Better science in a globalized marketplace

Question:How do we make best use of our science and research strengths?
on 08/29/2016

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In the 2015 OECD report on innovation strategies in differetn countries, one important statistic that contrasted Canada from other nations was its low investment in government research.  Almost all of Canada's public research money is spent on universities.  And word choice is intentional, its spent, not invested.  The structure that has developed for research support has been in place for over 4 decades and has failed to adopt to changes in our global marketplace and lags horrendously in adopting new technological advances to support science.  University researchers dedicate little time to actual scientific pursuits. Scientific money should be invested in dedicated scientific research centers funded by government and with focused mandates to solve specific challenges important to Canadians.

Canada can build a more competitive scientific force by adjusting funding levels to train fewer scientists while at the same time employee more of them.  We currently produce considerably more phD scientists annually than we can support and statements about 'they will drive innovation' are meaningless if they graduate and then move into non-scientific areas of work as is currently common.

Government funded research facilities need to evolve as well.  Breaking down traditional disciplines to innovate at interfaces between sciences.  Tackling challenging problems like dementia requires scientists from a myriad of disciplines working together, sharing results and with a dedicated mandate.  This also includes cooperating with hospitals to test hypotheses, when safe, to observe true clinical impact. 

The number of people doing science globally and reporting scientific findings is accelerating.  We need better tools for searching and storing scientific findings.  An investment in our national science library to support all Canadian scientists.

 Finally, Canada should take a leading role in restoring faith in science.  Globally, competition for funding driven by capitalism have resulted in the sensationalization of findings and rampant falsification or misreporting of results.  For example, a dedicated effort by the Canadian government to counter obesity and other health conditions could be undertaken that makes irrefutable claims about diet and exercise and correlates risk factors to outcomes.  Does red wine prevent heart disease, or does it cause cancer?  Probably neither. But components in red wine may have shown some positive effects in mice that may or may not transfer to people.  Vetting of scientific data is one of the most critical challenges facing scientific advancement today.

 

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