Canada’s Scientific Priorities are Heading in the Wrong Direction

The funding of basic research in Canada is still healthy, but I think we may be heading in the wrong direction. In short, we’re still funding basic research, but it is less basic, and a greater proportion of the funding seems to go to those projects with explicit commercial ends.

A recent article in theNew York Times  highlighted the increasing unhappiness within the scientific community about the Canadian government’s recent shift from funding basic research to funding industry partnerships. This can have serious consequences, because  the government can be in the position to fund certain industries over others. One of the scientists who was interviewed for the NYT piece is Dr. Hüner, a Canada Research Chair in environmental-stress biology from my own university (The University of Western Ontario). His research studies how plants deal with stress and suboptimal conditions. His NSERC grant was cut by more than 50%, leading to job losses from his lab and, most importantly, a reduction in his research on environmental responses to climate change.

This kind of cut is one of the things that really troubles me. It appears that the Harper government is selectively cutting programs that deal with climate change and toxic waste effects. There have been other recent stories about closed science libraries and closure of the Experimental Lakes Area. It is difficult to avoid drawing the conclusions that Prime Minister Harper is trying to defund these programs more than others.

I should say that I am not against funding these industry partnerships (so NSERC, please do not cut my grant, I am still so very grateful!) Indeed, one of my own postdocs benefits from the Mitacs program which was specifically created to promote partnerships with industry. I just worry that the funding reallocations are politically motivated, or at least, they can appear to be political.

Canada (and even my university) overtly claim to want to be on the “world stage”.  And the world (or at least the NYT) is noticing the increasing unhappiness with our research funding allocations.

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