Russia’s Grade in Scientific Innovation: F-

Vladislav Inozemtsev, professor of economics, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies and editor-in-chief of Svobodnaya Mysl, writing in the Moscow Times:

It seems that every time Russia’s leaders proclaim an “innovative leap forward,” the West publishes fresh statistics indirectly proving that such a leap is impossible. For example, a recent report on the number of patents registered with the U.S. Patent Office over the last five years shows that Denmark has more than twice as many patents than Russia, Sweden has 6.8 times more, and Canada — 20 times more. What’s more, Germany registers more patents in one year than the Soviet Union and Russia combined over the last half century.

In addition, Russia produces just 2.6 percent of all articles published in international scientific and academic journals, placing it 14th worldwide. It seems that scientific progress is practically at a standstill in Russia, while in leading industrial countries science is taking giant strides forward.

Why is Russia falling so far behind?

The standard explanation is inadequate funding. Russia’s 2009 budget for research and development was less than 170 billion rubles ($5.45 billion). By comparison, China allocated $136.2 billion. Russia spends only 0.75 percent of its gross domestic product on scientific R&D, while Japan, Israel, Sweden and many other countries spend more than 3 percent of GDP.

In the rest of the world, scientific achievements are first transformed into manufactured goods before they become a part of the national economy. In no country does the income from the sale of patents and licenses exceed 3.5 percent of total exports. This demonstrates that the driving force for progress is demand from the real sector, which is practically nonexistent in Russia. U.S. companies spend an average of 3.5 percent of their earnings on R&D, and in the European Union that figures averages 3.2 percent. In particular, pharmaceutical companies spend from 13 percent to 16 percent of earnings on R&D, and telecommunications companies — up to 19 percent. In Russia, that indicator does not exceed 0.5 percent, and such national flagship corporations like Gazprom and Rosneft spend no more than a meager 0.17 percent on R&D. Automobile and aircraft manufacturing, shipbuilding and electronics — sectors that drive scientific and technological progress in other countries — are weak in Russia.

The second important factor is the overall deterioration of the country’s education system — not only in the sense that it is underfunded, but also in its loss of prestige. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Russia experienced a major brain drain to other countries. At the same time, there has been a sharp rise in the number of university students, while the number of professors has declined. To make matters worse, it is quite easy to simply purchase a “candidate” degree (something roughly between a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in the West) and even a Ph.D. in Russia without actually studying or writing the required dissertations. There are enough artificial holders of these degrees that their overall value has dropped markedly — even for those who earned them honestly.

The third major factor is the closed and fragmented nature of the country’s scientific community. Among member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 22 percent of all scientific articles published are written by an international team of authors. In Russia, that number is less than 1 percent. Foreign professors account for 11 percent to 43 percent of teaching staffs at EU universities and about 9 percent in the United States. In Russia, the number is statistically insignificant. The quality of Russia’s scientific journals is rapidly declining. In Holland, natural science journals have a readership 40 times larger than Russia’s.

Can Russia ever become innovative? Highly unlikely. The government has made superficial attempts to build an “innovation economy” by throwing money at ventures like Rusnano, but little is being done to develop innovation from the bottom up. Moreover, the government is spending much more money on supporting the raw materials sector. This is a clear indication that the state is more interested in maintaining the status quo than developing innovation.

6 responses to “Russia’s Grade in Scientific Innovation: F-

  1. Hi,
    I worked in IT/tech venturing in Moscow in the 90’s and early 00’s; science then was OK – but leaking out to the West. And that would be the 4th factor to add to the above – the major brain drain that occurred during those times, and – as the supply has dwindled – so has the drain. But, many with talent and ambition are striving first to leave Russia, and only then to develop their contribution to mankind. A large number of examples in the IT arena where Russians transplanted to the West are the ones behind the software or the innovation. Simple enough to draw conclusions as to why no innovator wants to try this in Russia.

    However, this should not detract from the fact that there are still “brains” left in the country. Unfortunately most of them are focused on either survival for themselves and families, or on monetizing their current good fortune, and possibly fleeing a bit later. Western carpetbaggers abound as well… (Yes, perhaps I was one too, and have left – all those “прожжённый делец” skills learned in Moscow – absolutely useless or illegal in the West)

  2. [patents registered with the U.S. Patent Office]

    Why would Russians want to register their inventions with US Patent Office, when they can register with their own Russian Patent Office, which has exactly as much international legal status as USA Patent Office?

    And why do Danes and Swedes bother? Their own Patent Offices not good?

    • Well, because by registering with the US patent office you gain the protection of the US legal system which actually protects patents.

      Unlike the Russian legal system which generally sells your intelectual/patent rights to the highest bidder.

    • This is so laughable that it is impossible to explain. Why don’t you ask those who know what a patent is and what it does before making such silly statements

  3. Arthur, owned again.

    I believe donkeys learn faster.

  4. This also brings up the point that many Russian scientists in the basic science area have some pretty interesting breakthroughs – from time to time. But, they themselves understand it is futile to both register in Russia, as well as to commercialize. They also lack the applied science skills to take it to that next level and generally need to partner with a Western outfit. Even so, their general approach is “I came up with this cool new process, I want a 10 million dollars for this idea!” Then usually go on to make a mess of the commercialization stages, if they even manage to hook a willing dupe.

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