A few months ago, I wrote about why I believed that Russia’s planned “science city” was destined for failure, in my BusinessWeek column. I predicted that it would follow the path of the hundreds of cluster development projects before it. Political leaders would hold press conferences to claim credit for advancing science and technology; management consultants would earn hefty fees; real-estate barons would reap fortunes; and as always happens, taxpayers would be left holding the bag. You don’t read about the failures of tech clusters all over the world, in countries like Japan, Egypt, Malaysia, and in many regions of the United States. That’s because they die slow, silent deaths. And that is the way nearly all government-sponsored innovation efforts go.
Given my scathing criticism, I had expected the Russian Federation to declare me persona non grata. Instead, I got an urgent call from Ellis Rubinstein, president of the New York Academy of Sciences. He said that the Honorable Ilya Ponomarev, head of the high-tech subcommittee of the Russian State Duma (Russia’s parliament) had asked the academy to prepare a detailed report on this subject. And they wanted my input. Ellis also asked whether I would accompany his team to Russia to discuss the issue. I wasn’t sure if this was an elaborate scheme to have me locked up in a Russian gulag, but I hold Ellis in such high regard that I agreed.