Scientists — double salaries: President of the RAS told us how to invest in science

After the election of a new President of the RAS passed month. What has been done to Alexander SERGEYEV during this short period, with whom to meet and what to discuss? Is there clarity in resolving some very complicated issues with the financing of the RAS and giving it a new, higher status? And also on the latest advanced research in the world and its formation as a scientist, he said in interview to an observer “MK”.

President of the Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev. Photo: Scientific Russia.

— Alexander Mikhailovich, a month is not enough time, but in difficult conditions, facing wounds, we must not tarry. I want to ask you, were you able to clarify important issues, to take the first important decision to meet with research groups?

— Important issues are really very much. One of them is to enter the “new network.” It is clear that the President of the Academy needs to make responsible decisions in collaboration with other state and public structures, because RAS — the Academy of state and is part of our society. I’m for the first month of the met important and interesting people in the number, perhaps exceeding such experience in my whole life. Another point — the Academy is now concentrated in time few acute problems — human, financial, organizational, and should be promptly addressed.

All scientists — “deuce”

— I remember, at the first meeting of the RAS Presidium after the election, 10 October, sharply there was a question about the assessment of the institutions of the thematic departments of the Academy and their division into three categories according to the degree of success. Also it was about delaying the process by the Academy, which referred to the lack of time for such a crucial mission. At what stage is the process now?

— Assessment by departments of the Academy is almost completed. Its results have given rise to institutions ranked in the second position, and third. And, of course, there are many organizations-leaders who are conducting research at the highest level work and attract significant funding. But then another question arises: evaluation of institutions in itself is superimposed on the decision on how to distribute the funds pursuant to the presidential Decree (Decree No. 597 dated 7 may 2012. — AVT.), require to bring the average salary of scientific staff to 200% of the regional average by 2018. Now allocated additional funds for this, and immediately there is a conflict: what to do with those scientific organizations that have brought its funding up to 200% thanks to active work, except for execution of the given assignment, working on grants and commercial contracts?

Formally the decree of the President is not spelled out, whether to further Fund such institutions: most importantly, that funding was doubled. It turns out that, shall we say, “sluggish” institutions that have not received enough grants, not working on contracts with the ministries, departments and industrial enterprises, and leaders who earned money from additional sources, no? Hardly have wanted our President, who issued Decree No. 597. And already now there are reasonable questions: “Where are justice and logic?”, “The worse you are, the more you get?”.

Is there a possibility of adjusting the decree?

— No. The Finance Ministry said, read the decree and follow. The money given to additionally, just to add to what you have today. Those who already have 200%, gets nothing. This paradox can cause tensions. On the one hand, the state now builds the middle class, the driving force of the country. But the idea applied abstractly to all, leads to absurdity. Want to encourage strong (which invented the rating institutions), and in fact it turns out the promotion is weak. But we have entire regions, about seven or eight, where all the institutions are successful, are already increasing their funding in half. And according to the decree they will receive nothing? People worked, and we tell them: “Thank you, now we will give money to others.”

Director of the Institute of metal physics, Ural branch of the RAS academician Vladimir Ustinov, Alexander Sergeyev explains the specifics of research in IPM. Photo: Scientific Russia.

— Do you have a solution to this problem?

The solution is very partial. It is based on the outcomes of approvals from FANO, which also strongly concerned about the situation and looking for solutions. If the self is brought by means of institutions affect the raising of their assessment, this should somehow be taken into account. One of the outputs in that part of the decree in the regions where there are many different institutions and advanced and backward, to bring the funding up to 200% on average and not for each organization. But inside this region to distribute money, taking into account the efficiency: get more active and the inactive less. Thus, by and large, we and the decree of the President perform, and successful institutions will not be hurt. Otherwise, social tensions can not be avoided.

Ideally, it would be more logical and correct to raise all of the institutions of financing up to 200%, but only in the part of the given assignment — the part that comes to them from FANO, and self-earned money will remain with the successful plus. This they certainly deserve.

— There is another problem: labor unions, citing the Labour code, declares that the same work should be evaluated equally, but in fact it turns out that in Moscow, for example, a scientist after doubling the average wage in the region will receive 130 thousand, and the edge — 30 thousand.

— I agree, here too there is a conflict. Take our advanced institutions of Novosibirsk. No one doubts that the topics with the work done in the Siberian Akademgorodok no less effectively than, for example, in the Metropolitan institutions. There are astrophysical activities in the Caucasus in the outstanding Special astrophysical Observatory, which is estimated at 2.5 times cheaper than in Moscow. But the real cost of living (look for the interest cost of the consumer basket or subsistence level) between the regions correlated not so, the price of basic food and clothing are almost identical. So I think ultimately declared “double” (double salary) in monetary terms must be averaged over the region and averaged for the country. Because science uses Federal money, and thus compared and evaluated needs on a single scale.

