Congratulations, National Research Council: Just about the only international coverage for your recent change in approach is this article in Slate tearing you a new one.
“…I was thinking that no one could possibly utter such colossally ignorant statements. But no, I was reading it correctly. These two men—leaders in the Canadian scientific research community—were saying, out loud and clearly, that the only science worth doing is what lines the pocket of business.
This is monumentally backwards thinking….”
I’ve been in Ottawa so long I’m well trained: My first instinct was to check whether the article’s author is a Canadian with a long history of donations to the Liberal party. But no: Phil Plait is one of the more prominent science bloggers in the U.S. He didn’t write this because he’s a Canadian looking for bigger bang outside our borders. He wrote it because he believed it.
Here’s Jonathan Gatehouse’s recent article on the same set of issues, which close to 30,000 of you have already read online.
Now, here’s the thing. When critics attack the Harper government on its approach to science, the government has an easy comeback which has the distinct advantage of being true: It is spending more on science than any Canadian government ever has. The chart in this good roundup of the science-in-Canada debate by Julia Belluz makes the point nicely. The Conservatives came to office with no strong idea about what to do in the field, and eventually decided to hold and slowly increase the overall budgets they inherited from the Liberals.
But new dollars have been tightly targeted rather than put into general research. Success rates for grant applicants are way down. The cuts to specific programs Jonathan describes have received a lot of publicity. So whereas the perception at the end of the Chrétien years was that there was a lot of momentum in Canadian science research, the perception now is that there isn’t. As Stephen Harper knows and has demonstrated in fields like criminal justice policy, perception often trumps the facts. So the government is paying more tax dollars for a lousy reputation than its predecessor paid for a good reputation. That matters when a researcher is deciding whether to move his family from Stanford to Edmonton. And the likeliest upshot of the dawning realization that momentum is not following government dollars is that there will be fewer government dollars. Oh well.