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Canada-US contrast in basic research funding

October 19, 2009

A contrasting view of the value placed on basic research was provided by two pieces in national media this weekend. First, in the Canadian online daily The Mark, an assistant director of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy provides an overview of the Obama administration’s attitude towards funding basic research. The assistant director, Kei Kozumi, discusses the recently-adopted policy paper: “A Strategy for American Innovation“.

Kozumi says:”Part of the broad strategy is a policy framework to invest in the building blocks of American innovation. A key policy priority within the strategy is to restore American leadership in fundamental research.” He goes on to describe the large investments proposed by President Obama to support various areas of basic research, and concludes with a general endorsement of the role of R&D in today’s economy: “Inspired by grand national challenges for the 21st century, and acting within a broad strategy for innovation, science and technology policy plays an important role in the policy agenda of the Obama Administration.”

In contrast, Canada’s approach to basic research received a critical overview in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. While the author, John Lorinc, points out that the problem isn’t specific to Canada, he describes a research funding environment where funding is directed to specific policy programs and agendas, like reversing the brain drain or improving living conditions. Acclaimed ULethbridge neuroscientist Bruce McNaughton provides a compelling analogy: “Curiosity-driven research is a bit like passenger railroads. If you let the knowledge base, skills and infrastructure deteriorate, they are not going to be there when you need them, like we desperately do today in Canada.”

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