Science matters

How far can cuts to federal funding of scientific research go? In the last decade, the conservative federal government has steadily decreased research grant and scholarship programs, causing the downsizing and end to many research initiatives and programs according to speakers at townhall Tuesday.

The Waterloo Federal Liberal Association hosted the townhall on the federal budget cuts and how they have and will in the future affect science and innovation in Canada. Two professors from the University of Waterloo were present to give brief presentations on the cuts and answer questions.

Dr. Art Carty and Dr. Brian Dixon, both current UW professors and researchers delivered their personal views on why the federal government should fund science and why Canada needs to be a leader in innovation.

“Scientific resources are especially important when leaving a global recession,” said Carty, the former and only national science advisor to the Canadian government.

Carty discussed the disconnect in the Canadian government in terms of sustainable research funding. He said that the government funds the “bricks and mortar” infrastructure but provides little support in the way of operations.

“Funding for operations, supplies, equipment, and people is absolutely essential,” said Carty.

Dixon spoke about the need for “science for the public good” meaning research that needs to be done but does not generate the interest of the private sector and comes with too high a cost for universities to take on.

He added that he’d like to see the government fund more training for students. He said the focus of research grants should be funding a large number of smaller projects to get their research off the ground rather than only offering large sums to established projects.

An audience member said the cause of the federal government’s lack of funding for science is that Canadian universities are not taking enough of a leadership role. Another attendee whose business has benefited from university partnership refuted this; he claimed the problems are in the bureaucracy of the system.

Both scientists agreed that the government needs to embrace the idea of a knowledge-based economy, which is the future of global economics.

A final comment by both Carty and Dixon was the need to communicate science news to the general public in order to more effectively lobby the government for grants.

“How often do you see comments in the newspaper about cuts to science funding?” said Carty.