Science Policy and Science Politics Panel Discussion: A recap!

Friday, October 27, 2017 - 16:13

Just last Monday, we held an exciting Science Policy and Science Politics panel discussion in partnership with the Canadian Association of University Teachers and iPolitics in Ottawa! Focusing almost entirely on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review (“the Naylor Report”), the event brought together people across disciplines for an engaging conversation over drinks.


Dr. David C. Naylor, Dr. Brenda Austin-Smith, Dr. Jeremy Kerr, and journalist Paul Wells raised and answered many important questions during the two-hour long event, including some of the following:

The Naylor Report gave us a roadmap for how to begin rebuilding Canada’s science capacity, which had been systematically dismantled over the last decade. So where do we go from here?

How do we move forward when policy makers and researchers don’t speak the same language?

How do we ask for more, desperately needed funds without coming across as entitled?

How do we explain the difference between investigator-led research and priority-driven research, and the costly, human effects of insufficiently funding one stream over the other?

And of course: how have the Liberals done in the two years since winning a majority government, when they were swept in on a tide promising sunny ways - including, assumably, some sunshine for Canada’s research community.

Dr. Brenda Austin-Smith highlighted the importance of parceling out money to researchers based on peer-review, which is done through the desperately underfunded Tri-council. What sorts of questions are not being investigated because the Tri-council, while considering the questions worthy of investigation, is unable to fund them? She lists several examples, including: how does relational bullying start, and how can we stop it? How can we intervene to stop reading difficulties in very young students, when they are still too young to be able to be assessed for reading difficulties? What are ice core samples from the Arctic telling us about the timeframe when the Northwest Passage becomes reality? These are the types of questions that are being ignored by our current funding ecosystem, and we need to do better.

Dr. Jeremy Kerr reminded us that the liberals promised to restore science integrity, and they have, if not always perfectly, delivered on these promises - for example restoring the long-form census, unmuzzling scientists, and instating a Chief Science Advisor. While there is much to celebrate and be thankful for here (and we have celebrated and been thankful!), he reiterates that yes, there is a giant gap in the research funding ecosystem that we need to fill - and the money for this gap (as recommended in the Naylor Report) is actually just catch-up money to restore our capacity to what it was over a decade ago. But - the way we are going about asking for money is coming across as entitled to a government that has delivered on many of their science-friendly election promises. We must do better here - and Dr. Kerr suggests presenting a more positive vision - we need to emphasize how a discovery culture for Canada would be transformative.

Paul Wells, senior writer at Maclean’s, explained how, in the eyes of the Liberals, the government has “over-delivered” on their promises: they’ve addressed many of the science integrity issues we’ve pushed for, and then to go further, they’ve sought out champions of the trendiest, most innovative research in Canada, and provided funding to support them further. There is a sense of bewilderment among our current politicians that the investments they’ve made are not considered investments into the “right” kind of research. It raises an important point - how do we better explain why their current investments are, in fact, inadequate?

Wells also emphasized three changes the research community needs to make as we continue to pressure the government to fund our work. Firstly, he suggests it is imperative we cease tying the word “innovation” to university research. We need instead to be talking about talent, because the best and brightest students are attracted to labs led by best and brightest talent - not the trendiest research. Secondly, he emphasized the need to improve diversity in research, and thirdly - he suggests the research community needs to do a better job of being transparent with how we use our funds. We need to more actively condemn anyone found to be misusing grant money; given that we are asking for taxpayer dollars, and need to do a better job of demonstrating our prudence with it.

Finally, Dr. David Naylor took to the stage to emphasize the need for the research community to go into permanent campaign mode. While the Liberals have delivered on much on the science file, it’s not all “won and done.” We need to turn science and research into a cross-partisan issue. He warns us this is a multi-year process: we need to pull together - scholars from across all disciplines - and work to build better connections with all aspects civil society.

Did you attend the panel discussion, or view the live-stream? What were the take home messages you came away with? Let us know in the comments below!

Suman Gupta

Engagement Organizer

Suman Gupta joined Evidence for Democracy to help advance E4D's election plans. She holds an M.Sc. in biology from Acadia University and has contributed to research in the fields of plant physiology, entomology, value-added product development, and bird conservation.