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Every day is Science Day for Preston Manning

June 4, 2009

In an op-ed to the Globe and Mail, Preston Manning reflected on the recent ‘Science Day in Canada‘ and concluded that the benefits and reach of science and technology are such that every day is “science day”.

Manning points out that the current budget spends a total of $12- to $13-billion dollars on “Science, Technology, and Innovation” (STI), but asks how that money should be spent to maximize its value to Canadians. He reiterates the major findings of the reports by the Science Technology and Innovation Council and by the Council of Canadian Academies – namely that our private sector lags in R&D investment, mostly due to poor “innovation strategies”; our academic research is world class; and that better collaboration is needed between academia, government, and industry – and he suggests that much of the recent conflict and dissatisfaction with government policy comes from confusion and misunderstanding rather than underlying issues:

One obstacle to more productive relations between the federal government and the STI community is confusion over exactly how and on what basis the federal government allocates funds to the science-oriented programs, agencies, councils, institutions and projects it supports.

Manning points out that some in the academic community (especially university administrators) were very happy with the decision to invest heavily in infrastructure, while others were justifiably concerned about what this reallocation of funds would mean for individual researchers and their projects. He implies that much of the conflict could have been dispelled if the government had simply done a better job of explaining itself to the research community.

As he said in his speech to the Science Day delegates, increased clarity and communication by government would go a long way to defusing the tensions, and Manning urged the government to be more open and transparent with decisions about research funding allocations:

In short, my proposal was that Ottawa direct its Science, Technology and Innovation Council to do three things:

  • To provide an up-to-date description of how these allocation decisions have been made in the past;
  • To identify the principles and sources of advice on which such decisions should be based;
  • To recommend the most appropriate structure and process – one characterized by transparency and openness – for making these decisions in the future.

Manning urges the government to act now, while the issue remains front and centre, and laments the general lack of attention paid to science issues. To that end, he lists a number of ways in which the entire spectrum of STI – from basic research to technology transfer to interdisciplinary work with the social sciences – affect the top news items of every day. In a rallying cry that certainly has my support, he states:

In the 21st century, for better or worse, every day is “science day” – and the more deeply this registers on the consciousness of our politicians, media and citizenry, the better.

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