+ Author Affiliations
De Haar Research Foundation, Rotterdam, the Netherlands and New York City, NY, USA
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Editors of the European Heart Journal or of the European Society of Cardiology.
Post-Soviet Russian Science
One of the last publications of Professor Thomas Luscher in the European Heart Journal (2013)1, with a focus on the codex of science, has brought ‘joy to a lot of unrest’, lively discussion, and formed the basis of some controversial opinions in the Russian scientific community. Russian science faces the issue of fraud in another dimension, a dimension of the counteraction to the national governmental authorities, and particularly the Federal Security Service (FSB; formerly the KGB). The closed Russian scientific system, in which researchers cannot share their knowledge with colleagues abroad and cannot develop science in a healthy way, is unviable (see Figure 1).
Despite launching the world’s first artificial satellite and being a leader in the nuclear arms race, science in Russia is in state of decline or abruption, and the country is losing its standing as a scientific powerhouse; so says a new report by Thomson Reuters.2 Over the last 5 years, researchers in Russia produced ∼ 2.6% of the world’s output, according to data from Web of Science database (Figure 2). The development of research and development institutes and the stimulation of high-technology industries (for instance, nanotechnologies; see Table 1), broader involvement in international research projects, creation of the grant system, fraud, and intellectual property protection are all of critical importance for the development of research organizations and science in Russia.2 New projects of the Russian Foundation for the Fundamental Investigations (since 1992), the Skolkovo Foundation (since 2010), a reset of the so-called Federal Universities (since 2011), modernization of the Russian Academy of Sciences (since 2013), a pathway to upgrade the educational system, and ultimately to reform science dramatically (since 2013) promise a new innovative future for Russia in the 21st century.
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Intelligence networks as a new frontier for research development in the post-9/11 age
Ambassador Richard N. Haass, a Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State in 2007 published a concept for US Foreign Policy support in the post-9/11 world.3 The event of 9/11 in 2001 bridges a gap between the Age of the Cold War, Post-Soviet monopole world and the future, being a start point for a new Age, the Age of the Intelligence Networks and sophisticated mass control of the population. There is a growing consensus that five fundamental factors are shaping the future of international relationships: globalization, the fate of democratic governance, the changing nature of security, the evolution of our alliances and relationships with other major powers, and the future of American power.3 Russia was one of the first countries to support this policy, launching a widespread intelligence network and managing the conventional life and business of Russian citizens. Science became the first target of the new International Intelligence Policy.
United States governmental authorities consider Russia to be a major power in the Eastern hemisphere.3 Russia has weathered the recent global economic slowdown better than most, and it now has a measure of domestic stability. However, the USA recognizes that the economic, political, social, demographic, and environmental legacies of 70 years of communist rule risk shackling Russia to its past well into the 21st century. Since 9/11, the USA and Russia have made great strides forward in redefining their relationship, but can we capitalize on this momentum and make it self-sustaining? Will Russia be able to integrate itself successfully into the international order (for instance, by joining the World Trade Organization) and thereby fundamentally alter the trajectory of its development? Will Russia’s demographic, economic, and geopolitical decline be reversed or is it systemic? These questions are still valid today. Russia is not hurrying up with scientific integration into the new world order.
Globalization promises an integration of the Russian scientific system into the international community, but the existing model is ineffective. Russian biomedicine remains one of the most closed scientific systems across the globe. The ‘Iron Curtain’ policy of the Russian government opposes the healthy development of Russian science and its international integration into the worldwide transparent research system. Modern Russian science was born in the Soviet Age and become very vulnerable owing to significant isolation and pressure from the national authorities with specific secret policy provided by the FSB. The Russian government is much more concerned with issues of national security, and not with the needs of the population or with biomedicine.
Every single discovery, for instance in biomedical industries or nanotechnologies, immediately becomes a national treasure. The best example of such restrictions is provided by the classified results of NANOM studies4,5 in Yekaterinburg (Russia). The group at the Ural Institute of Cardiology has discovered a new approach for theranostics of atherosclerosis using uniform multifunctional noble metal nanoparticles. Near-infrared optics and plasmonic photothermal therapy are able to replace conventional methods of imaging and management of atherosclerosis, such as percutaneous interventions and coronary artery bypass surgery. Scientists in Yekaterinburg cannot exchange the raw data with other colleagues abroad because of limitations issued by the Russian federal authorities.
The FSB, via the Intelligence Network, takes responsibility for each step of the scientist and the fraud prevention. In so doing, they prevent exchange of knowledge and brain drain. The Russian budget includes more and more money year by year in order to support the existing networks, dooming science into poverty (Figure 3). Furthermore, this weird residual ‘Cold War Age’ strategy has significant impacts on the Russian population suffering from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) that results in an enormously high CVD burden and mortality.