“Amendments to the status it is necessary to formulate prior to the election”

— One of the priorities on the new post you mentioned changing the status of the Academy as a public authority. Is there already progress in this direction?

To the solution of this question is connected to many goals. In the state Duma and the presidential Administration, the government is aware that it is necessary to raise the legal status of the RAS. But it should not contradict the Constitution. We formulate for lawyers the task that ran in the new status has been given to the authority — and with them, of course, with additional responsibilities for effective participation in the implementation of the state scientific-technical policy. It is not excluded that in addition to the 253-th law will have to tweak and some others.

— Is there a time plan for the adjustment of status?

— Well it would be if certain decisions were made prior to the upcoming presidential campaign. I want to hope for the appearance of the respective items in the program of the President, and this means that until the new year, we must provide the decision, formulating the proposal in the amendment.

— What powers are you hoping to obtain with the new status?

— Ran now there are no functions, except for scientific and methodological guidance institutions — academic, universities and institutes state-owned corporations. It’s very ephemeral and vague function. We want the Academy was necessarily a function of scientific and organizational leadership. It is, in particular, indicates that the RAS in relation to academic institutions through the distribution of the given assignment will be defined and their budget. The money will go through FANO is a technical procedure. But the definition of important scientific directions, allocation of funds and responsibility for implementation and non-fulfillment of governmental orders in the scientific part — this thing ran.

Now for all as the founder and recipient of the funds meets FANO. But really FANO is not liable for a scientific result, because it does not understand it on its own merits, and the Academy is not responsible under the law. The existing statements of scientific organizations is based only on formal indicators — the number of articles and patents, and without regard to their quality. It looks absurd in relation to the production of knowledge, but in the current situation in our country it is. I remember in our Institute (Institute of applied physics RAS. — Ed.) last year was such a situation — came to check and said, “You must have been on the subject of the given assignment to do two articles and one patent. In fact, there are only two articles — so one of the points we feel unfulfilled, return to the Treasury the whole five million rubles spent on this subject”. Next we begin to prove that the invention made and the patent has actually been filed, but the registration procedure was delayed (it may take does not depend on feeding reasons). But the Commission’s decision is clear — the state assignment is not done.

— But the job form itself, the institutions themselves. It turns out, they do not count their force?

— Is that not expect, and often it has objective reasons. But here the problem is not even that. We do not have enough responsible and professional coordination of works in academic science.

Ran should be the authority, within the framework of state assignment to prioritise in the initial phase and allocate funds for the implementation of the given assignment. The Academy needs to watch what they do institutions as it relates to what the world of science, to see what areas gradually disappear, to reorient the institutes to other activities. In General, science needs a clear focal point, which is not available. And in many cases old socialist formula: in the institutions we pretend to work and the state pretends that pays for it. Will lead a common example, characterizing this scheme. There are themes which long is a group of scientists, receiving starvation wages. How they think: “Now we are going to publish one article, and that FANO will be enough for the minuscule that we receive. And next year we will plan another article on the state assignment, still the founder does not understand what we do.” And such sentiments are common.

President of the Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev at the first meeting of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences in its new capacity. Photo: Scientific Russia.

“Breakthroughs in science now possible only by the collective”

We could catch up and overtake the world of science, but did not because of the wrong approach to the organization of your own?

— This breakthrough trends emerge regularly and we in three or four years, throw up your hands, say: “And we did not have resources, and we are now lagging behind.” 10 years ago was obtained IPS cells are stem cells artificially induced pluripotency (they are derived from existing body cells by reprogramming and return at an early stage of evolution). For this discovery three years later, Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka received the Nobel prize. I often talked with friends, colleagues-biologists in the period of the explosion of interest in this opening and heard: “And we have not done practically nothing. In order to do something, as in business, need initial funds”.

— They are at least a request for the state assignment on the topic submitted?

— I think that the main difficulty was the lack of proper instrumentation, which is the state assignment because of its extremely low and fragmentation is not purchased. Several of our institutions are now working in this direction. But, apparently, the train, alas, has gone far. When abroad there is something new, they immediately throw the funds to get ahead.

Just as quickly a few years ago began to develop optogenetics. It involves the creation of proteins that are embedded in the membrane of neurons and under the action of light stimulate brain activity. And interestingly, the potential we have at the time were strong, were physicists working in the field of Biophotonics, optogenetics was born. But, unfortunately, again stalled at the entrance because of the disorganization and lack of “seed capital”. In the West with the help of optogenetics are now being mapping connectomes — the full structure of connections in the brain of mice and cats.

— Heard following the optogenetic direction thermogenetic, which operates not photosensitive and heat-sensitive proteins — was born just in Russia. This year went out the corresponding article of our scientists in the journal Nature Communications. How we in this time do not miss the chance to become the best?

— When not enough money one or two institutions (and there just is not enough to break the world level in thermogenetic), the question arises about the focus of a greater number of scientific organizations on the subject. Realizing how this or that task is really important, you have to gather a consortium of 10-15 institutions. I don’t think that we do now with thermogenetics.

