It seems that the Sputnik V is slightly less effective than the most effective vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech), but has some advantages as well (in particular it can be stored at higher temperatures, and it is cheaper), such that it is not clearly inferior.

How did Russia produce a vaccine of comparable quality to its competitors? I would've thought that money and talent are the two biggest drivers of quality research, yet Russia seems to be well behind its competitors on both these metrics:

Only other thing I can think of is luck, but I intuitively dislike luck as an explanation since it is applicable to many things.

I'm asking this on Academia.SE because it's more a question about research process than about politics.

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    International rankings tell nothing about quality of research at a particular place. They are usually a pr tool aimed at attracting more students (and more $). I am sure if you look at rankings designed in China there will be Chinese universities at the top, just like the Americans are there in the ones designed in the US (commonly seen in internet).
    – sleepy
    Apr 7, 2021 at 7:30
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    Overall R&D spending may not be the important metric here if enough of it goes into a single project. Regarding university metrics: they probably are a better measure of success (however defined) than of talent (of which there seems to be an abundance everywhere).
    – cheersmate
    Apr 7, 2021 at 7:46
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    "implying that the best brains do not work in Russia": this is a non sequitur. You can have the greatest brain, but if you live in country with economic and social problems, sometimes at war with neighboring countries, you may not be able to express your brain much. Apr 7, 2021 at 7:47
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    This question conflates university spending with industrial innovation in a specific field. The two need not be well correlated. It's the same case for Indian pharmaceuticals also, which are thriving (and also have come up with a comparable vaccine), without many universities making it to the top lists. Apr 7, 2021 at 9:18
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    Also, this question seems to be "Why are completely unrelated things uncorrelated for small sample size?" And why single out Russia and not mention China or India? I'd say Cuba is the real outlier, with 2 phase 3 trials running. This question will not be answerable until all the vaccine projects have succeeded or failed, which will take quite a while. Apr 7, 2021 at 9:34

1 Answer 1


Ranking or spending money is only secondary metrics how to evaluate and compare performance e.g. among universities or countries or continents.

But I think fundamental is society, it's history and its attitude. I had opportunity to live and experience research in "western" country institute for couple years. This experience may apply to general research as well as to hunting vaccine competition:

  • Oh your idea is great, let try and start
  • we give you some time and administrative support to enhance the idea
  • big pharma as well as small startups are close to university labs, so it's not hard to do quick experiments, trials, prototypes. Some networking events, conferences are common.
  • you're good in what you're doing, we're among the best in the world

Now back in "central & eastern" european country usually underestimated. I now experience this attitude:

  • Oh your idea is interesting, but somebody (from western countries) already works on this issue
  • administrative support? Write proposal by yourself and we will only evaluate if the 'quota' was not reached so you won't compete with "more preferred" teams.
  • usually big pharma or small startups are not close to university labs - if yes, that is "conflict of interest" and you "try to sell knowledge to nasty rich companies"
  • there are better teams in the world in the topic doing what you do.
  • you did unappropriate public critical comments about our dean, prime minister, president, ..., so forget for support

So as a result I can guess that in countries and societies from first group ("western") there are e.g. 20-50 teams trying different approach despite their political or other context. 2-5 succeed, the others that fail - they are not usually prosecuted but gain valuable experience. Some earn money and pay taxes, some become rich and invest again to western business and all society in general profits.

I guess that in countries and societies from second group ("eastern") only 2-5 teams try to make vaccine, other were disqualified by any point mentioned above. If 1 succeed despite condition - it is big success! Congratulation to Sputnik V! They earn money, probably pay taxes, some become rich and invest where? Do they rather to emigrate to west, not to be imprisoned like Navalnyj or Khodorkovskij? What about the other teams that do not succeed - are they prosecuted?

So in case of western approach - the luck is just statistical success rate.

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