Former Soviet dissident talks his scientific life in the USA after the Soviet Union.
Those scientists who were invited to come to the USA by firms, or those that had rare knowledge, are basically luckier. Firms sometimes do that, since emigrants very often agree to lower wages, in comparison to what Americans want. I know two such specialists; they have been working in the States for a very long period of time. Their major problem is to find new contacts when old ones are over with. A company can experience a lack of specialists if it is a company that deals with new industrial fields (for example, new software development). This lack of specialists is a temporary inconvenience, basically.
The best thing to do is to come when you are young. In this case, a person will be able to graduate from an American high school and become a true American citizen. For example, I know a young woman who came to the USA, graduated from an American university, and was employed by NASA. As a matter of fact, it takes young and active specialists about five years in order to get back the skills of the profession that they had in Russia before.
The mindsets of American and former Soviet scientists are also different. An emigrant from the former Soviet Union used to complain to me. He told me that he concluded a contract for a period of one year in order to show what a cool specialist he was. He worked like a horse, did everything within just three months, and was eventually fired. When he started complaining, he claimed that the work was meant for a year and he did it all for three months. The company answered him, “We were wrong then; the work could be done within three months.” There was another man who was a more experienced worker. He always tried to prove to his employees at the end of a contract that there was a lot more to be done.
So, what is it that makes Russian scientists quit everything they have in Russia and seek happiness in developed countries? I think that it is about their hopes for a better life. They want to realize their ideas, and there is also a “center effect” factor as well: they want to be in the center of scientific life. Do you remember what all provincial scientists, engineers were dreaming of back in the Soviet days? They all wanted to live and work in Moscow.
Organization of scientific back up
One should not be afraid of the brain drain. Brains will go to where there is better support, better work, and better living. Financial science and new developments can be organized in different ways. The Soviet government used to support research institutes of the Academy of Sciences and the research institutes of the ministries. America supports its science via the State Scientific Fund, the Defense Department, the Department for Energy, and so on. Ministries usually have their research labs that determine technological policies and choose development priorities.
Financing is basically carried out in the form of projects and contracts for their development. It’s never enough for all those craving for money. I will not talk about huge state contracts that count tens of billions of dollars, which are meant for changing old battle planes or space rockets. This area is meant for giant companies like Boeing and others. They present their own projects. The state partially funds the construction of test planes or rockets. The drawback of this system is the fact that they all are afraid of losing. Soviet designer of helicopters Mikhail Mil used to say, “I can not imagine my first machine becoming a failure.” That is why those giant companies try to amend an old variant of a technical concept, which is already exhausted.
Concepts of developmental directions are often determined by military and ignorant officials. It was a big surprise for me at first when I would send revolutionary suggestions or developments and get an answer like, “Your work is not on our schedule.” Here is a more recent example. The Energy Ministry announced a contest for the development of energy sources. I sent a fundamentally new suggestion about the use of permanent powerful stratospheric air currents for the production of cheap electric power. I received a strange response, which said to use wind power stipulated for the improvement of a wind turbine tower.Why would I amend a wind tower if I can do without it?
The majority of American scientists are used to this state of things. When they offer something, they look through a plan first, just to find out if their offer is scheduled or not. Everyone is a human being, and every human being wants to receive something. It is sad, but I could never work on my own ideas at the expense of the state. I always had to work on someone else’s scheduled developments.
There can be some exceptions sometimes, though. NASA, for example, allots tens of millions of dollars to support perspective space projects every year for the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). However, USRA’s President David Black appointed an uninitiated person to a top position. This person, R.Cassanova, turned this important start into a sinecure for his friends. NASA’s prime goal at the present moment is to reduce the cost of launching spacecraft. Yet, Mr. Cassanova assigns money to the creation of a 3-D image on a huge television screen for weather forecasts and so on.
He has recently assigned over $500 thousand for a space elevator study, though. This money is enough for the production of a test model only. Now one knows how to decrease the Earth’s gravity. This means that the entire research in this field will eventually end up in a combination of all previous works on the subject.
Cassanova set up an advisory board of scientists that live in different cities. However, they gather once a year, after Cassanova has already decided who gets which money. A very good idea becomes a fake, basically. Needless to mention, there is a strong need in this kind of state funding (the State Scientific Fund is needed). However, the decision-making process must be more perfect. Decisions should be made by a special committee of competent scientists. Each field is supposed to have such committees.
Patenting, or how to bring progress to nothing
Patents play a very important role in the technical progress. The vast majority of perspective ideas are nominated by individual inventors. What’s the point in giving away a good idea to a company, where an engineer is obliged give away his inventions for free.
