Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his young premier didn't have to look far to find their new science minister: He was the previous chief's boss. Yesterday, Yeltsin and Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko announced that reform-minded politician Vladimir Bulgak will head up the science ministry.
A communications engineer by training, Bulgak was appointed in March 1997 as a deputy prime minister in the previous Cabinet and was tasked with spearheading a reform of Russian science. He has suggested, among other things, limiting Russian research to a handful of important areas and has threatened to close a third of the Russian Academy of Sciences' (RAS's) institutes. But an anxiously awaited blueprint for Russian science reform, drafted by the science ministry under his guidance and released last October, offered few concrete steps (Science, 14 November 1997, p. 1220).
Observers say it's unclear how much power Bulgak will have to pursue any major reforms. Although his appointment amounts to a demotion, Bulgak will no longer be counterbalanced by ousted Science Minister Vladimir Fortov, a physicist who fought for RAS during his tenure. But some experts worry about the fate of basic research under Bulgak's ministry: "It could be disastrous for fundamental science," says one. Such fears stem from Bulgak's past statements calling for greater commercialization of scientific results and for getting science programs to pay for themselves.