Has Russian Science Hit the Skids?

Russia's research output has continued to slide since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 20 years ago and produced only 127,000 papers, 2.6% of the world's total, over a recent 5 year period, according to a report published today by Thomson Reuters. Once a science and technology powerhouse, Russia now ranks behind such countries as China (8.4% of the world total), Canada (4.7%), Australia (3.0%), India (2.9%), and only slightly ahead of the Netherlands (2.5%). The report blames chronic underfunding by the Russian government, an aging scientific workforce, lack of public respect for science, and a devastating brain drain in the early 1990s that saw more than 80,000 researchers leave the country in search of greener pastures, mostly in western Europe.

Among the different research fields, former Russian strengths, including physics, space science, chemistry, engineering, computer science, and materials science, have shown the sharpest declines.

While fields in biology, medicine, and the environment have shown modest growth. Russia retains strong research collaborations with prominent institutes around the world, although over the past 5 years researchers in the United States have overtaken those in Germany as their most common collaborators.

In October last year, 170 expatriate Russian scientists signed a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin complaining about "the catastrophic conditions of fundamental science." The letter urged increased government funding for research, particularly in critical areas, and international support for Russian research projects. Beleaguered Russian researchers are still waiting for the cavalry to arrive.