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Posted: June 27, 2007
Nanotechnology - the latest in Russian propaganda catchwords
(Nanowerk News) Vedomosti, a Russian language business daily that is a joint venture between Dow Jones, the Financial Times and Independent Media (Publishing House), publishers of The Moscow Times, ran the following editorial today (as reprinted in The Moscow Times):
Have you enlisted for nanotechnology?" Posters of this type should be going up any time now. The term "nanotechnology" has been a big hit as the state's latest catchword. It's perfect, hitting all the right patriotic propaganda notes, while doubtless providing opportunities for officials to enrich themselves. But what is necessary for the real development of nanotechnology is a change in the technology of administration.
Sticking to the party line is a time-honored Russian tradition. No federal ministry projection fails to mention the term, universities and institutes are all hurrying to create nanotechnology departments and laboratories, and governors are holding conferences on regional nanotechnology conditions.
This is all reminiscent of examples like "doubling GDP," "an apartment for every family by 2000," "achieving full communism by the 1980s" or the cult of corn created by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
These slogans don't come out of nowhere. Khrushchev's fixation with corn followed visits to farmers' fields in the United States, while plans for doubling GDP have already been trumpeted in countries like Japan, China and Kazakhstan. Nanotechnology is for real and growing at a rapid pace.
In 2006, $12.4 billion was invested worldwide in nanotechnology, according to Lux Research. Total sales of products involving nanotechnology were about $50 billion. State expenditures in the sector were $6.4 billion, companies spent $5.3 billion, and venture funds more than $650 million. All this while corporate expenditures in the field were rising twice as fast as those by governments.
So why should the government's nanotechnology plans cause concern? First of all, because mega-campaigns aren't the most effective approach to technological administration. Second, is the problem of creating a state-owned corporation with federal budget funds (30 billion rubles, or $1.2 billion, in 2007.) Bureaucrats can't be expected to know how or on what to spend it. There are no existing projects ready to absorb this kind of money.
Nanotechnology is a broad term, covering any method based on the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules (such as methods for regulating the very structure and make up of matter) on a scale of from 1 nanometer to 100 nanometers (a nanometer being one billionth of a meter).
It should work the other way around. The opening steps should involve a determination of the needs of Russian business for concrete technologies, the creation of an infrastructure to promote innovation (grants for the documentation of discoveries, information databases, protection of intellectual property, and so on), and then the stimulation of innovation technology orders with tax breaks.