Dispute Over the Future of Basic Research in Canada
International EducationMarch 07, 2014
The Canadian government announced a transformation of the 98-year-old agency, formerly focused largely on basic research, into a one-stop “concierge service” to bolster technological innovation by industry — historically weak — and generate high-quality jobs.
This has set off a dispute over the future of Canada’s capacity to carry out fundamental research, with university scientists and academic organizations uncharacteristically vocal about the government’s blunt preference for commercially applicable science.
“We are not sure the government appreciates the role that basic research plays,” said Kenneth Ragan, a McGill University physicist and president of the Canadian Association of Physicists: “The real question is, How does it view not-directed, nonindustrial, curiosity-driven blue-sky research? I worry the view is that it is irrelevant at best and that in many cases they actually dislike it.”
“我们不确定政府足够重视基础研究所发挥 的作用，”麦吉尔大学(McGill University)物理学家兼加拿大物理学家协会(Canadian Association of Physicists)主席肯尼思·拉根(Kenneth Ragan)说，“真正的问题是，它怎样看待无指向性的、非产业化的、由好奇心驱动的非实际研究？我担心，在最乐观的情况下，他们会认为这样的研究起不到 作用，许多时候，他们甚至讨厌它。
The remodeling of the research council is one in a series of policy changes that have generated fierce pushback by Canadian academics in recent years. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also under fire for closing research libraries, shutting down research facilities and restricting when government scientists can speak publicly about their work. Last year the Canadian Association of University Teachers began a national campaign, “Get Science Right,” with town-hall meetings across the country to mobilize public opposition to the policies. Scientists have even taken to the streets of several Canadian cities in protest.
近年来，加拿大一系列政策调整遭到当地学者的强烈抵制，重塑加拿大国家研究委员会就是其中之一。因关闭科研图书馆、 停用研究设施及限制政府科学家公开谈论工作的场合，保守党政府总理斯蒂芬·哈珀(Stephen Harper)也饱受抨击。去年，加拿大大学教师协会(Canadian Association of University Teachers)发起了一场名为“让科学回归正常”的全国运动，以期动员公众反对这些政策。相关市政厅会议遍布全国。在加拿大几个城市，科学家们甚至走 上街头表示抗议。
While the transformation of the National Research Council has been criticized, the government as well as some science-policy analysts say that better connecting businesses with research is an important step for Canada.
Having examined models in other countries, the National Research Council chose to streamline its operations to act as “the pivot between the two worlds” of industry and academics, with an eye toward new products and innovations, said Charles Drouin, a spokesman for the council. He said the agency had not moved away from support for fundamental research but wanted to focus such efforts better. “There is basic research, but it is directed, as opposed to undirected as you would find it in universities.”
加拿大国家研究委员会发言人查尔斯·德劳 因(Charles Drouin)说，该机构在研究其它国家的发展模式后，决定精简业务，成为工业界和学术界这“两个世界的枢轴”，并着眼于新产品和创新。他说，委员会并没 有抛弃对基础研究的支持，而是希望更好地专注于这些努力。“未来仍然会有基础研究，但将是有指向性的，与大学里看到的无指向性研究不同。”
Another battleground for the future of basic research has been the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, a federal granting agency that serves as the first stop for financing fundamental research by Canadian scientists.
未来基础研究的另一个战场是自然科学与工程研究委员会(Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council)，这家联邦政府授权机构是资助加拿大科学家进行基础研究的第一站。
In 2011-12, the latest year for which data are available, the council’s “discovery” grants for fundamental research accounted for 38.4 percent of its budget, down from 50.1 percent in 2001-2. Its “innovation” grants, which encourage the transfer of university-developed technology to industry, rose to 31.4 percent in 2011-12, up from 25.3 percent a decade earlier. (The council also directs part of its roughly $1-billion budget to postdoctoral fellowships and other awards for young researchers.)
在2011-2012年，即有相关数据披 露的最近一年里，加拿大自然科学与工程研究委员会的基础研究“探索”津贴占其总预算的38.4%，而这一比例在2001-2002年高达50.1%。鼓励 将大学开发的技术应用到产业中的“创新”津贴占比从十年前的25.3%增加到2011-2012年的31.4%。（该机构还将其约10亿加元总预算中的一 部分用到博士后奖学金和其它给年轻研究员的奖励中。）
“The government has invested proportionately more on the innovation side, where it was seen that we had more challenges,” said Pierre J. Charest, vice president of research grants and scholarships at the government agency. He noted that the council was “on track” to double the number of scientists forming partnerships with industry.
“在创新方面，我们面对的挑战更多，因此 政府相应地增加了更多的投入，” 加拿大自然科学与工程研究委员会负责研究补助和奖学金事务的副主席皮埃尔·查理斯特(Pierre J. Charest)说。他指出，该委员会正稳步走在让结成产研伙伴关系的科学家的数量翻一番的道路上。
Mr. Charest said criticism about a smaller percentage of funds for discovery grants missed a larger point — that the budget had grown over the past decade to almost $325 million in 2012-13. However, much of that increase comes from a special supplement for a select group of researchers to explore potentially transformative concepts.
One who has felt the pinch is Norman Hüner, an internationally recognized plant biochemist and physiologist at the University of Western Ontario, who holds a prestigious Canada Research Chair in environmental-stress biology. A longtime recipient of discovery grants, he and his research collaborators are exploring a potential breakthrough in the use of photosynthesis to trick plants to grow in suboptimal conditions — relevant research in Mr. Hüner’s view, given concerns about climate change.
