggests he will maintain the Academy's dominant role in state science policy and in distributing the state research funding.

Osipov's main rival is nuclear physicist Evgeny Velikhov, an Academy vice-president and head of Moscow's prestigious Kurchatov Institute. Velikhov has distributed a one-page manifesto that calls for  "raising the prestige of [Academy] science."  Velikhov told ScienceNOW that he wants to salvage the best science by giving $25,000 a year to each of the Academy's top basic researchers. This would support about 10,000 scientists--a mere fraction of those on institute rolls. The rest, he says, would have to do applied research through grants from industry and Western collaborations. Velikhov also wants to grant institutes more financial freedom by transferring ownership of buildings and equipment from the Academy's leadership body to individual institutes.

A late addition to the slate is Valentin Koptyug, the head of the Academy's Siberian branch. Koptyug is respected for embracing Western investment and reform in the Siberian science city of Novosibirsk. But he also campaigned earlier this year on behalf of Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party's candidate for president of Russia, and his views on running the whole Academy have not been made public.