Basic Science and the Future of Russia


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Open letter to the President and Prime Minister of Russian Federation

9 September 2009 / 09.09.09 /

Dear Dmitry Anatolevich [Medvedev] and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin],

We consider it our duty to draw your attention to the disastrous state of basic science in the country.  Regress is continuing, the extent and severity of the danger of this process is underestimated.  The funding level of Russian science stands in sharp contrast with those of developed countries.  A massive outflow of scientists abroad continues to be a huge problem for Russia.

For several decades, the Soviet Union possessed a powerful scientific-technical base and sustainable mechanisms for its reproduction, including the reproduction of personnel.  It is this base, which is a kind of a scientific “fabric” of our society, that guarantees the scientific and technological progress, the country’s defense and, ultimately, the independence of Russia. The ongoing disintegration of this tissue will soon lead to a complete rupture between generations of scientists, the disappearance of world-class science in Russia and the loss of knowledge in catastrophic proportions.

Among the most critical challenges for fundamental science and education we highlight the following:

– A significant falling behind of Russian science from the world-class level.

– A lack of strategic planning with clearly formulated goals

– Inadequate funding of active scientists, a sharp decline in prestige of scientific professions, the related problem of the personnel

– Severely declining standards in the teaching of natural sciences, the deterioration in the quality of undergraduate and graduate students.

These problems require immediate solutions at the above-ministry level of state planning.  We believe that the process of Strategic Scientific Planning, coordinated directly by the President and/or the Prime Minister, needs to achieve, in a short time, the formulation of a comprehensive plan for the stabilization and development of fundamental science and science
education in Russia. The development of the plan should involve outstanding scientists, representatives of ministries, industries, as well as foreign experts. It must be a team of active, forward-looking, public-policy-thinking people.

Our specific proposals for a strategic plan for the development of fundamental science in Russia are:

– Increase funding for science to a level appropriate for the challenges facing the country, providing living and working conditions of scientists

–  Identification of the major directions of scientific and technological progress and concrete projects that serve as catalysts of development and lead to tangible fundamental results, what were once the space and nuclear programs in the USSR

– Actively attracting to the territory of Russia’s largest science and technology projects of global scope.  The main objective of such projects is to shift the focus of advanced scientific research into Russia, which would have enormous moral, psychological and practical effect and would serve as a catalyst for the development of science and technology.  A unique opportunity of this type is the project of creating high-energy particle collider of a new generation.  The project will require active development of the most advanced technologies. Their applications in the energy science, computer science, biology, materials science and other areas as well as its use in creating effective and safe reactors would enable Russia to become the world leader in several high-tech industries (a letter presenting one possible variations of this plan was sent to the President and the Government of the Russian Federation in July 2008)

– Ensuring absolute transparency of financial flows, achievable through international projects

–  Radically improving the integration of Russian science into the world science, aspiring for leadership in major international research projects, active participation of Russia in the global academic labor market: the creation of academic positions at the international level, opening permanent and temporary academic positions to foreign applicants, the establishment of attractive working and living conditions for the applicants.

– Introduction of international standards for assessing the quality of scientific work, strengthening the system of independent research grants

–  Creation of the Russian Institute of Advanced Study with the help public and private funding.  Opening its vacancies to the best Russian and foreign scientists on a competitive basis in accordance with international standards, initiating an active program of scientific exchanges

– Creation of a centralized state program of working with schoolchildren, popularization and propaganda of scientific knowledge in the country.

We believe that the urgent prevention of the coming collapse of science in the country, the immediate development and implementation of a new model of scientific and technological development must be among the top priorities of Russia’s leadership.

We, the undersigned, are not linked to any political or corporate interests in Russia. Guided by a feeling that unites all of us – a deep concern about the fate of Russia, we urge the leadership to take decisive steps to resolve the issues raised in this letter, and are ready to give our experience, knowledge and strength for expert assistance in these matters.

Sincerely,

The authors of an open letter to the President and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation “Basic Science and the Future of Russia”

Alexander Belyaev, University Lecturer, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, UK

Andrei Nomerotsky, University Lecturer, Department of Physics, Oxford University, UK

Andrei Seryi, Senior Scientist, FACET Project Head, Deputy Spokesperson of ATF Collaboration, SLAC National Laboratory, Stanford, USA, Fellow of the American Physical Society (2008)

Andrei Starinets, University Lecturer, Department of Physics, Oxford University, UK

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