Monday, April 17, 2017

"Massive" Review of Federal Science Funding Finally Released; Will Likely Soon "Drop Down the Memory Hole"

          By Chuck Black

The "massive" review of Federal science funding, announced in June, 2016 by the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, finally released its report on April 10th.

But the review is expected to quickly slide into irrelevance because of its first recommendation for additional funding to assist "younger researchers" attempting to establish their careers through government funded research and its second recommendation, to form yet another committee tasked with further assessing the situation.

Federal science minister Kirsty Duncan commenting on the report by a federal panel looking at scientific research funding in Canada, in Ottawa on April 10th, 2017. As outlined in the April 11th, 2017 National Observer post, "Canada trails 11 countries in clean tech research, report finds," the "overall conclusion" of the report was that "independent science and scholarly inquiry have been underfunded for much of the last decade." For those of us who prefer to peruse the primary source materials before drawing conclusions, the complete report, under the title "Investing in Canada's Future; Strengthening the Foundation of Canada's Research," is available online on the Science Review website. Photo c/o Alex Tétreault.

A reasonable person might ask why this will happen? That answer is revealingly obvious. 

The government simply doesn't expect many of the already established scientists who currently receive the overwhelming majority of federal grants under programs administered through the National Research Council (NRC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as well as programs like the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the various Canada Research Chairs, Genome Canada and others to give up their existing funds without a fight.

So the only real option to assist young researchers is to allocate more funds, which will be difficult to do if the ruling Liberals want to cut into Canada's growing federal deficit. As outlined in the Jan 5th, 2017 CBC News post, "Decades of deficits could be ahead for Canada, federal analysis warns," the existing deficit will be very difficult to tackle. 

So the report may never be acted upon, which is as good a reason as any to form another committee and study the situation some more.

Maybe someone on the next committee will even come up with a better idea.

Fortunately, many university students are picked up by the private sector after getting their BA. To celebrate, here's a cartoon from the undated, and terribly pessimistic, College Express post, "The 20 Steps of Graduate Research...Told in Cartoons."

As outlined in the April 10th, 2017 Globe and Mail post, "Massive review of federal science funding reveals risks to younger researchers," the federal government spends more than $10Bln CDN on science and technology annually and: 
About half that amount is directed toward so-called intramural research and regulatory science conducted in federal labs that fall under the purview of various ministries, including more than $1-billion a year for the National Research Council of Canada, and was not considered by the review panel.
The review called for an increase of "base-level spending" by "core funding agencies" to $4.8Bln a year from the current $3.5Bln CDN  after a four year "ramp up period."

It also criticized an overly siloed research system that the panel called “weakly co-ordinated” and “inconsistently evaluated,” often to the detriment of younger researchers who are trying to establish their careers in a fast moving and competitive landscape.

The report recommends the creation of more structure, including a senior-level advisory council that would ride herd over the entire funding framework. As outlined in the post: 
...the proposed National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation would be composed of 12 to 15 members, including prominent scientists and scholars. The new council would be given the task of reviewing and assessing all components of the funding system and weighing in before the government launches any new funding organizations and initiatives.
In essence, the review has recommended the creation of another committee, which will further "assess" and "review."

It's often surprising to note the items which fall down the memory hole. Take, for example, the April 12th, 2016 post, "The National Research Council Doesn't Fit Within the Current Innovation Agenda," which discussed the underlying reasons leading up to the June 2016 announcement that the Federal government would conduct a review of the machinery in place to support science and scientists in Canada. Graphic c/o The Commercial Space blog

As outlined in the June 13th, 2016 post, "Government Announces Comprehensive Review of Canadian Science," the independent panel, which reported to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, was tasked with reviewing the program machinery currently in place to support science and scientists in Canada.

The panel was originally expected to issue a public report before the end of 2016.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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