Science departments in Russia’s universities are facing a crisis of information following the decision last week of a Western publisher to lock them out of access to thousands of unique scientific journals and magazines because the government can no longer afford to foot the bill.
According to a spokesperson from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, one of Russia’s state agencies, which is responsible for the development of national science, is unable to pay for subscriptions for scientific journals and magazines published by Springer due to a sharp devaluation of the Russian ruble this year.
Yriy Popov, a former associate professor of the Voronezh State University of Building Technologies and a well-known Russian scientist in the field of building science and technologies, warned that, in addition to Springer, there is a threat that the Russian scientific community may lose access to the magazines of other Western scientific publishers, such as Elsevier.
Matthias Aicher, head of Springer for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, has confirmed that the company closed the access to scientific publications for Russian universities and research institutes from 12 May.
According to Aicher, the Russian government failed to pay for the subscription for 2014 to the amount of €890,000 (US$1 million).
Vladimir Fortov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the current problem is very serious as scientific periodicals have so far been the main way for Russian scientists to get information regarding basic and applied sciences.
Fortov said: “Thanks to these journals, Russian scientists are aware of the latest developments and research in global science. Failure of further subscriptions means that Russian scientists will be isolated from global science.
“Springer is a very serious publishing house, and the loss of access to its journals will be a major blow for Russian science, including university science.”
He has not ruled out the possibility that this issue may be resolved after the intervention of the national government. At the same time, according to some sources close to the Russian Academy of Sciences, representatives of some leading Russian universities are considering signing a petition to the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev asking him to help resolve the problem.
In 2014 the annual subscription for Springer publications in Russia was set at €3.2 million (US$3.6 million).
According to an official spokesperson of Springer, the company extended free subscription to Russian science several times, but eventually due to existing debts decided to close it for an indefinite period.
In the meantime, representatives of the press service of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research said that the agency could not use the same model as before the economic crisis in Russia in December 2014 to January 2015 and devaluation of the local currency.
The seriousness of the current situation is confirmed by recent statements of Alexander Hlunov, board member of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.
He said that Springer sets prices for its journals in Euros but devaluation of the Russian currency has meant that the price in rubles has doubled.
“The Russian budget currently has no available funds for these projects. We currently cannot afford such costs but if there is an increase of scientific spending in the Russian federal budget, this decision could be revised.”
According to Yriy Popov, many Russian scientists and university professors from different areas of science have used Springer journals as guidelines in their research activities.
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