Basic Research Funding Left Behind in 2015 Budget
Great Story About Curiosity Driven Research
A wonderful article in the Kingston Whig-Standard this morning about a young scientist from Kingston, now studying at Caltech, is a nice description of how curiosity-driven research works. He discovered that cheap and abundant Potassium can be used to catalyze the creation of Silicon-Carbon bonds. This is a game-changing discovery with all sorts of potential economic impacts down the road.
What Does This Mean For Science Funding Policy?
What’s clear when you read the article is that he had to do the research work on his own initiative. Nobody, let alone an industrial partner, would have stepped up to fund his investigations. This is why governments are the ones to fund curiosity-driven research. Industry-Academic partnerships are fine, but not at the expense of basic research. I’ve spoken in the past about how it works out that basic research is worth funding.
Budget 2015 New Funding Requires Partners and Matches
Federal government funding is moving more and more towards supporting research by academics with industrial or other partners. Budget 2015 is no exception. By contrast, funding for curiosity driven or basic research is falling about 2% a year just from inflation.
Let’s review the announcements in budget 2015, Chapter 3:
1) Canada First Research Excellence Fund, $1.5b over 10 years: requires matching funds (although I have heard that in-kind matching is allowed)
2) Canadian Foundation for Innovation, $1.33b over 6 years: pays 40% of costs, though I have spoken with some officials at CFI who are concerned that this might just be renewed funding at the same level.
3) NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR, $46m/year increase: $39m is for research with industrial and other partners
4) MITACS Accelerate Program, $14m/year increase: requires 1:1 industry match.
5) National Research Council $60m/year: NRC has been refocused to be driven by industry needs
6) TRIUMF $9m/year over 5 years: “The Government expects TRIUMF’s research partners and end-users, including health care organizations and businesses, to also increase their contributions towards the continued success of the facility…”
7) CANARIE Internet backbone $21m/year over 5 years: Funding was at $30m/year before 2012, when it was cut and the government said that CANARIE was expected to make up the difference from non-public sector users.
8) Thirty Metre Telescope, $15m over 10 years: “The majority of the support allocated in Economic Action Plan 2015 will be spent in Canada on the design, construction and assembly of key telescope components, including a precision-steel enclosure and cutting-edge adaptive optics technologies.” Astronomy is basic, curiosity research. It’s clear that the industrial spinoffs of this project are what the government wants to advertise.
All areas of research funding which were not mentioned in Budget 2015 will be allowed to decrease about 1.5% to 2% a year from inflation. Read this blog post which explains how, after inflation, overall federal spending on Science and Technology, Research and Development has not increased since 2006.
Conclusion: Curiosity driven research, the research that leads to unexpected, game-changing discoveries was not supported in Budget 2015. A lot of Canadian university researchers who rely on bread and butter research council grants for their research budget will be disappointed.
First of all, federal government spending overall on Science and Technology, Research and Development, has decreased after inflation [link to other blog]