Yesterday afternoon, the USFA hosted an event at Louis’ Loft to discuss the need to address the crisis of research and science policy and funding in Canada. It was attended by USFA members, former Environment Canada and National Research Centre scientists, and local candidates from four parties.
Clear from comments during the discussion, there is an overwhelming view that change is needed before it’s too late. The approach to funding research (NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR) and the embarrassingly short sighted policies of the current government are proving deeply damaging. As one researcher put it, “It’s an absolute disaster when all new federal science money in the last decade goes towards funding corporate research and development instead of discovery based research.”
We heard that some researchers have benefited greatly from the government’s approach but it comes at the expense of others. The lack of success in grant competitions is not about technical issues or lack of experience There is less funding available for the number of applicants than ever before and fewer small grants to individual researchers are being awarded. Excellent academics struggle and lose their grants in order that others see their grants grow in size.
Speakers also outlined how subtle roadblocks established over the last decade have prevented the dissemination of research, openly prevented public engagement, and diminished Canada’s position as a world leader of research in the public interest. Canada’s reputation for research has already been damaged and remains threatened by such impediments to inquiry and dissemination. But there is another way forward. The public interest is best served by unfettering our researchers and funding them properly.
More than once the point was made that it is misguided to believe that discovery driven research is not key to innovation and job growth and that business is keeping up investment in research and development. Misguided as well is the belief that social science and humanities research is not worth funding.
Researchers need to be vocal. The choices federal governments make about research and science policy and funding are important issues. We need to engage our colleagues, our community and those seeking elected office.
Join us on October 2 at Station 20 West, 3:00 pm in the multipurpose room to continue the conversation.