Thursday, July 12, 2012

The "Harper Government" Responds

Basic, fundamental research in Canada is in big trouble. The current government, led by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, have cut back on the funding of basic research while promoting applied research of various sorts. The consequences in academic departments have been nothing short of disastrous. In university biochemistry and molecular biology departments, for example, there are hundreds of mid-career scientists who have lost their grants and many of them will never get back funding for their basic science projects. This means that research technicians are being fired, graduate students and postdocs can't complete their projects, and PI's find themselves unable to do what they've been hired to do, with 15-20 years before retirement age.

The recent protest on Parliament Hill [Protest on Parliament Hill] highlighted some of these problems with science funding in Canada. That prompted a response from Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology (see below). Recall that Gary Goodyear is a chiropractor and a creationist [Gary Goodyear "Clarifies" His Stance on Evolution].

Here's the Harper Government's1 response to criticism that it has neglected basic research in favor of applied research.
The Harper government has made historic investments in science, technology and research to create jobs, grow our economy and improve the quality of life for Canadians.

Support for science and technology has been a fundamental priority of our government since 2006. This year, through Economic Action Plan 2012, we enhanced federal government support for leading-edge research.

As a world leader in post-secondary research with a highly skilled workforce, Canada has strong fundamentals for innovation. While several countries around the world are reducing funding in science and research, our government continues to invest in research, development and technology. In fact, Canadian higher-education research and development expenditures are higher than any other G7 country, as a percentage of GDP.

While the government is returning to a balanced budget, science, technology and innovation remain a strong priority with an added $1.1-billion investment over five years. University presidents, academic leaders and industry leaders have praised our government's leadership in recognizing the important role that research and innovation play in our economic prosperity.

Economic Action Plan 2012 funding allocated to science, technology and innovation includes:
  • $12 million per year to make the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence program permanent.
  • $6.5 million over three years for a research project at McMaster University to evaluate team-based approaches to health care delivery.
  • $17 million over two years to further advance the development of alternatives to existing isotope production technologies.
  • $105 million over two years to support forestry innovation.
  • $37 million annually starting in 2012-13 to the granting councils to enhance their support for industry-academic research partnerships.
  • $60 million for Genome Canada to launch a new applied research competition in the area of human health and to sustain the Science and Technology Innovation Centres until 2014-15.
  • $10 million over two years to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to link Canadians to global research networks.
  • $500 million over five years, starting in 2014-15, to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support advanced research infrastructure.
  • $40 million over two years to support CANARIE's operation of Canada's ultra-high-speed research network.
Our government is investing in science and research that is leading to breakthroughs that are strengthening our economy and the quality of life of all Canadians. Our investments are enabling Canadian scientists in universities, colleges, businesses and other organizations to help secure Canada's prosperity today and into the future.
Does that sound like a government that understands the importance of basic research and knows the difference between research and "innovation"? He forgot to mention that these "increases" in spending are not on top of existing funding but often instead of support for fundamental research. That's why scientists all over the country are losing their grants unless they can find a way to make them sound applied or translational.

UPDATE: See how Denyse O'Leary manages to turn this into whining about Darwinists at Scientists, including evolutionary biologists, carry coffin through streets in Canada, to protest cuts to funding?.


1. Before Stephen Harper took over, it was common to refer to the "Government of Canada" in press releases. Now, it's always the "Harper Government."

29 comments :

  1. the fact that a schmuck like Mr. Goodyear has the position he has speaks volumes about the Harper government.

    ReplyDelete
  2. By the way, for those Canadians who like to make fun of the USA for our religious nutcases, I would point out that, in comparison to Harper's appointment of Mr. Goodyear, President Obama appointed Dr. Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winning physicist as his Secretary of Energy (the closest US position to the Canadian Minister of Science and Technology). He also appointed Nobel Prize winning research physician Dr. Harold Varmus as one of his science advisers, along with physicist Prof. John Holdren. I don't think that Goodyear comes off very well against those three.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the differences between the American system and the parliamentary system is that in Canada the Ministers have to be elected members of parliament where they are responsible to the House of Commons.

      Sometimes this is a problem. In the case of the Harper ministry, Gary Goodyear is just about the best availabe person who sits on the government side of the aisle!!!

      I much prefer the parliamentary system in spite of Gary Ggodyear.

      Delete
    2. You are arguing that ministers should be politicians rather than experts appointed by politicians. This is indeed a common system, but why is it a good one? Either way their appointments will last exactly as long as the electorate supports the government they are a part of.

      Delete
    3. Re Larry Moran

      If Goodyear is the best that Hadley has in the area of science and technology, then the latter's party isn't any better then the Rethuglican Party in the US. That's a pretty sorry state of affairs.

