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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.


  1. And she wouldn't be the only one. Many scientists have been speaking out since the Conservative Budget was announced and decrying this incredibly short sighted move by the Government. Only those ignorant of actual science would think that relegating basic science to a backburner is a good long term strategy. Without basic science research directed research will quickly stagnate.

  2. What I fail to understand regarding the Conservative agenda (and would like to have explained) is the following: Conservatism is supposed to be about small government, protection of property rights, deregulation, etc. Why are Conservatives interested in using Canadian tax-dollars to fund industry research? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply cut scientific funding and place the onus of research onto private companies? Otherwise, if you want to keep funding research (as any industrialized nations probably should) it makes more sense to fund 'cheap', basic research and let private companies put up the dollars for expensive 'translational' projects. In fact, since the basic groundwork tends to get laid by academia, translational research tends to be cheaper anyways... wait, isn't that how it was already working?