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Putin's New Censorship Rules Will Weaken Russian Science

In a surprising development this past week, Russia has notified all scientists at Moscow State University (MSU) that they must submit their research papers to the state security service before they will be permitted to publish them. Nature News reports that Russia is imposing this policy on universities and research institutes throughout the country.

Perhaps this should not be a surprise. Vladimir Putin has steadily imposed ever greater restrictions on the media, to the point where most Russians are not even aware that Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 last year. This new move towards censorship is just one more step toward imposing Stalin-esque restrictions on all Russians. Requiring scientists to submit their manuscripts to security officials will severely cripple their ability to publish anything even remotely novel or interesting. Why take the chance?

Mikhail Gelfand, a prominent scientist in my own field of bioinformatics, told Nature that: “This is a return to Soviet times when in order to send a paper to an international journal, we had to get a permission specifying that the result is not new and important and hence may be published abroad.”

Exactly: Putin is returning Russian to the bad old days of the repressive USSR, when the state controlled all media and ordinary citizens were afraid to speak. For now, a few scientists were willing to speak to Nature, but we shouldn’t be surprised if even those voices are silenced in the future.