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Monday, February 02, 2009

A Message from Genome Canada

Genome Canada did not get the funding it requested in the latest budget. In fact, it got nothing at all. Here's a message from the Board of Directors of Genome Canada [Federal Budget 2009].
  • Genome Canada is pleased with the federal government’s 2009 budget in which millions will be invested in research infrastructure over the next two years. This is good news for the scientific community across the country that needs to be at the cutting-edge of research infrastructure and new technologies in order to maintain Canada’s competitiveness at the national and international level.
  • Although Genome Canada did not receive funding in the 2009 federal budget to fund new genomics research projects, this will not impact Genome Canada’s current projects that received a full commitment of funding from previous federal government investments in 2007 and 2008.
  • Genome Canada has in place two five-year funding agreements with the Government of Canada for a total of $240M: $100 M (2008-2012) $140 M (2009- 2013)
  • These investments flow to Genome Canada on a cash requirement basis. Thus, a total of $107M has been invested in 2008-09; and a total of $106.5M will be invested in 2009-10, creating and maintaining over 2,350 HQP positions per year.
  • Over the same period of time, Genome Canada has raised over $225M from other strategic partners in the private, public and philanthropic sectors to support genomics research in Canada.
  • Since its inception in 2000, Genome Canada has provided operating funds to Canadian genomics researchers, while complementing other sources of funds for infrastructure coming from such agencies as Canada Foundation for Innovation, to allow them to be among world leaders in their respective fields such as human health, agriculture, environment, forestry, fisheries, new technology, and GE3LS (ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social issues).
  • Genome Canada is confident that the Government of Canada and its other financial strategic partners will do everything possible over the coming years to secure additional funding to support new initiatives in genomics research in Canada while increasing Canada’s productivity, wealth and well-being of all Canadians.
What a bunch of wimps. Here's the list of the Board of Directors.

It's one thing to praise the government for not giving you the money you requested but it's quite another to heap praise on a government that is cutting funding to the major granting councils. Yes, it's true that the budget contains money for infrastructure support but that money will be useless without operating grants. Operating grants are the bread and butter of scientific research. They are what pays for the day-to-day expenses of operating a research lab. It doesn't matter how nice your building is if you can't buy enzymes and chemicals. Modern science is expensive.

Operating grants also pay the salaries of research assistants, graduate students, summer students, and post-docs.

Myopic governments don't like to fund operating grants because that's a long-term commitment. One-time-only (OTO) money is much better 'cause you can get a big bang for your buck (publicity and votes) and you don't have to make any promises.

Genome Canada's directors should know this. They should not be sending out a press release that looks like they are backing the government decision to destroy basic research. Unless, of course, they agree with that strategy.

This brings up another point about Genome Canada. Many scientists, including me, don't think that the Genome Canada model is the way to fund research. In that sense, I'm not all that upset that it wasn't funded. If you want to learn more about the problems of co-funding and market-drive science then read the latest posting from Chris Hogue [Market Driven Science in Crisis?]. He knows what he's talking about.

Hat Tip: iBiome: Genome Canada cut good for science?, And now, the walkback


  1. He knows what he's talking about.

    Sort of. He doesn't seem to know what was actually requested, which required that co-funding already be in place. Some of the projects would have been part (or the lead) of large international initiatives. This wasn't funding for competition, it was for specific projects that had been in the works for over a year and heavily vetted already. And the bigger issue is not that Genome Canada received no new support, but that the overall approach to science seems to be to focus on infrastructure rather than people and operations, which may extend to the other granting agencies soon.

  2. When I said that he know what he's talking about I meant that he knows how hard it is to continue major projects after the initial "start-up" funding runs out.

    He knows why the system of matching grants and application based research is fundamentally flawed.

  3. I think the point Chris is making is that the impression in the media is that Genome Canada is the exclusive funding agency for all of these scientists. In fact, as Chris mentions, at best you get half from Genome Canada and the rest from elsewhere. While I understand that this can foster collaboration for big science, it also puts scientists in a tough race for funding during a recession.

    thanks for the hat tip Larry

  4. He knows why the system of matching grants and application based research is fundamentally flawed.

    I am aware of the problems, but again, I think this misses an important point about the kind of project that was not funded. First, some were follow ups on previous projects. Second, the matching funds for international projects can include support from agencies in other countries, not simply industry. So it requires that the support for projects involving many countries to actually be supported in those other nations not just here.

  5. "So it requires that the support for projects involving many countries to actually be supported in those other nations not just here."

    Um, that should read "... actually be in place..."

  6. "This wasn't funding for competition"

    As you indicate, Genome Canada runs competitions without first securing funds to pay the winners. What seemed to be a brilliant strategy in the surplus of 2004 may have hit the wall with the deficit of 2009. I don't know of any other funding agency in the world that engages in this practice.

  7. As you indicate, Genome Canada runs competitions without first securing funds to pay the winners.

    That's not what I am saying. Genome Canada does two things. It has competitions for existing funds. It also will put forward proposals for very large projects directly to the ministry. Those projects are not winners of the competition, they are separate and are much larger. They are ones that are thought to be particularly high priority areas. Genome Canada's normal budget remains intact and the winning applications from old competitions will continue to be supported. However no new big initiatives will be funded this time.

  8. Genome Canada did this in 2004 - ran competitions without having the funding in the bank. They recieved much less than they anticipated from the 2005 budget, so the funding was far oversubscribed by proposals. Genome Canada used accountants to quash most of these proposals. This left a lot of unhappy top-tier scientists and a hard look at the winners revealed that the choices were entirely steered by co-funders (Tyers et al., 2005 Science 308:1867) not by merit.

    Over 1250 signed a petition to the statement that co-funded programs of research support will compromise the integrity of the Canadian scientific enterprise. Perhaps by passing over Genome Canada funding, maybe the Government is (gasp) listening to its scientists?