Science in need of new money, thinking: report

The Canadian Press
Stephanie Levitz

OTTAWA–Young scientists often don’t get research grants early enough, delaying careers and stunting the growth of Canada’s information-based economy, Science minister Kirsty Duncan suggested yesterday in response to a report on the state of science in Canada.
In the report, an independent nine-member panel is calling for $1.3 billion in new money for science programs and an overhaul to the way research is overseen.
Struck last June by Duncan to find better ways to make the most of funding given to three research granting councils and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the panel’s report also said the biggest gaps in the system are in resources and aspirations.
Duncan said one of the areas most concerning for her is early research career development.
“We’re hearing that people aren’t getting that first grant until age 41 or 43,” Duncan noted yesterday outside the House of Commons.
“You cannot build a research career if you’re receiving that grant at that age,” she stressed.
“So I want to ensure that our early career researchers have the support they need,” she added.
“That means the resources, the labs, the tools to do their important work.”
The blue-ribbon panel also recommended the creation of a new national advisory council on research and innovation, as well as a co-ordinating board for Canada’s research agencies.
It also called Canada’s research ecosystem unbalanced, and said the major federal agencies don’t work together as well as they should.
“We are firmly convinced that by strengthening the foundations of Canadian research, this government can make an immediate and major difference to the prospects of future generations,” the report concluded.
Duncan said she understands that while some of the report’s recommendations come with a price tag, others call for needed changes that won’t cost taxpayers any money.
“That’s important to know,” she said. “It’s about better co-ordination.”
The panel was led by David Naylor, the former president of the University of Toronto, and received more than 1,200 submissions during its work, which also included a dozen round-tables in five cities with 230 researchers.
The study focused on 10 different questions related to the funding of scientific research, supporting the next generation of emerging researchers, and whether or not there’s a healthy balance between who is getting funded and ensuring a full range of research is being carried out.
Under the previous government, in particular, there was a shift away from independent science and scholarly inquiry and towards what the panel called innovation-facing and priority-driven programs.
Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the budget for investigator-led research fell by three percent while that for priority-driven research rose by 35 percent, the report found.
The landscape needs both of what the panel called redwoods and mayflowers.
“Panel members fully appreciate the importance of innovation to Canada’s prosperity, and are sympathetic to elite programming that seeks to reward and amplify excellence,” the report said.
“However, the stronger research ecosystems place a high priority on the basic and natural life sciences, and on free-ranging inquiry in the humanities and social sciences.”
The new money the panel recommends–increasing the current spend from $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion by 2022–would be spread between direct research projects, operating funds for research facilities, scholarships and fellowships, and facilities and administrations costs.