      Delete
    4. Re Abbass

      I meant Harper. I seem to confuse Harper and Hadley. Stephen Hadley was a former Chief of Staff to former President George W. Bush.

      Delete
  3. Not coming off against those three is an understatement. His qualification as the Canadian Minister of Science and Technology is somewhat mindbloggling. I can easily name over 6 dozen scientists in Canada that are "MORE" qualified than him. The Harper government is imo very poor in making decisions that contribute to the future of the canadian society. I am still a little shocked at the number of Canadian that elected the Harper government. Proud to say I m not one of them which makes me the educated one non hick one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Link is incorrectly formatted...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The link is http://tinyurl.com/7o5kbhd The article is not worth reading.

      Delete
  5. I just read about this on uncommon descent and am a YEC creationist Canadian boy.
    are you guys aware of where the money comes from?
    Everybody wants big salaries for doing what achievements?
    Many Canadians are creationists and in the past all of us.
    I don't know if Goodyear is a creationist and i remember a creationist got fired in the Harpur gov't or something just for being a creationist.
    If he is then its his right.
    perhaps if you didn't attack him and all who he represents then it would help.
    A little honey you know.

    if these jobs had more creationists then more positive things would be done.
    I'm sure theres more problems anyways on other issues.
    Everybody complains about funding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah gee, booby Byers has migrated over here from his usual haunts over at Panda's Thumb. Goodyear is a creationist, as well as a chiropractor, both fields having not the slightest scientific credibility.

      Delete
  6. The problem is not restricted to Canada. The Dutch government cut funding for fundamental research and insists much of the remaining money goes to 'innovation' in government designated 'research priority fields'.

    ReplyDelete
  7. For too long scientists have thought of the Government and taxpayer as a kind of cash cow for them to milk as they pleased. It is high time that the scientific community stopped receiving handouts from the NSF and NIH and looked to private sponsors and public donations to pursue their work. Rather than engaging in pointless curiosity projects, that are more about their own vanity than the advance of knowledge, they can actually do research that matters to the majority of people. If I were in power in Canada, I would cut off all funding to Larry Moran. I would also bill him for wasting taxpayer money.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DNA - was discovered through 'pointless curiosity'
      relativity theory - was discovered through 'pointless curiosity'
      Higgs boson - was discovered (or been pursued) through 'pointless curiosity'

      ALL advance of knowledge comes from 'pointless curiosity'.
      It takes 40-50 years before applications arrive - as GPS from relativity.

      Governments don't know this. But then, governments know very little. But Atheistoclast seems to pretend to be a scientist, so he should know.

      Delete
    2. At some point, people have to look at the costs of such research. I see something like 57 faculty members in Mr. Moran's department, which in itself costs taxpayers probably more than $10 or $11 million a year to run just for salaries, plus support staff and associated administration. Sure, those 57 faculty teach a small number of students the valuable life skills of biology and chemistry, which has some value to society. Without going through their webpages, I can only guess on the amount paid out to fund "basic research." Can we unequivocally say that this is a better use of taxpayer dollars than any other potential use? Probably not.

      I disagree that all knowledge advancements come from 'pointless curiosity.' I would go so far to say that innovation-based research creates far more advancements than interest-based research. Sure GPS needs Relativity to be accurate, but someone still needed to invent the GPS devices and get them into the hands of businesses and individuals before it had any value. In fact, one could have invented a GPS without Relativity, launched the satellites and then figured out how far off they were, and made corrections based on those calculations. In other words, if GPS was invented first, it is likely that Relativity would have been inferred after the fact!

      P.S. Higgs boson? That's your crucial advancement? Really?

      Delete
  8. In Larry’s post, “The ‘Harper Government’ Responds,” he implies that Canada’s “Conservative” Prime Minister and its (Creationist) Minister of State for Science and Technology are gutting funding for fundamental (scientific) research. Larry says that those disastrous actions are jeopardizing the future pensions of people in the fields affected.

    Sandwalk fans who read my occasional comments know that I am a progressive creationist, they also know that I admire and respect the natural sciences and those who make its discoveries possible, plus I am grateful for all the virtually miraculous benefits that result from scientific work. However, if evolution, at its core, is nothing more than an explanation of accidental occurrences that result in a battle between species to see who is fittest, why does gutting funding for fundamental research matter? If Harper and Goodyear are currently on top, isn’t that just part of the natural evolutionary process? Sometime, liberals will be in charge and they’ll get to decide whom to cut. In the final ‘natural’ analysis, stars will eventually run out of hydrogen and the lights will go out. Therefore, beyond temporal self-interest, why does who’s on top and who gets cut matter?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... if evolution, at its core, is nothing more than an explanation of accidental occurrences that result in a battle between species to see who is fittest, ...

      Denny, Denny, Denny ...

