September 14, 2006

The State of Science & Technology in Canada

Via The Star, a new report from The Council of Canadian Academies entitled The State of Science & Technology in Canada. From the press release:

Overall, Canada is strong in research, generally well-equipped technologically, but lagging in translation of research strength to innovation strength, according to a new study released today by the Council of Canadian Academies.


The report highlights four principal clusters of prominent Canadian S&T strengths as judged against international standards of excellence:
- the natural resource sector
- information and communications technologies
- health and related life sciences and technologies
- environmental science and technology


The view of Canada's strength overall in science and technology is somewhat more pessimistic than the survey respondents' opinion of S&T strengths in specific areas of research, technology application, and infrastructure. Fewer than half of respondents to the opinion survey ranked Canada strong overall in S&T and roughly a quarter believe we are weak relative to the average of other economically-advanced countries. The perception of the overall trend is rather pessimistic - about 40% believe Canada is losing ground. Only 28% see Canada gaining while 32% believe we are holding steady.

Looking ahead, most authorities concur on where the main action in S&T will be in the coming years:

- information and communications technologies
- biosciences and technologies
- materials sciences and technologies
- "nano" technologies applied broadly

Survey respondents identified energy technologies - and particularly 'clean energy' - as the area where Canada was best positioned to develop prominent strength in the future. On the other hand, the survey also contained evidence that Canada is currently not particularly strong in many of the relevant clean energy technologies.


The report identifies infrastructure that supports "knowledge production" as a particular Canadian strength. Survey respondents gave high marks to the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs program, research hospitals, universities and the research granting agencies of the federal government, particularly the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

I'll certainly be taking a closer look at the report itself (it's 228 pages, the "summary" is 51 pages), but it is quite interesting that "pure" research is ranked relatively highly while actually getting around to doing something useful with the research is an area that is lacking. On the other hand, from what I could tell, the committee that prepared the docuement only had 3 of 10 members who were working scientists in Canada. The rest were industry, government or other stakeholders.

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