Basic Research Funding Left Behind in 2015 Budget

Ted Hsu
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Great Story About Curiosity-Driven Research

A wonderful article in the April 23, 2015, Kingston Whig-Standard 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.


Chemist Anton Toutov, originally from Kingston


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 important, but should not be advanced 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


Cover of Budget 2015


Federal government funding is moving more and more towards supporting research by academics with industrial or other partners. Budget 2015 is no exception. Budget 2015 announces various investments in research, but upon closer examination, these funds are largely directed towards projects with a requirement for matching funds or a particular focus on industry needs. By contrast, funding for curiosity-driven or basic research is falling about 2% a year just from inflation.

What’s more, the government is very skilled at re-announcing money that has already been spent from previous budgets and at obscuring whether there is new money or simply renewed funding at the same level. Funding announced for CANARIE, the internet backbone is an example of that. I also spoke to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation who said that the announcement of $1.33 billion over 6 years is simply renewed funding at the existing level. This is the problem with “spinning” your budget numbers: people won’t understand what they really mean.

It is irresponsible for the government to let basic science funding 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.