January 24, 2009

Is Barack Obama good news for science in Canada?

As President of the USA, Barack Obama is going to restore science to its rightful place. That's the good news.

From a Canadian perspective, that's apparently also the bad news, according to Carolyn Abraham and Elizabeth Church's Globe and Mail article, As U.S. emerges from dark age, Canada's scientific edge fades.

But in Canada's research community, Mr. Obama's plans have sparked anxiety that if this country fails to keep pace, it will have a tougher time recruiting smart people and convincing talent not to flock south. In short, Canada could lose its competitive edge to the Obama advantage.

"We have come off a very good period compared to the States and now we are in danger that they will just drive way past us," said Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary.


There is little question that the brain drain of the Bush era was Canada's gain: The number of American educators who received permits to work here grew by 15 per cent between 2002 and 2007, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That figure includes a 27-per-cent jump in the number of university professors and assistants who moved north during the same period.

And this just as Canada has a Conservative government (and a Prime Minister in Stephen Harper) that's somewhat skeptical about science:
Yet recent history has made some fretful of the Harper government's plans. After more than a decade of remarkable growth, federal research funding to Canadian universities has flat-lined and sunk. Some Tories' past skepticism on the science of climate change, the government's overruling of the Nuclear Safety Commission, the firing of the commission's president and the Conservatives' decision to abolish the office of the independent national science adviser have brought international criticism.


"We already have no science adviser advising our prime minister," he said. Mr. Harper has mentioned no plans to reinstate that position, but Dr. Hayden believes "we should have an office of science and technology at the cabinet level."

In contrast, Mr. Obama has appointed leading scientists as advisers in his inner circle, such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as his secretary of energy, and Nobel laureate Harold Varmus and MIT genome biologist Eric Lander as chairs of the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Dr. Hayden also wants to see Canada find a way to commercialize its top-notch research by offering tax and investment incentives to spur industry. As it is, said Dr. Hayden, half of Canada's 500 biotech firms are expected to run out of cash within the year.

"We're in a dreadful state," he said.


Bluegrass Pundit said...
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David J. Fiander said...

I mean really. What have the scientists ever done for us?

John Dupuis said...

Agreed, not a damn thing. He says on a blog while watching a youtube video after having taken a bus and subway to work.