Compromised Russian population or poor results of Russian national politics
In describing a typical Russian population of interest, we should mention some specific characteristics, such as their relatively young age, and the high percentage of non-cardiac-related death, including trauma, which is due to some major public health and socio-economic problems.6,7 At the present time, CVDs account for 54.9% of all deaths in Russia (2012), while the share of all non-communicable diseases and injuries is about 90%.1 The second leading cause of death was cancer, which claimed 264 048 lives (15.2%). External causes of death, such as suicide (1.4%), road accidents (1.6%), murders (0.7%), accidental alcohol poisoning (0.5%), and accidental drowning (0.5%), claimed 164 282 lives in total (9.4%; Rosstat demographic reports for 2012, Federal State Statistics Service of Russia).6
The population of Russia peaked at 148 689 000 in 1991, immediately before the break up of the Soviet Union. Low birth rates and abnormally high death rates caused Russia’s population to decline at an annual rate of 0.5%. The Russian death rate in 2012 was 13.3 per 1000 citizens. For comparison, the death rate in the USA in 2009 was 8.4 per 1000 citizens. The causes for this sharp increase in mortality are widely debated, with academic sources citing the drastic and widely negative changes in lifestyle caused by economic reforms that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to a 2009 report,7 mass privatization, an element of the economic reform package nicknamed shock therapy, clearly correlates with higher mortality rates. The report argues that advocates of economic reforms ignored the human cost of the policies they were promoting, such as unemployment and human suffering, leading to an early death. Currently, life expectancy is 64.3 years (in 2011) for men (with a registered minimum of 57.38 years in 1994) and 76.1 years for women (in 2011), with a median age of 36.1 years for men and 41.1 years for women (in 2009). In 2011, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development expressed hope that by 2020 the population would stabilize at 138–139 million, and that by 2025 it would increase again to its present-day size of 143–145 million, also raising the life expectancy to 75 years.6,7
The total economic cost of CVD in the Russian Federation in 2006–09 corresponded to 3% of gross domestic product in that period. Only 20% of the total economic impact of CVD in 2009 was due to direct healthcare costs, while 78.7% resulted from indirect social losses associated with premature mortality of men of working age. Smoking (63.2% of men and 9.1% of women smoked; the contribution of smoking to mortality was about 29%), excessive alcohol consumption (in the past 20 years, alcohol consumption in Russia remained very high, at 10–15 L per person per year, compared with 10.3 L in Sweden and 12.8 L in Germany; about 70% of the population consumed strong alcoholic beverages; in 1980–2001 alcohol consumption was responsible for 25.6% of deaths from CVD in men and 15.4% in women in Russia), an unhealthy diet ( ∼ 28% increase in CVD mortality in Russia can be attributed to insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables), psychosocial factors [in the study of Brainerd and Cutler (NBER Working paper 10868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, 2004), 75% of Russian residents had not adapted to the new living conditions in the country, 20% of respondents experienced frequent stressful situations, 11.7% had severe symptoms of anxiety, and 9.6% had depression], and physical inactivity (in 2001–02, a pilot study found that 73.9–81.7% of men and 74.8–86.2% of women had low physical activity) are the major modifiable risk factors contributing to mortality. They, in turn, affect such risk factors as dyslipidaemia, obesity, and hypertension ( ∼ 40.8% suffered all three risk factors), leading to increased morbidity and mortality from CVD. Russia, unlike the USA and other countries, has no established monitoring system for major CVD risk factors. This makes it impossible to obtain a complete picture of their prevalence and trends.6,7
Modern Russian politics in the field of Science and Intelligence hides some threat in the Global Age when the leading countries are re-organizing the systems by redefining their roles. The existing tendency for expansive development of the Intelligence Networks is able to change our world and strengthen the global intelligence alliance. But what is the future of such a strategy, with total control and manipulation of the population? We believe that the growing intelligence system is able to ensure a new order in science. We can finally solve the issue of the research falsifications by using Intelligence parties to manage the situation. But can we keep science independent and free of these intelligence networks, and should we do so? Does this system work as self-sustaining? How can corruption and intentional fraud as a part of the secret games be avoided? Do we need an International Court for Intelligence, or a UN Intelligence Council? Russia has an obligation to provide an open scientific system for the international community in order to exchange knowledge, save the population, and stop ‘barbarian invasion’ in order to complete global integration with the Occidental world.
Conflict of interest: This manuscript was not prepared or funded in any part by a commercial organization. The paper was written after consultation with the Dutch, US and Russian governmental authorities.
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