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The Black Hole

A good start for science, with fingers crossed for more to come

BY DAVID KENT | NOV 10 2015

There has been a lot of chatter in social and news media about the recently elected Canadian Government and its “pro-science” stand. There is not one, but two, ministers who have  the word science in their titles. The long-form census will be restored. Just this week, the government dropped the policy of muzzling government scientists, issuing strong statements of its support for its scientists. Indeed, some have gone so far as to suggest that “science” helped swing the election. I have my doubts. If anything, the NDP had a stronger, more overt science policy planned (see here) and the proverbial arse fell right out of that campaign. Whatever the reasons, Canada’s science community is in a better place.

Analysts have suggested that the two ministers will focus on different, but complementary areas: Kirsty Duncan on pure/basic science (e.g., the blue sky research) and Navdeep Bains on translating that science into tangible economic and health impacts. I’ll wait to hear what the ministers’ actual plans are before signing up to that, but in theory this could be a powerful one-two punch.

However, I’m typically not one for swinging with headline-catching announcements – I’d rather see long-term supportive infrastructure and training that will be permanent stimuli of the scientific environment in Canada. It’s very easy to react against the bad policies of a former government, but bringing us back to where we were in 2006 is not progress.

Make no mistake though: these recent announcements are all good things.

Perhaps when the fanfare of a newly enshrined leadership dies down, we will see whether or not other notorious policies from previous years get undone. For example, should we dance in anticipatory excitement that our new pro-science government will hire 2,500 scientists to replace those that lost their jobs recently? Will the granting councils be given the authority to fund the next generation of blue sky research (Professor Nassif Ghoussoub wrote a particularly good analysis of this earlier in the year)? Will government-funded research stations be newly opened, or re-opened?

In my next article, I will put forward a wish list to the incoming “pro-science government” for inspiring change across a country that has become, in international eyes, a non-supportive scientific environment. The government cannot be expected to drive all of this change, but rather it needs to create a permissive environment from which university and business leaders will feel supported to lead the charge on new projects and new ways of doing science – let’s rekindle that enthusiasm for “improving science on the hill” and getting scientists to do world class scientific research in all fields.

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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