Posted 17 февраля 2023,, 14:37

Published 17 февраля 2023,, 14:37

Modified 17 февраля 2023,, 16:47

Updated 17 февраля 2023,, 16:47

Reduction of science funding and a "discovery plan" for scientists

On starvation rations: will Russian science be able to storm new heights

17 февраля 2023, 14:37

Reduction of science funding and a "discovery plan" for scientists

While all the leading countries of the world are increasing spending on basic and applied research, real spending on science and research in Russia will be reduced by almost a third in 2023. Who is to blame for this and can domestic science survive in such conditions?

Victoria Pavlova

On February 15, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko at a meeting of the Federation Council announced the costs of the state program "Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation", which unites 34 previously disparate programs.

The total amount of financing will amount to 1.2 trillion rubles. Of these, 559 billion will be allocated directly to research and development. The government allocated exactly the same amount, 1.2 trillion rubles, for science in 2020. But now it's a completely different money! From January 2020 to February 2022, official inflation "ate" 27.8%. Our science will receive less than 1% of GDP from the state this year. Israel, according to the UN, spends 5.1% of GDP on research, Sweden, Belgium and the USA – 3.5% of GDP each. In absolute values, the difference is even greater. In 2020, the United States spent $ 657.5 billion (almost 49 trillion rubles) for these purposes, and China – $ 525.7 billion (39 trillion rubles). Russia's expenses against this background are a drop in the bucket.

When there is not enough money, and at the same time you still have to manage not to fall into the dirt, financial bureaucracy comes into play. Recently, at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov stated the need to strengthen control over budget spending, "so that there are results, not reports on publications." That is, the requirements for scientists to fulfill a certain plan for scientific discoveries (which already sounds absurd, given that all significant discoveries in this world happened literally by chance – yes, this was preceded by years of research, but hardly anyone would have decided to "plan" penicillin or dynamite), it turned out to be not enough. Now gosbukhgalteriya requires guarantees that scientific achievements will find practical application. Did all our scientists just experiment with theoretical calculations before that?

Unnecessary science and a "medal plan" for scientists

Russia really has big problems with achievements in the field of science now.

According to the results of 2018-2021, our country was ranked 10th in the world in terms of the number of scientific publications indexed in Scopus. There are especially many publications in the field of natural sciences: we are on the 6th place in the world. But the demand for these publications in the global research community turned out to be 25% lower than the global average. Often, it does not go further than publication in a scientific publication. In the Global Innovation Index of 2022 from the World Intellectual Property Organization, Russia took only 47th place, being located between Slovakia and Vietnam. Even in its group of countries with above–average incomes, Russia is in 10th place, with China, Bulgaria and Malaysia among the leaders.

The virtuoso ability of officials to make a beautiful report and something just "for show", it seems, turned out to be contagious. I wonder how it happened, and whether the scientists themselves are to blame for this, but something tells me that it was not without the pressure of these very officials.

Olga Martynova, Head of the Laboratory of Higher Nervous Activity of a Person at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that scientists cannot achieve success without free creativity:

- I don't think scientists are like crazy kids who are ready to spend everything and then not report back. But you can't schedule an opening, you would have already opened what you would like to plan a long time ago. The meaning of scientific work is search, it is search research, something can be planned accurately, and something in principle cannot even be predicted. Therefore, it is very difficult to plan scientific research, and especially to control it. Of course, the authorities are trying to control budgets and expenditures on scientific projects. This limits the work, because, for example, you want to test some three types of antibiotics, and you realize that the third type does not work at all. However, the official demands to check it anyway - it cannot be replaced, because you have already written it in your plans. This is wrong, the freedom to edit your plan should always be there.Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Anatoly Petrukovich believes that attempts by officials to interfere in the work of scientists can lead to irreparable consequences:


- Of course, it is impossible to know exactly what will work, and administrative methods are not applicable here. The USSR already had a sad experience of banning genetics and cybernetics as completely unnecessary and even harmful disciplines. World experience gives an unambiguous answer to the question of how to determine priorities and minimize risks. Fundamental research is conducted on a wide range of topics determined by the scientists themselves and on a competitive basis. This is actually a small share of the science budget, and it is funded directly by the state.Olga Martynova explained how the competitive framework functions in developed countries:

- In other countries, scientists have short contracts almost everywhere – they have fixed–term labor contracts, applications for funding from various funds are submitted – funding can be any, but this is a short-term project - 3-5 years with the possibility of its extension.

And bids are funded for this project. It turned out – you can continue, get further funding. It didn't work out – that's it, the project is being closed, and this is such a natural selection of studies that can achieve results. But at the same time, there is always a percentage share that is given for fundamental research, where it is clear that there may not be a result (such a result that can be sold in the near future or earn money on it), but it is always financed in a certain percentage.Planning VS Competition

However, not all scientific discoveries are akin to the discovery of radioactivity or the formulation of the theory of relativity, which is really impossible to predict.

Science is also engaged in practical research, the planning of which is based on previously obtained data. For example, in 2010, physicists from the University of Manchester Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize for the discovery in 2004 of a simple way to produce graphene – a material with unique properties with a thickness of one carbon atom. Although the first samples of graphene were grown back in 1970, and the term "graphene" appeared in 1986. Director of the Center of NTI and AI of Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Doctor of Technical Sciences Vladimir Nelyub believes that it is impossible to do without planning scientific discoveries:

- Scientific breakthroughs can and should be planned. The main task of science is to work not for the table, but for the industrial and commercial implementation of innovative solutions and developments. Modern digital technologies, big data analysis mechanisms, artificial intelligence allow solving large-scale tasks of planning automation. Solutions in these areas are most relevant for both industry and healthcare. Already today, it is possible to form a limited list of key innovative projects, determine the absence of critical technologies, plan research and development, and build a risk control system. We have all the necessary tools.Planning is planning, but in developed countries healthy competition is the basis of research at all levels.

Also because applied developments are funded not by the state, but by business, adds Anatoly Petrukovich:

- Tens of times more funds are spent on applied developments and it is not the Minister of Finance who should finance breakthroughs "in industry and healthcare", but interested customers, various kinds of venture funds.

  They are the ones who monitor the reasonableness of costs. And still, not every project makes a profit, but those breakthroughs that succeed more than pay off all the costs of science. Unfortunately, the Russian reality is that most of the applied research is funded directly by the state, and it is really difficult for government agencies to work in such a risky area as innovative business.In any case, both spontaneous discoveries and planned breakthroughs require fresh talented brains.

And in Russia, the image of a scientist, an academician is the image of an intelligent, but very elderly person who remembers what unique devices were invented, what discoveries were made in Soviet times using completely different equipment. Read about who stayed in science, who comes to it, and who leaves this sphere and why, in the following article of "Novye Izvestia".