In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Research Funding in the Recent Budget

Posted 5/6/2009 by Senator Grant Mitchell


I attend three committees. One of them is National Finance. Among other things, we are reviewing sections in the recent budget dealing with research funding. In the interest of avoiding partisan harping on this subject, I will avoid discussing the great debate about whether the government’s priority of funding research infrastructure is diminishing operational research (i.e. the researchers). I’ll point out, however, that recent news stories told us of the world famous AIDS researcher who is leaving Canada and taking his team with him because of his concern about science funding (full article here).


I do want to tell you about several things that come out in the process of talking to witnesses that indicate the subtle implications of and assumptions underlining different policy choices.


The government has directed research grants to applied business and science research. They think this will be more stimulative of the economy than liberal arts and social science research funding. Here is what our witnesses told us:

  1. There is a strong and widely accepted argument that directed, applied research misses the great potential of “surprise” discoveries that come from pure research and so frequently precipitate profound findings that drive great commercial developments. This will be missed entirely.
  2. How do you define what constitutes business research? Would it include economic research that might give insights into macro influences on business? Should sociological research that leads to organizational behaviour insights of value to business be excluded? Don’t the fine arts have implications for business to the extent they enhance the quality of life of a community allowing businesses to attract and hold better employees?
  3. It was also pointed out that the areas of the targeted research grants tend to be of interest more to men than to women. Women researchers will be disproportionately outside the parameters of this funding.


I find their insights very concerning. What do you think about the government’s science and research funding?

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