The global press often reports about the protests staged by French scientists and the efforts of Save Science, an organization of French scientists, to attract attention to the present situation of France's scientific community. Meanwhile, the problems that Russian scientists face emerged a decade and a half ago, are still unresolved and attract far less attention.
The problems in both countries are similar - lack of government funding and the absence of job prospects for young scientists. However, the scope of the problems and the scientific community's response to them differs.
During Mikhail Gorbachev's Tatcherism, the first signs that the role of science was being underestimated appeared. In 1986, government spending on research and development in Russia reached 3.8% of GDP (the largest amount in the Soviet Union's history), in 1992 funding dropped to 0.74% of the GDP and Russia's GDP fell sharply. In 2002, funding was 0.35% of the GDP. Budget spending for scientific research in real prices decreased by 90%.
The salaries of scientists, after a sharp decline in the early 1990s, climbed to the national average by the end of the 1990s. Before the 1990s, however, scientists were among the best-paid workers in Russia. Their salaries exceeded the average income level by 250%.
During the 1990s, 58% of the million scientists who were working at the beginning of the decade stopped working in science, and less than 10% of the remaining scientists were under 33. Unless this aging trend in the scientific community is reversed, the average age of scientists in Russia will reach the pension age. (In Russia, 55 is the pension age for women and 60 is the pension age for men. There are practically no limits to how long a pensioner can work.)
The brain drain is one of the most acute problems of science in Russia. From 1995 to 2003, 14,300 researchers, including the most skilled specialists, left Russia. Furthermore, the number of people who went abroad under temporary contracts or for a probation period exceeded that number by 200-400%.
There are several reasons why Russian scientists do not hold large-scale protests like their French colleagues.
In the late 1980s, the scientific community in Russia supported democratic and market economy reforms. They were stunned to realize that those reforms had a negative impact on science and technology.
In the 1990s, the Russian media, responding to the scientific community's public demands, depicted scientists as beggars. The press ignored the fact that the scientists' demands were merely to increase the financial support for science to the average level of industrialized nations.
Finally, the more subdued and reserved actions of Russian scientists - in parliament and in the streets - compared to today's actions of scientists in France, produced a positive effect. They often helped to block government decisions that could have caused even greater harm to science in Russia.
"I am often asked when I am abroad: Is it true that science in Russia is dead?" Vitaly Ginzburg, the winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics, recalled. "And I reply that it's absurd, it's nonsense! Of course, the financial difficulties should not be disparaged, but the moral aspect is no less important either. We should fight against this defeatist attitude. There are plenty of opportunities for work."
The problems that became sharply pronounced in Russia during the 1990s had not surfaced in France by that time. Now, other industrialized countries are faced with these problems as well.
The change in the attitude toward science in the world coincided with the departure of a generation of world leaders who solved global problems by developing weapons. The period when fundamental and applied science was funded by the military-industrial complex is coming to a close. Now, scientists must define science's new role in the world.
In the 21st century, humanity is faced with the serious tasks of fighting terrorism, eliminating poverty, battling dangerous diseases, space exploration, protecting the environment, and replenishing and saving natural resources.
The future of humanity depends on whether these goals are attained and the role of science in obtaining these goals is obvious.