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New Russian Science City Modeled On Silicon Valley 213

Hugh Pickens writes "Russia's rich scientific traditions and poor record of converting ideas into marketable products are both undisputed, cited as causes for the Soviet collapse and crippling dependence on mining and petroleum. Now the NY Times reports that the Russian government, hoping to diversify its economy away from oil, is building the first new scientific city since the collapse of the Soviet Union modeled, improbably, on Silicon Valley and jokingly referred to as Cupertino-2. 'The whole country needs some sort of breakthrough,' says Viktor F. Vekselberg, the Russian business oligarch appointed co-director of the project. 'The founding of the innovation city, in form and substance, could be a launching pad for the country as a whole.' The new town is intended to advance five scientific priorities — communications, biomedicine, space, nuclear power, and energy conservation — and to encourage cross-fertilization among disciplines. Property will not be owned, but rented, and the government will offer grants for scientists who struggle to find private financing. Once developed, the city is intended to incubate scientific ideas using generous tax holidays and government grants until the start-ups can become profitable companies. Its backers in government and the private sector describe it as an effort to blend the Soviet tradition of forming scientific towns with Western models of encouraging technology ventures around universities. 'In California, the climate is beautiful and they don't have the ridiculous problems of Russia,' says Andrey Shtorkh, publicist for the new venture, adding that to compete, Russia will form a place apart for scientists. 'They should be isolated from our reality.'"
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New Russian Science City Modeled On Silicon Valley

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  • by xmark ( 177899 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:28AM (#31842350)

    Specifically, I'm referring to your argument that "Science is one thing that if done right under socialism works best."

    Under capitalism, science is often bent to the needs of the patron/employer/investor.

    Under socialism, science is often bent to the political needs of the "people" as interpreted and enforced by the government.

    Neither case must necessarily lead to a poor outcome. However, it's naive to think science can be completely unfettered from the society that supports it. All forms of government and economy concentrate power into the hands of a few at the expense of the many. Those few then use that power to shape the actions of others to suit their own needs and beliefs.

    Gloss: Lysenko was the director of the Lenin All-Union Institute of Agricultural Sciences, who decreed as a matter of state ideology (among other bizarre rubbish) that desirable traits in plants were not heritable, but instead could only spread through grafts and nongenetic methods. In short, he was a Lamarckian who could ruin a scientist's career, or worse, for daring question the validity of official state science.

    Under Lysenko, agricultural science in the USSR was, from the late 1920s until 1964, based on ideology rather than the scientific method, and this led to uncounted misery for Soviet citizens due to massively underperforming or failed crops.

    Wikipedia has a decent article about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysenkoism [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:07AM (#31842484)

    Agriculture held a special place in USSR governance and economic decision making (grain yields and so on). Gorbachev was helped by his experience in agriculture, among other things, on his way to 1986.

    I forgot what I read on it, but it had to do with the USSR not producing enough grain and having to continually import it (with exceptions of course). They tried all sorts of solutions, including non-biological ones such as the farm legal structure and legality of growing crops for private sale. This problem would last for the entirety of the USSR's existence.

  • by Anenome ( 1250374 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:33AM (#31842584)

    Yes, there is an answer for why communism in the farm fails.

    Read the eminent economist and commentator Thomas Sowell's book, "Knowledge and Decisions" for an explanation of why socialism/communism failed in the farms, and why the same reasons it failed there cause it to fail or be continually less efficient than capitalism in every other enterprise.

    If you think a publicly-owned anything can do better than a private organization, you have to explain how it will use coercion to do that, because public org's ability to coerce is the only difference between them. Both public and private companies are simply groups of people. People denigrate private orgs for having personal stakes in the outcome, but what turns out to be worse is the indifference of those with no stake in an enterprises outcome such as we find in communal/public organizations.

    Ultimately, what Sowell's thesis comes down to is that communal organizations face a distortion of incentive structures. If something breaks on a farm that's owned by the farmer he fixes it. If a machine breaks on a communist farm he expects someone else to fix it--he doesn't own it. He neither profits by fixing it nor loses by not fixing. Thus, the owner has incentive to do what maximizes efficiency. The communal farmer does not, and could actually be punished for trying.

