The Decreasing Funding of Scientific Research in Canada

Dalhousie researchers reply to Tim Powers and the “Harper government war on science.”

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The following letter was sent to CBC Radio One’s The Current, following their segment,“Is there a war on science in Canada?” broadcast Monday, October 21, 2013.

Dear The Current:

A segment of your show on Monday focused on the Harper government’s policies regarding science in Canada.   One of your guests, Tim Powers suggested that comments, critical of recent governmental policies, expressed only a single perspective within the scientific community.  Mr. Powers further suggested that you should “talk to people at Dalhousie University in brain research” for an alternative opinion.  As scientists carrying out brain research within Dalhousie, we feel obliged to respond.

ImagingMr. Powers’ implication that the scientific community, as a whole, supports current policies is not the case. Time and again, scientists have protested the recent treatment of government scientists, the decreasing funding of scientific research in Canada, the closure of environmental science projects, and the restructuring of the National Research Council, as examples of widespread discontent.  Furthermore, these policies are adversely affecting the international reputation of Canada as a knowledge-based economy, exactly as questioned by Ms. Tremonti.  Scientific journals from around the world have lamented the downward course of Canadian science.  For instance, on March 1, 2012, Nature – one of the leading science journals in the world – wrote that the Canadian government appears to be “prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge.” This article was reported in the lay press around the world. Last month, the New York Times criticized the Harper government on the same issue.  Another top international journal, Cell, published an analysis of research funding in July, 2013. Out of 16 developed nations, Canada stands together with the USA, Spain, and Italy as the only countries that have reduced science funding, and where the outlook for such funding looks bleak.

At Dalhousie University, there is no doubt that we have benefited from federal agency spending in the last number of years, and for this we are thankful. However, brain research has also suffered here as a direct result of the re-organisation of the National Research Council. So far, three neuroscientists have left the province in the past year at least in part as a result of this decision.

As some of the neuroscientist at Dalhousie University, to whom Mr. Powers referred, concur with an opinion expressed in Nature on July 19, 2012, in response to further cuts to funding for science in Canada: “Governments come and go, but scientific expertise and experience cannot be chopped and changed as the mood suits and still be expected to function. Nor can applied research thrive when basic research is struggling.”  We add further that continuity in funding is especially important if we are to train the next generation of scientists to have the curiosity, imagination, advanced skills and knowledge necessary to face the demands of the future.  We believe that these opinions represent the views of a large portion of the scientific community both in brain research at Dalhousie and more broadly across the country.

Roger P. Croll, Professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics

Rob M. Brownstone, Professor, Departments of Surgery and Medical Neuroscience

Frank M. Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Neuroscience

Raymond M. Klein, FRSC, Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Shelley Adamo, Killam Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Harold A. Robertson, FRSC, Professor emeritus, Departments of Pharmacology, Neurology and Psychiatry

George S. Robertson, Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology

Steve Barnes, Professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics

Stefan R. Krueger, Associate Professor, Department of Physiology & Biophysics

John G. Rutherford, Professor (retired), Department of Medical Neuroscience

Matthias H. Schmidt, Associate Professor/Research Director, Department of Radiology

Kazue Semba, Professor, Department of Medical Neuroscience

Françoise Baylis, FRSC, FCAHS, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy

Patricia McMullen, Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Tara Perrot, Associate Professor and Acting Chair, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Ian Meinertzhagen, Killam Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Kimberley P. Good, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry

Aaron J. Newman, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Lisa Wright, Instructor, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience.

Andrew Fenton, Adjunct Faculty, Department of Philosophy

Sultan Darvesh, Professor, Departments of Medicine (Neurology & Geriatric Medicine) and Medical Neuroscience

(Plus two additional signatories to the CBC response, but without consent to re-post)

2 comments

  1. […] 6. CBC Radio Program The Current recently covered the story about the War on Science. Anna Maria Tremonti, the host of the program, also interviewed Tim Powers, Vice-Chair of Summa Strategies and Conservative commentator. Tim Powers’ stand that “there is no war on science” triggered a strong response from brain research scientists from the Dalhousie University: the Decreasing Funding of Scientific Research Funding in Canada. […]

  2. Anthony R. Lithgow · · Reply

    Thankyou, Prof. Croll et al., for the clear and pointed summary of the precarious situation of basic scientific research in Canada. It has been a concern of mine for almost as long as the current ‘Harper’ government has held power, long before Experimental Lakes Area became an issue. Your group is not the first in Canada to declaim the decreasing ability of the scientific community to make itself heard and understood by the Canadian public in the face of federal government sanctions. Nor, I hope, will it be the last. To my mind, this issue is clearly political on a national level, and deserves to be in the public eye in the 2015 federal election. I encourage your group, and other research groups in all disciplines across Canada, to continue bringing this message to the public’s attention.

    Anthony R. Lithgow
    M.E.Sc. UWO
    Member, IEEE

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