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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Front Page News: CIHR Funding Crisis

Last week the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Funding crisis made the front page of the Globe and Mail (lower left corner)[Cash crunch spurs research warning]. I blogged about this earlier (Massacre in Canada) in order to publicize the effect it was having on my colleagues. We need to do something before we destroy researchers in the most productive part of their careers.

The President of the CIHR is Alan Bernstein. He responded to the crisis by publishing a President's Message to the Research Community - January, 2007. The message does not inspire confidence. The current mess was caused by a downturn in government funding but that downturn might have been foreseen. It could have been managed better.

The crisis is also due, in part, to the diversion of basic research money to new goals; namely, "relevant" research that might lead directly to improvements in health.

Alan has just published a article in an online magazine where he explains his philosophy [Publicly-Funded Research and Innovation: Canada’s Key to the 21st Century]. He says,
The world is in the midst of profound social, scientific, and technological change. How Canada responds to these changes will determine our future quality of life, career opportunities for young Canadians, and whether we will be globally competitive and productive.

Our future success as a nation will depend on our ability to attract and retain top scientific talent (what The Economist magazine recently called “The world’s most sought-after commodity on the planet”), to generate new ideas and transfer them into new products, new policies, and new services.

Real, cutting-edge research is tough to do. But, transforming research into action is even tougher. This process, called knowledge translation or innovation, involves meaningful interaction between researchers and the users of research.
It's the conflict between "knowledge translation" (God, how I hate buzzwords) and pure basic research that's causing angst. I don't see any evidence that the President of CIHR is willing to stand up for curiosity motivated research—the kind done on university campuses across the nation. He talks a lot about competitiveness and new products but not about knowledge and understanding.

This is very disappointing. It suggests that Alan has lost touch with the goals of his former colleagues (he used to be a research scientist at the University of Toronto). If the President of CIHR won't stand up for basic research then we're in big trouble. Maybe it's time to look for a new President who understands that support for basic science is crucial.

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