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Weingarten: “Researchers rarely think about institutional costs…

May 1, 2009

until the roof of their lab starts to leak“, says in today’s Globe&Mail, Harvey Weingarten, President of the University of Calgary and a member of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Canada (STICC). Other statements made by Weingarten:

  1. The recent $2-billion federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program provides funds to universities and colleges for deferred maintenance and renovations of facilities that support R&D. It is exactly what university administrators asked for, obviously to the chagrin of some researchers who would have rather seen funds go to the direct support of their research.
  2. To compete, Canada has no choice but to target more research funding to national priorities that are vital to Canada’s success. We are beginning to do more of that now, and we will have to do even more. To do otherwise is a recipe for mediocrity.
  3. Don’t believe me — look at Barack Obama’s speech this week to the National Academy of Sciences or Gordon Brown’s recent Romanes Lecture at Oxford; they both committed themselves to massive investments to advance science and research in their countries.

Though not surprising –since Weingarten (and Heather Monroe-Blum) being also on the STICC that advised government, is on both sides of the ask– I have to say that statement 1) is extremely disappointing as it totally misrepresents Canada’s researchers who are universally supportive of government’s support of research infrastructure, and are only chagrined by

  • the matching requirements of the federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP), which could distort priorities of universities and provincial governments (too eager to get the federal funds) by diverting further funds from teaching, training and research.
  • the fact that much of that Fund will be going to institutions that are not involved in R&D as can be seen by the first announcement from KIP.
  • that much of the indirect costs of research has not been perceived as trickling down to leaky roofs and sinks of research labs, but that’s an older story.
  • Let’s also remember that the funds going to the direct support of the research has been cut.

Worth noting –even though the letter signed by more than 2200 researchers didn’t touch the raging debate between basic and targeted research– is the fact that both Obama and Brown (refered to in 3. above ) clearly disagree with Weingarten’s statements in 2. Most scientists generally agree that some targeted research is needed, but the devil (and the debate) is in the details: How much of the funding should be targeted, how directed should it be, who chooses its direction, and who is accountable if billions are spent on the wrong ones as Polanyi so eloquently stated recently.

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