How to define physics by its attitude to Sergei Yesenin

— Allow me to digress a bit from current Affairs and briefly return to the years of your youth. How came the decision to become a physicist?

In 1972, when I graduated from high school, I had no doubt where to go next. After all, I spent my childhood in the 60-ies, the romantic years for physics, when rapid development of space technology, appeared laser fusion. Best high school graduates went to universities in a science specialty, then — in the Academy of Sciences. Was so traditional beaten path. To be scientists was prestigious. About them wrote books, made films. Can you imagine that in school wrote an essay on the works about the work of scientists? And we wrote — based on the novel of Daniel Granin “Going to storm,” went to the cinema to watch “the taming of the fire” the rocket, “Nine days of one year” about nuclear physicists. Now the prestige, which formed public opinion, is not enough.

— But in Russia have again started to make movies about space. You were looking for?

— Watched. It’s good that he started to shoot. But it is necessary that young people know that they will be able to realize his dream and in reality. But it all begins, as I said, from childhood. Despite the fact that I was not in a physics and mathematics school, a school with a language bias (since the second grade taught German), I was very lucky with the physics teacher. He was able to work with the class and individually with those who, in his opinion, had potential. I remember that in high school he asked some students to conduct lessons instead. I remember how you taught this lesson. And this confidence on his part, wise advice was very important for me later — I definitely decided to go into science and after school he entered the faculty of Radiophysics, Nizhny Novgorod University, which was famous for in those years the freethinking. There were brilliant teachers, quite young, he was then in his early 30s. Some of them still give lectures.

— It is clear that science is dominating your life. But when I want to walk…

I can’t say that I missed it. I mean, that was a strong Komsomol organization, open-minded, active in science, and in social activities. We had a lot of interesting and non-ideological events.

— For example?

At the University we had a strong pop group, and even non-musical I myself, loved to hear them. Then very popular among University students was the musical “Jesus Christ superstar”. But the first two years at the University still focused more on learning. The basis of knowledge, which are laid at this time, very important for the further career of a scientist. The education that I received, is the highest level of education in the country and abroad. It was largely due to the fact that a number of universities worked in academic and industrial institutions, and dozens of powerful enterprises. Science, then, is very strongly developed. Upon graduation in 1978, I immediately went to work in the new Institute of applied physics RAS. It was a success. I got there in the first set and a very interesting team, which was led by young talented scientists. They’ve infected us with their goals, quickly pulled the youth. Golden time was. Many of the projects at the Institute, of course, was focused on the defense industry. Every country measures its achievements primarily by the ability to resist a potential enemy.

— In the meantime, in faraway America Steve Wozniak developed a program for the PC that transformed the world and made the United States stronger economically. Why did the Soviet Union missed the chance?

PC then really looked. Relied on large computers, but the PC was seen more as instruments for personal consumption. We are accustomed to in Soviet times, to live modestly, especially in the postwar period. We were building socialism and communism, and because some things- no tape recorders or TVs, and then desktops — many people are not particularly worried. Remember when Suslova (Mikhail Suslov was the Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee from 1947 to 1982. — Ed.) when our country began to infiltrate from the West “elements of the consumer society”, the party has developed even standards of reasonable consumption, to the scale of citizens ‘ requests were endless and wealth enough for all. In those same years, young people began to outbid speculators new clothes.

— You also bought?

— I honestly don’t remember. One day in 1975 I got shoes “Adidas” — then in Russia, just opened a joint production. So I met with branded things, but without them did not suffer. We were good scouts. And even listening to the enemy’s “Voice of America”, soberly weighed the situation. There were, of course, among us dissidents — the physical environment contributed to the freethinking and unconventional thinking.

— Many say that the physical faculties it free almost deliberately cultivated. As it is in keeping with the General line of the party?

— I think that the top understand that without freedom of thought there will be no new discoveries. The system selected the most creative. And what we are, lagging behind the West in technology, still managed to keep parity due to this. When we passed, always appreciated when students offered an unexpected solution.

— Remember something from your examination time.

When I took literature in high school, I got a ticket on the works of Sergei Yesenin. And I just started to talk about his work, drawing analogies with other events in the life. Teacher informal approach very much, remember what we talked and I received a rating of “excellent”. And if you talk about the Institute… on the physics exam with a prepared ticket, rent it. The teacher briefly look and puts the workpiece to the side, just starting another conversation — gives questions for understanding. And I’m also taking exams from the students in the University of Nizhny Novgorod, allowed for the preparation to use anything, but then want to find out what it understood actually. If he comes to something, usually the grades are highest. You know, nuclear has a favorite saying: if we have a ratio with the US science funding of 1 to 10, we due to our creative brains keep parity. But if the gap in money will decrease at least on two points — that we are the leaders.

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