January 23, 2016


Russia's Math Geniuses Work Mainly in the West (Leonid Bershidsky, 1/21/16, Bloomberg View)

Between 1992 and 2008, the average Soviet émigré published 20 more papers than the average American, and those papers received 143 more citations. In short, the Soviet émigrés originated in the upper tail of the skill distribution of mathematicians in the Soviet Union and quickly moved into the upper tail of the skill distribution in the American mathematics community.

In certain areas, such as integral and differential equations, Russians were more advanced than Americans. On arrival to the West, they pushed local researchers aside in these fields. Eventually, they found a way to banks and trading firms just as the demand for "quants" increased and the financial industry's tech revolution began.

This made several markets more competitive, but in the end it resulted in a significant transfer of knowledge to the West. The ex-Soviets would, for example, cite previously little-known work that had been published in the Soviet Union, and thus enrich the available research base. In business, too, they used techniques and approaches that hadn't been common in the West before their arrival.

It's clear that the West benefited from the influx: This is a textbook case proving the usefulness of skilled immigration. The effect on Russia itself, the donor country, is less well-researched.

Timorin and Sterligov used the Web of Science academic database to locate publications by mathematicians with common Russian last names. In 1994, about 70 percent of such scientists were affiliated with Russian institutions. That proportion dropped sharply in the 1990s, to about 50 percent. The Timorin-Sterligov paper sheds some light on where most of the mathematicians went; unsurprisingly, more than a third of those who moved West in 1993-2015 went to the U.S., with France a distant second. 

Posted by at January 23, 2016 10:31 AM