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It isn’t just the difference in money

April 30, 2009

… but the difference in culture that should worry the PM, U. Saskatchewan’s President MacKinnon, and EnCana Corp.’s founder Gwyn Morgan, says the StarPhoenix.

“…The challenge for the U. Saskatchewan and for Canada is the dramatic shift in attitude toward science that Mr. Obama heralds. It was no accident that his speech Monday to the National Academy of Sciences came so close to the artificially critical 100-day anniversary of Mr. Obama taking power. It is meant to define at least the first term of his presidency, and Mr. Obama has reached for the kind of national dream that John Kennedy evoked by promising to put an American on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

That was the last time the U.S. invested such a significant proportion of its GDP in science. President Obama went so far as to denounce those whom he thought would criticize this investment, given the national debt and the state of the U.S. economy.

Science has been given a prominent place in the American stimulus agenda, and freeing heretofore politically imposed restrictions in such fields as stem cell research has made it clear Mr. Obama’s America is ready to claw its way back to the top. The president even challenged both the private sector and science and engineering academics to take on the goal of enhancing basic education in mathematics and science at the K to 12 levels, an area in which the U.S. always performs poorly.

If his challenge is picked up — there is every reason to believe it will — this presents Canada with a significant problem. When academics began to flood back over the border since Mr. Martin launched the innovation agenda, it wasn’t just the additional labs and equipment provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation that brought them here. It was the belief that, unlike George Bush’s America, Canada valued the intellectual capacity of researchers, whether their work was directed or basic.

Now the message is different, from Canadian government ministers and people such as Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana Corp., who wrote in the Globe and Mail Tuesday that investments in “esoteric academic-interest research that doesn’t have the slightest chance of yielding any real value to society” doesn’t deserve support.

This suggests that Mr. Morgan or politicians can predict which research will prove valuable and worthy of support, and which is too “esoteric” for their comprehension and therefore should take place elsewhere.

There is no better prescription to drive away from Canada the very people upon whom Mr. MacKinnon is counting on to improve the position of the U of S.”

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