Toward Global Science Excellence

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letters for Science and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) outline an agenda to investigate and improve the nation’s innovation ecosystem. Roundtable discussions on various themes are taking place across the nation as part of Canada’s Innovation Agenda, an initiative driven by Minister Navdeep Bains (ISED) and Minister Kirsty Duncan (Science). Minister Duncan has also launched Canada’s Fundamental Science Review and empowered an eminent panel chaired by Dr. David Naylor with a mandate to review and make recommendations to improve Canada’s science policy.

I recently participated in a roundtable discussion on the theme Global Science Excellence. The event was convened by Dr. Maurice Moloney, CEO of the Global Institute for Food Security, and took place at the University of Saskatchewan. The roundtable panel included representatives from biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, geoscience, mathematics, pharmacy, physics and leaders from provincial and federal governments.

After reflecting on the panel discussion, here are four points that stand out for me:

  1. Transparent sharing of government data through resources like the Open Government Portal should continue. Government decisions will be better when based upon insights informed by publicly accessible data. (Some panelists requested access to my open Jupyter notebooks on NSERC investments during 1995-2014 and 2012-2016.)
  2. Decisions on government investments in scientific research should be decided scientifically through vigorous peer review and not politically through direct line items in the federal budget.
  3. Ideas from mathematical sciences (computer science, statistics, mathematics) are influencing almost all areas of inquiry. The measured impact of mathematical sciences on the economy far exceeds expectations typically held by policy makers. Systematic underfunding of mathematics, statistics and computer science obstructs Canada’s potential for global science excellence.
  4. Researchers from various disciplines request greater coherence across the programs offered by government. Advancing human knowledge through basic research, applying breakthroughs to solve problems in society or industry, developing and validating applications and prototypes, and scaling innovations through commercialization or other social processes are all endeavours that merit government investment. These activities unfold over differing time scales, involve differing sources of inspiration, and are driven by differing incentive systems and require a coherent collection of programs designed around these differences.

The Government of Canada is reviewing its approach to supporting research, development and commercialization. I encourage everyone to share their views.