There is the Patent Bureau in the USA, like in any other country. It has forgotten long ago (as any other bureaucratic organization) that it was originally established to assist in the technical progress of the country. Its current goal is to obtain as much income as possible.
The easiest way for that is to raise prices. Patenting an invention in the USA cost just a few dollars in the beginning of the 20th century. In 1982, the patenting price was $165 for small companies. This year (2002), you will have to pay $4,010 if you want to have something patented. The Patent Bureau has transferred about 800 million dollars to the US Congress over the latest ten years. James Rogan, the new director of the bureau, is planning to raise the fee up to $6,680 and to achieve a billion dollar profit (not to mention patent lawyers that want 30 or 50 thousand dollars to each invention).
Larger firms have to pay double of the sum that small companies do. Probably, it is not so big of a deal for larger companies. Yet, it is huge money for individual inventors. The Patent Bureau basically deals with one thing. They concoct ruses and rules to fine those that violate them.
In 1997, I applied for a new kind of space cargo launching. My method would allow us to reduce the launching cost a thousand times and to deliver thousands of tons of cargo into space. Examiner G. Barefoot failed to find even a close patent that could be opposed to the new idea. He just said that he did not understand my invention. Two NASA scientists wrote to the bureau that the description of the idea was good enough to understand, even for an average engineer. Yet, the majority of examiners know only the rules to register an invention. According to those rules, if an inventor does not file an application, if an inventor does not pay everything again during three months after the final decision of an examiner, an inventor will lose a priority date.
I applied again and I paid again and I complained of the examiner’s and his chief, Mr. Charles Jordan’s stupidity. I shouldn’t have done that. It took them a year to consider my application; then they claimed that they rejected it. They explained their refusal with the fact that I used four words that were not recommended to be used. I struck those words out, but they claimed that their decision was final, and that I was supposed to apply again and pay all over again.
I went to the Board of Appeal of the Patent Bureau. I had to pay $310 for that. It took them a year to consider my complaint. A year later, they told me that my complaint did not refer to them, since they deal with the question of invention’s novelty. I had to apply and pay for the third time in a row, not to lose the priority. It took the Patent Bureau several months to find my check. Eventually, they wrote to me (after my numerous complaints to the Congress and to the President’s Office) that they finally decided to acknowledge my second application. I asked them to pay me back the money that I spent on my third application. They said that it was not their rule to do so.
It’s been five years already, but I still do not know when I can get my patent. Patent bureaus of other countries basically do the same things. The inventors who came from Russia say that the Russian patent bureaus charge too much, people complain of red tape, and even of stealing others’ inventions.
Sometimes people wonder why the USA makes the largest number of inventions. It’s because of the fact that the USA has the richest and the largest sales market. All largest companies of the world strive to use patenting in order to obtain the access to on the sales market.
Technical achievements as national pride
Important achievements in science unite people, and they make them feel proud of their country. Top politicians have always realized that. What do children study at school? They study Napoleon’s conquering of Europe; they study Hitler and Stalin. It is not possible to conquer nowadays. The only way to unite a nation is to make people proud of their country, to inspire them. This can be easily achieved with the technical progress.
Stalin, for instance, made the Soviet designer of planes, Andrey Tupolev, construct unique planes that would fly to America via the North Pole. I remember, how the Soviet people rejoiced about the launch of the first satellite of the Earth. Crowds of people came to the Red Square; they danced and sang songs.
New generations will forget their troubles and needs. They will always remember that their country was the first one in the world that launched the satellite. They will always remember that it was their country that launched the first man and the first woman in space. It is very important for a patriot to say things like “we have the tallest tower in the world” or “we have the longest bridge in the world.” This brings a lot of profit as well, since tourists are always willing to see those most biggest, most largest, whatever, things.
That is why NASA spends so much of its energy on propaganda. They have their own PR departments, travel departments, and the like. The US Defense Department probably has important technical achievements as well, but who knows about them? Everybody just keeps saying that the defense spending must be cut.
Alexander Bolonkin Doctor of Technical Science Especially for PRAVDA.Ru USA
Brief information about the author of the article: Alexander Bolonkin worked at aircraft construction companies in Kiev and Moscow. He also worked as a tutor of Russia’s major aviation institutes. In 1972 Bolonkin was arrested by KGB for reading the so-called anti-Soviet literature. He spent 15 years in concentration camps and exiles. KGB eventually ousted him of the Soviet Union.
In the United States Alexander Bolonkin worked as a tutor in several American universities, he worked at US Air Force research centers, at NASA. At present moment he works on the development of smart unmanned planes, with unrocketed space travelling. Nine of his reports have been approved by the World Space Congress of 2002.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov