Research funds: Rid Russian science of corruption

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
478,
Page:
324
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/478324a
Published online

Your claim that “Russian science is recovering” is not strictly true (Nature 477, 5; 2011). Although there has been a large influx of money into research recently, its distribution seems in many cases to have been overshadowed by allegations of corruption and power play.

Six mega-grant projects in high-energy physics, announced this summer by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, were never subject to open scientific debate. Most of them will be managed by the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, whose director, Mikhail Kovalchuk, belongs to Putin's 'inner circle' (Nature 453, 702703; 2008). The Scientific Cadres federal programme, which is managed by the Ministry of Science and Education and is formally a competition, has deteriorated into a distribution of contracts in narrowly defined areas, with some winners apparently being pre-selected.

All of this eats into the core funding for basic science. The budget of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), the only funding body with a grant system similar to the Western model, was cut sharply last year and will not increase until at least 2014. The average RFBR grant is about US$12,000 a year, and even that is in danger — the foundation's council is aiming to increase the number and size of 'innovative' technological projects in only a few areas.

The bureaucratic problems you mention make life difficult for mega-grant holders, but at least they can communicate directly with science minister Andrei Fursenko and even President Dmitry Medvedev. For the less fortunate majority of Russian scientists, these problems make doing science, especially experimental science, almost impossible.

The international community helped Russian science in the 1990s, when collaboration and international grants offered a lifeline for many Russian groups. Now we need the voices of our colleagues around the world to press Russia's scientific leadership into accepting international norms in funding and decision-making, and to clear Russian science of any cronyism and corruption.

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  1. A. A. Kharkevich Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia.

    • Mikhail Gelfand

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