西安大略大学(University of Western Ontario)的诺曼·胡纳(Norman Hüner)感受到了这一转型带来的阵痛。作为一名国际知名的植物生化学家和生理学家，以及环境压力生物学的权威首席科学家(Canada Research Chair)，他一直受国家探索资助。在此资助下，他和研究伙伴们正在利用光合作用诱导植物在未达到标准的条件下生长方面寻求潜在突破，鉴于目前围绕气候 变化的担忧，这一研究在胡纳先生看来相当重要。
But in 2012, after applying for a new grant to continue his research, the professor received $50,000 a year for five years — a sharp drop from the previous award of $132,000 a year over five years. “I was shocked, absolutely,” he recalled. “I am disillusioned beyond words.”
The cut has led to the departures of some senior scientists from his lab. And save for one new postdoctoral student with her own funds, Mr. Hüner is not replenishing his stable of young researchers. At 67, Mr. Hüner now plans to retire several years ahead of schedule.
Even those involved in commercialization efforts question the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s new approach.
“If you have ideas that are going to lead to commercialization opportunities, you should absolutely get seed-stage funding,” said James E. Colliander, a mathematician at the University of Toronto. He acknowledged that funding for applied research was “crucially important” but said he was “not sure that the principal vehicle for funding basic research should be the path to get those dollars.” Mr. Colliander has received several major discovery grants and is also involved in an effort to bring to market a web application for large-scale academic exam assessment.
“如果你觉得那将带来商业化的机会，你完 全应当得到种子期资助，”多伦多大学(University of Toronto)数学家詹姆斯·科利安德(James E. Colliander)说。他承认对应用型研究的资助是“至关重要的”，但他“并不确定应当从基础研究的主要资助渠道获取那些钱。”科利安德先生已经收到 几份重要的探索资助，并且也参与了向市场引入一个用于大规模学术考试评估的网络应用的工作。
Beyond the changes in the two councils, some wonder if Canadian industry is prepared to step up its role in research innovation. In Canada’s largely foreign-owned industrial sector, research is often carried out at corporate headquarters abroad, while home-grown businesses lack the appetite or budget.
Some liken the federal strategy to pushing on a string.
The current policy appears to be trying to “push” technology from universities to industry, but what is needed to increase the level of innovation is for industry to get better at investing in new ideas and well-qualified researchers, said Arthur Carty, a former science adviser to the prime minister and a former head of the National Research Council. “Companies have to have innovation in their philosophical strategies, and they don’t have it,” said Mr. Carty, now executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Nanotechnology.
总理前科学顾问兼国家研究委员会前主席亚 瑟·卡蒂(Arthur Carty)说，目前的政策看上去是在努力把技术从学校“推动”到行业，但提高创新水平真正需要的是行业改善对新点子和高素质研究员的投资，“企业必须要 把创新放到总体发展策略中，可是它们却没有这么做，”现任滑铁卢大学纳米技术研究所(University of Waterloo’s Institute for Nanotechnology)执行董事的卡蒂先生说。
Uncertainty over the response of industry is a common refrain even among those who see merit in the federal strategy.
“Canada has had most of its eggs in the basic-research basket for quite a long time,” said Richard W. Hawkins, Canada research chair in science, technology and innovation policy at the University of Calgary. He has also spent years outside Canada as an adviser to governments and international agencies on innovation policy. “Governments want to invest in science and technology because they think it will lead to growth and innovation,” he said. “Governments all over the world have the same rationale.”
“相当长一段时间以来，加拿大把大多数鸡 蛋都放在了基础研究的篮子里，”卡尔加里大学(University of Calgary)加拿大首席科技与创新政策家里查德·霍金斯(Richard W. Hawkins)说。他也在国外待了几年时间，担任国外政府和国际创新政策机构顾问。“政府想投资于科学和技术，因为他们认为这将带来增长和创新，”他 说，“全世界所有的政府都这么想。”
What’s missing in Canada, he said, is a deep understanding about how sectors of the economy could exploit knowledge to diversify and create new industries. “In Canada we know relatively less about our situation than most of our competitor countries,” he said.
But some senior scientists warn of risks to Canada’s higher-education system if pure, scholarly research is perceived as unimportant.
“One of the major contradictions of the Conservative government at the moment is that no one in Canada will question the need to have the best universities in the world,” said Daniel E. Guitton, a professor of neuroscience at McGill University. “Now how do you get them? You’re not going to get them by having people focus on an industry-related problem.”
“保守党政府目前面临的一大矛盾是，在加拿大所有人都认为这个国家需要有世界上最好的大学，”麦吉尔大学神经系统科学教授丹尼尔·吉顿(Daniel E. Guitton)说。“那么你要怎样做到呢？肯定不是把精力都聚焦到一个与产业相关的问题上。”
Science policy analysts say it is too early to judge the impact of the government’s current strategy. But on one point, there is little debate. “To be honest, I’ve not seen this level of advocacy from the scientific community before,” said Paul Dufour, a fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society, and Policy. “That’s new in this country, and I think that’s a healthy thing.”
科学政策分析师们说，现在要评判政府目前 策略的影响还太早。但有一点，这次的争论很少。“坦白说，我以前在科学界从未见过如此级别的拥护，”渥太华大学科学、社会与政策研究所 (University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society, and Policy)的研究员保罗·杜福尔说。“这在加拿大算是新鲜事，我觉得这是健康的。”
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