2011 Winter CMS Town Hall Notes

The 2011 Winter CMS Meeting took place this past weekend. On Sunday (2011-12-11), there was a CMS Town Hall meeting. The discussion was led by a panel consisting of Long Range Plan Committee Chair Nancy Reid, CMS President Jacques Hurtubise, and CMS Director Johan Rudnick (who was partially obscured by a poinsetta). Attendees to the town hall meeting were fed a free lunch. Long Range Plan Update Nancy gave a status update on the long range plan.
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Anticipating the Report of Canada's Expert R&D Panel

I was happy today to learn that Canada Post issued a stamp honoring my Toronto colleague and Nobel Laureate John Polanyi. The stamp is issued as part of the celebration of the International Year of Chemistry. This bit of good news tempered the alarming developments across the ocean where actions by the EPSRC appear to be destroying the scientific fabric of the UK. Here in Canada, despite an anomalous 2011 Discovery Grants competition for math/stats and recent news that some of my colleagues’ appeals were rejected, I hope to soon hear good news from the Expert R&D Panel which will hopefully reset Canada’s priorities and shore up support for basic research.
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Troublesome Trends at NSERC

I was troubled to learn recently that: 1. NSERC awarded far fewer postdocs and grad student fellowships in 2011 vs. 2010. The official statistics reveal that NSERC awarded less than half the number of PDFs in 2011 than were awarded in 2010. Master’s awards are down. Doctoral awards are down. NSERC communicated an official explanation in reply to N. Ghousshoub’s post on this news, but the numbers still trouble me.
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A New Dawn for Math and Stats in Canada

The recently released 2010 International Review of Mathematical Sciences for the UK has a timely quote for the Canadian statistical and mathematical communities to consider (see page 10): “A longstanding practice has been to divide the mathematical sciences into categories that are, by implication, close to disjoint. Two of the most common distinctions are drawn between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ mathematics, and between ‘mathematics’ and ‘statistics’. These and other categories can be useful to convey real differences in style, culture and methodology, but, in the panel’s view, they have produced an increasingly negative effect when the mathematical sciences are considered in the overall context of science and engineering, by stressing divisions rather than unifying principles.
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NSERC Peer Review System is Broken for Mathematics

Anomalous results of the 2011 NSERC Discovery Grants competition in mathematics have provoked a loss of confidence in the NSERC peer review system. To avoid a substantial loss of Canada’s scientific talent, which has been enhanced through the Canada Research Chairs program and other spectacular hiring over the past ten years, scientific policymakers need to quickly fix the broken peer review system. In the absence of an effective peer review process setting the strategy for research investment, Canada will miss out on the rewards made over the past decade’s recruitment of scientific talent.
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Vannevar Bush: Inventor of Government Research Funding Strategy

Vannevar Bush was the inventor of government investment in research innovation. He was founder of the US National Science Foundation, founder of Raytheon, main organizer of the Manhattan Project which influenced Berkeley leading to Silicon Valley, etc. Here is a timely extract from his letter to President Roosevelt entitled Science: the endless frontier: Five Fundamentals There are certain basic principles which must underlie the program of Government support for scientific research and education if such support is to be effective and if it is to avoid impairing the very things we seek to foster.
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Rotman Dean to Government: Give the basic research funding to business schools not scientists

Dean Roger Martin’s remarks in the Globe and Mail yesterday threaten Canada’s intellectual infrastructure and therefore merit the attention of all Canadians, especially policymakers planning the upcoming federal budget and researchers in Canada’s universities. Amazingly, he asserts: “What makes a country prosperous is not investment in science and technology. It is businesses producing high paying jobs by having unique products and processes that a customer needs.” Who does he think creates those products and processes?
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Mathematics Discovery Grants are Insufficient and Broken

Beginning this academic year, I have served the Department of Mathematics as the Associate Chair [Research]. The principal responsibility of this position is to administer the hiring process, for tenure stream and postdoctoral appointments. I also recently served on the Connaught Physical Science Review Panel which reviews applications for Connaught funds and adjudicates the McLean Award. Serving on the Connaught Panel has given me a perspective on the research climate in fields outside of mathematics.
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NSERC Rethink: Engage Grants Illustrates Mission Drift

The Globe and Mail recently posted a story entitled “Building partnerships between businesses and universities” which highlights NSERC’s Engage Grants Program. Following the article, there appears an attribution I don’t usually see in The Globe: Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca. I found this a bit strange so I followed the link and found the mission statement of BDC.
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