Focus on Results

Question:How do we make best use of our science and research strengths?
on 09/07/2016

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  1. Being honest with taxpayers upfront: we are going to try things, we are going to have to take some risks, and some things will fail. And that means some money will be ‘lost’. But nothing is arrived at without trial and error, even in science. This TED Talk video by Tim Harford is both insightful and true:

https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_harford

  1. Making Canadian (government) scientists and researchers accountable to the end-user: Sure we want to have high-quality publications, we want to advance the scientific field, but why? Because we have problems we want to solve. We cannot insist that scientists ought to be accountable only to themselves, on the contrary, they should “Have no constituency in the research community, have it only in the end-user community.”

The above is paraphrased from a fantastic long-read about this subject, in particular the interplay between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ science and how academia is not functioning well today. I cannot recommend it enough:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/saving-science

Obviously, we can’t remake the entire academic system, but creating a space where publications aren’t the prime metric and results matter more, might be a start.

  1. Fearlessly forming and dissolving ad-hoc organizations to perform specific missions. NASA was formed and given a specific mission to accomplish, a blank cheque, and a timeframe – and they went to the moon. AECL was formed and given a specific mission to accomplish – make a Canadian reactor with specific parameters. NRC was given several missions during the war, and accomplished them. In these cases, the people doing the work came to the organization because of the mission. Government should be comfortable with dissolving these organizations after they accomplish their missions. Canada is too small to afford bureaucracy for its own sake.
  2. Recognize that science can only inform public policy, not set it: Politics is reconciling competing interests between people within society. There is no undiscovered consensus, there’s winners and compromises. The reason for political disagreement isn’t a lack of shared data for agreement, it’s the presence of different and competing aims held by people. This includes scientists – they do not hold special truths in public policy debates any more than other informed people. Andrew Leach had a good discussion about this in Maclean’s Magazine:

http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/un-muzzle-the-scientists-not-so-fast/

  1. Allow all IP to go to Canadian Business: Currently, any IP generated by government scientists stays with the Crown. Allow Canadian companies free access to any IP generated on behalf of Canadian citizens. I recognize that this requires a specific definition of ‘Canadian’ companies.
Credit: Tim Harford

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