    But farming doesn't have a lot of room for error. And if you're drastically inefficient enough people start starving. See China and Mao's "Great Leap Forward" (into starvation apparently) which resulted in the deaths of some 20+ million Chinese.

  • by dido ( 9125 ) <`dido' `at' `imperium.ph'> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:44AM (#31842622)

    Paul Graham also writes [paulgraham.com] that it might actually be possible to buy a Silicon Valley, or something very close to it, by investing a billion dollars or so in a city with the right environment that will be conducive to the growth of startups. Perhaps someone in Russia read Graham's article and decided that they had the kind of political will (which Graham says is so unlikely) to pull it off.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:45AM (#31842624)

    ... even the Communist Party of the SU acknowledged that the time of Stalin left a lot to be desired.

    Not while he was alive of course, unless they had some sort of death wish.

  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:49AM (#31842632) Journal

    Well, I hope that this centrally-dictated economic activity works better than the 20th century ones did.

    It doesn't work when corruption is rampant all the way up to the top, and there is no institutionalized mechanism of repression as there was in USSR (where large scale economic crimes could carry death penalty). Which is the case in today's Russia.

    It's not the first time they tout something as a "Russian Silicon Valley", either. There was a project in Siberia, and then there was Dubna. They've actually built some infrastructure in both cases, and both ended up as failures.

    The reason is very simple. If you define "Russian Silicon Valley" as the place for IT innovation and business where Russians work, then it already exists - it's U.S. (and other western countries). Why stay if you can move to a place with a higher standard of living?

  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:4, Informative)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:12AM (#31842708)

    Excuse me? Like what?

    I don't respond to AC's normally and I don't really need the Karma for this but...

    Do you mean "what is CSIRO"?

    Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation. [csiro.au]

    Or did you mean what are CSIRO's accomplishments [wikipedia.org] (and I hope you're on Wifi being eaten by mosquito's for this one because Wireless LAN and Aeroguard are on that list).

    CSIRAC was the forth stored program computer ever made and one of only two first generation computers still intact.

  • by blanck ( 1458239 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @07:19AM (#31843400)

    USSR not producing enough grain and having to continually import it (with exceptions of course).

    While there were certainly droughts and other organic factors that affected output, the main reason for lack of grain in the 1930s was Stalin's forceful drive to convert the USSR from a primarily agricultural economy to an industrial one. Through collectivization, grain was gathered from the peasantry and traded abroad for heavy industry. This led to an industrial boom in the cities, at the immense cost of mass starvation in the countryside. Ukraine was a notable victim of this process.

  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:4, Informative)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @10:29AM (#31844696) Homepage Journal

    I think you are mistaking socialism with a mature and financially stable company.
    Bell back in the regulated monopoly days was with out a doubt mature and financially stable. They could do research that might not pay off for 30 years because they knew they would be around in 30 years to benefit from it. They also built infrastructure that would last for decades even if it cost more for that same reason.
    IBM still produces a lot of basic science for that same reason. They believe that they will be around for another 100 years. GE, DuPont, and Dow chemical used to and probably still do a lot of basic research for that same reason. They are mature and frankly a lot of their profitability is based on science so they benefit from research.
    Even folks like Chrysler back in the 50s got into some pretty wild stuff. Did you know the rocket that launched the first US satellite and the first Mercury sub orbital flight was made by Chrysler?
    Intel is probably reaching the level of maturity and long term profitably that they will start doing a lot of long term research.
    The problem is that the best research will come from companies that do some kind of manufacturing which the US is doing less and less of.
    Take Apple for example. They are not a manufacturing company they are closer to a fashion design house combined with a software developer. Nothing wrong with it but they just don't make stuff. They make pretty packages that they pay other people to fill with stuff Intel and others make. I honestly don't expect anything really ground breaking from them.

Variables don't; constants aren't.