Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Strategic Plan
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) provides most of the funding for health-related research, including most of the basic research that goes on in Canadian Medical Schools. CIHR has recently issued a draft strategic plan that will guide its priorities in the future. The strategic plan is based on the Government of Canada's Science & Technology Strategy: Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage. This is a plan developed by the current Conservative government. It is based on the premise that research should be directed toward specific goals; namely, the health of Canadian citizens and the profitability of Canadian companies.
Clearly, the governing body of CIHR feels obligated to carry out the wishes of the current government in developing a long-range plan. On the surface it seems logical that a government agency should be doing what the government orders. However, there are two problems with this logic: (1) the strategy goes against the wishes of most Canadian scientists, and (2) governments change but strategic decisions are difficult to reverse.
This is the biggest problem. Government funding agencies should be advising the government, not vice versa. Government funding agencies should have an "arms length" relationship to the government of the day. Scientists should have more input.
My colleague, Tania Watts, is the current President of the Canadian Society for Immunology. She has written a letter to Alain Beaudet. the President of CIHR in which she defends basic research [see CSI Response to CIHR Stategic Plan]. Tania's letter makes a lot of sense.