      You've been reading my blog for at least five years. If you still think that's what evolution is all about then there's no hope for you.

      Here's a hint. If you want to understand evolution don't listen to people like Hugh Ross, listen to evolutionary biologists.

      Delete
    2. Therefore, beyond temporal self-interest, why does who’s on top and who gets cut matter?

      I'm confused. I thought we science-oriented folks were supposed to be concerned with temporal interest, and you religious folks were the ones who were supposed to patiently await all your rewards in the next life.

      Delete
    3. Re Larry Moran

      Denny is, indeed, hopeless. Booby Byers is even more hopeless. The rubbish he contributes to Panda's Thumb is mind boggling in its inanity.

      Delete
    4. "progressive creationist" is an oxymoron

      Delete
  9. I guess they should think twice or more on how Canadian people will accept this. They should ask opinions to the people to know what they think about the research.

    ReplyDelete
  10. As one of the innovation people myself, I obviously am a big supporter and user of basic research, and certainly want more funding for it. A lot more. But that also reminds me that I have to be aware of a number of factors in order to fund and develop my work. I wonder how many basic research scientists felt that they did not have to engage in the social political field, or worse, voted for the right or extreme left, thinking that they would survive. The ivory tower topples when it forgets to engage in the mundane world of politics. It is not the voting public's job to understand and support basic research. Researchers must understand and meaningfully engage the people who will control the funds to allow them to do their work.

    I would expect that UofT and the other major research universities should be hotbeds of political activity starting as soon as harper got elected to spend a great deal of their time advocating, not just for their own work, but for large scale political change.

    If not, you participated in your own distraction. Don't let it happen again.

    We allowed harper to win by not engaging in stopping him. We have a voice and a right. Use it, or get more of these consequences.

    ReplyDelete
  11. As one of the innovation people myself, I obviously am a big supporter and user of basic research, and certainly want more funding for it. A lot more. But that also reminds me that I have to be aware of a number of factors in order to fund and develop my work. I wonder how many basic research scientists felt that they did not have to engage in the social political field, or worse, voted for the right or extreme left, thinking that they would survive. The ivory tower topples when it forgets to engage in the mundane world of politics. It is not the voting public's job to understand and support basic research. Researchers must understand and meaningfully engage the people who will control the funds to allow them to do their work.

    I would expect that UofT and the other major research universities should be hotbeds of political activity starting as soon as harper got elected to spend a great deal of their time advocating, not just for their own work, but for large scale political change.

    If not, you participated in your own distraction. Don't let it happen again.

    We allowed harper to win by not engaging in stopping him. We have a voice and a right. Use it, or get more of these consequences.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Why is it that the ones complaining most about the loss of basic research are basic researchers? Smells a lot like self-interest to me. Maybe the article could have outlined the contributions to Canadian society of the author's research that justifies millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars. We already pay millions on salaries for university biochemists, so why exactly do we need to spend millions more to support their research? NSERC funds thousands of projects each year with millions of dollars that don't benefit Canadians one bit. Let's cut social programs so whiner university profs can keep their funding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why is it that the ones complaining most about the loss of basic research are basic researchers?

      Because they're the ones who know how important it is?

      We already pay millions on salaries for university biochemists, so why exactly do we need to spend millions more to support their research?

      Because universities are primarily places of scholarship and, in biochemistry, scholarship costs money. You can't have university biochemists unless you support their scholarly activities.

      The pursuit of knowledge is always of greater benefit to society than ignorance. Canadians benefit enormously by having a source of scholarship (universities) that they can turn to when they need to learn. If you destroy the universities then it won't be long before the rest of the world ignores Canada. In a global knowledge culture, you can't play your hand if you don't have the ante.

      Delete
  13. Mr. Moran had to include "creationist" in his description of the Minister to denigrate him, knowing full well that there are many equally bigoted individuals out there who would link the problems they have with his views on a single subject (creation) would spill over to his problem on another single subject (funding). Proof: see half of the inane comments posted here. I do not believe in creationism but I can't say someone can't do their job because of their beliefs. Agree or disagree with his viewpoint on research funding, but don't demean people on their beliefs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excuse me?

      We're talking about Canada's Minister of State for Science and Technology. You don't think it's relevant that he doesn't accept evolution?

      He cannot possibly do a good job if he rejects science.

      Delete
    2. And I suppose this is different than a biochemist that rejects the beliefs of a "not insignificant" portion of the population having opinions on what is best for society?

      I personally reject your "theory" that an individual's personal faith makes them less able to do their job. Should I, by extension, assume all of your opinions and theories are equally discriminatory and biased?

      One doesn't have to agree with every single opinion of another to see value in them as a whole. I would say that you should show some "faith" in your fellow man, but clearly that is something you are lacking.

      Delete