The useful mission creep of a government panel on research
David Naylor asked me to take the paywall down on this, so I did. Free and paid subscriptions still welcome!
I love when you write about this government's efforts, or lack thereof, in innovation and science, but then I just get depressed. Every time. Keep up the good work.
Wow. Where to begin? The most shocking thing to me was our tumble from 8th to 18th place for the number of researchers per 1,000 population. This decline impacts so many areas of the economy, not all of them obvious. And Minister Freeland continues to lament our low productivity! Well, duh...
Important issue. Glad you are doing the hard investigative journalism on this. Governments count on nobody knowing what is going on. Thanks to you, we do.
One of the most interesting points made in this article was a need to keep the politics on the sidelines. Infecting every area of government involvement with DEI straight jackets is counterintuitive to research purposes. If we hope to attract the best minds that pursue excellence and produce outcomes worthy of our support then the recruitment process must focus on merit and scholarly credentials.
Surely it isn’t asking too much for funding targeted for research to be spent researching things rather than social engineering.
I recall the accusation of reduced spending by the Harper government on science. Another of Trudeau's promises to correct; anything to get elected!
Back 2015 the Liberals condemned Harper for muzzling the scientists. They fixed things. Now scientists don't need to be muzzled because there's nothing for them to talk about.
If I'm reading this correctly: this government gave up relatively inexpensive meaningful reporting from trustworthy sources with substantial future benefits, and traded it for increased consultation and outsourcing of basic government duties to shirk responsibilities and minimize scrutiny.
huh, imagine that.
I'd be curious to know what the appropriate economists would think of a suggestion to tax specific industries that are well-known beneficiaries of basic research: big pharma, mining & metals, all energy, plastics, cars and machinery, IT - say an add-on 2% tax of profits - would raise.
If greater than our current research support, why not tie the two things together, instead of the beneficiaries pretending that new drugs and alloys and battery chemistries just condense from thin air?
Oh, and any industry that has significant environmental impacts, most of which are listed above, but I'm thinking "construction and real estate", could kick in for some basic environmental research. Yes, this research would be routinely used to oppose their plans, so they'd REALLY hate that, but sorry: clean up your messes. And knowing that a "mess" even exists is step one. It was basic research that found the number of birds and insects is in steep decline...but we need a lot more basic research to know exactly why, and how we stop it.
Imagine. Three University academic leaders think the government should fund more research by Universities. This is news? I can't imagine a more conflicted panel. How about listening to the Chief Technology Officer of a few companies or even NGO's and lobby groups?
How very depressing. I'm a firm believer in the value of good research. I see Canadian names pop up in all sorts of projects, but as individuals working in a US or European lab. I guess that's brain-drain.
It wasn't the only reason I bailed out of university engineering teaching and research in the late 1980s, and I'd probably rank it around the 3rd highest reason, but the funding system for research was basically broken even back then as far as curiosity driven research was concerned. Basically, if you couldn't promise that within a relatively short time frame, +/- about a year, it would lead to something that could be sold, forget it. Which basically meant that anything you did was based on settled science (at least that useful in engineering) and very little thinking was actually happening. Mike Lazaridies of Blackberry fame summed it up when he founded and funded the Perimeter Institute, everything that made a Blackberry work was known by the end of the 19th century, and someone needed to do the fundamental research that might lead to the devices of the 21st century. Some wag once noted that most research amounts to refining the accuracy of the 3rd decimal place in the density of the horseshit pile, but there also needs to be research to find the horseshit piles of the future.
Christ. Yet another deep sighs follows the reading of a Paul Wells missive. What is the root cause of all this? Timidity? Fear? Laziness? Indifference? Would love to read a longer piece looking into the reasons...maybe in a shortish book format? Hmm.
I can't help but look at Britain's newly launched ARIA program with envy. Surely we have all the raw ingredients to build a similar program - and market it in such a way that Canadians are engaged and perhaps even excited by the possibilities afforded by federal funding. Look at their website, watch their interviews, and weep.
This is like everything else the government does, we are counting on other countries to do all the hard work, and we just sit around, looking at putting more candidates that fit the diversity bill without any real competence/experience in doing any kind of job. Our politicians are all about to smoke and mirrors, fooling people, and having a good line to put out. Canada is a very unserious country and our allies know it.
"Each major party in our system uses the threat of the other as an excuse to turn in lousy work."
Yeah. Well, you do what works.
Hi Paul, terrific article and it is 'right on the mark'. Canada needs to look at the U.S. IRA as well as Germany's 3.5% of GDP target.
A small correction is in order, the CFI does fund some research infrastructure, such as lab equipment, but not the labs themselves - i.e.: the buildings. Major foundational infrastructure is unfunded in Canada unless the provinces do it. The last federal investment in capacity was the 2016 Post-Secondary Institution Strategic Infrastructure Fund (which is unfortunately also called a SIF fund resulting in confusion whenever I raise this with ISED).
Canada is facing an innovation investment crisis and an industrial strategy will not address it if we do not also address infrastructure.
This subject is obviously near & dear to me and I would be pleased to provide more insights into our challenges here.