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Ontario and Feds take different tacks on research funding

June 12, 2009

The government of Ontario has stepped up and dedicated $3.8-million to Dr. Michael Rudnicki, Canadian leader of the International Regulome project. This funding will help mitigate the damage done when Genome Canada pulled its support for the project after the agency was shut out of funding in the 2009 federal stimulus budget. Dr. Rudnicki, who serves as senior scientist and chair of the multinational project, said that though our role will still have to be scaled back, the funding rescues Canadian participation in the project: “I am absolutely delighted. This is critical support to maintaining the project and allows us to pursue a more focused scientific agenda. The Ontario government has to be congratulated and applauded”.

The funding was part of a $94-million announcement to fund genomics and medical research in the province.

In other “research” funding news, the federal government has awarded $32-million to teach science PhDs “management skills”. The first round of NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants awarded $1.6-million grants to 20 universities across the country. As quoted in the Ottawa Citizen, Natasha Gauthier sums up the rationale for the program:

Having really good grades and getting that degree – it’s not enough any more. Even if they stay in academia, the pressure is increasingly on to know about commercialization, to know about communications, to know about project management.

Look, I get the idea , and it makes some sense – academics generally have terrible management skills. But the optics are terrible – funding to give PhD scientists crash courses in HR and communications? While provincial governments are left to fund cutting edge research? What is so maddening about this federal government is the lack of an ambitious vision of Canada’s role on the world stage. Instead of leading the world in cutting-edge research and knowledge, the government is focused on how to manage the system better, how to improve efficiencies and outcomes. At best, it reflects an institutional ignorance of what science does and can do for a country, and at worst it’s small-minded, and defeatist.

This mentality was captured by a letter writer in today’s Globe and Mail, commenting on the Prime Minister’s suggestion that Canada would get out of the medical isotope business:

It almost brings tears to my eyes to have our own Prime Minister tell us we should stop jerking around with all this highfalutin stuff and just continue to bolt wheels onto cars.

Or that researchers should spend less time doing basic science and more time on management training…




One Comment leave one →
  1. June 15, 2009 09:12

    Hi Rob! Point well taken re: funding for communication/project management/etc. rather than for research. Also, I just found an interesting reference on 2020 Science to a discussion about the move to merge the science ministry with another ministry, which you mentioned recently. Weirdly to me, the individual charged with responsibility for the science portfolio will also have responsibility for defence procurement. I’ll have some links up on my blog or you can go to 2020 Science (Andrew Maynard’s blog) or go to the I’m a scientist, Let Me Out Of Here blog for a record (and comments) of the Twitter discussion with the minister of the new science/defence portfolio.

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