Note: This letter was written as part of my #ALSIceBucketChallenge. In my challenge video (which you can find here) I talked at some length about public funding for science in Canada (or lack thereof). As a result I additionally challenged myself to write a letter to my MP urging more federal funding more basic science research. Below you will find a letter from myself to Ms. Susan Truppe, MP London North Centre.
Add. note: I forgot to mention this in the video, but I did end up donating to ALS Canada and would encourage you to do the same.
1703 McCallum Rd
September 2, 2014
Dear Ms. Truppe,
I am writing to you today as a member of your constituency worried about the future of science and innovation in Canada. As a student who has spent more than seven years working as an assistant in biomedical research labs across southwestern Ontario I watched with trepidation as public funding for the basic sciences grow increasingly scarce. As a current medical student intending to enter basic and translational medical research in the future, I am disheartened by the fact that fewer and fewer young scientists today are able to successfully establish their own research programs – a trend that shows no signs of reversing itself anytime soon.
The importance of basic science research cannot be overstated. It is through basic science research that the most significant advances in the past several centuries have come about. It is basic science research that will lead to the cures for the diseases that plague our society and it is basic science research that creates the innovations that keep Canada competitive in the global economy.
But the fact is that the outlook for basic science research today in Canada is poor. Since the formation of the second federal Conservative government in 2008, total funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s main funding bodies for basic science research, has decreased by 5.7% and 6.4% in real dollars. 1 As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for scientists to obtain the funding needed to move forward their research. In the 2013-2014 funding cycle, CIHR was only able to fund 400 of 2527 total applications, or a mere 15.8%.2 Compare that to the 21.7% application success rate in 2008-2009.3
It does not help that the current Conservative government, under the direction of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has aggressively pursued policies to curb and control the research being done in Canada. Incidents such as the near-shutdown of a world-renowned freshwater research center4 and the systemic censorship of federal scientists5 have further damaged Canada’s reputation as a world-class leader in scientific developments and an advocate of the open exchange of scientific ideas. Scientists and researchers across the country are clearly at their limits.6
However, there are small indications that things may be starting to change. The re-emphasis of the importance of basic science research in Budget 20147 was one welcome reversal. But this is just a single step in the right direction and much more remains to be done. That is why I am calling on you as a federal MP and the Canadian government to increase public funding for basic science research. Make science a priority again in Budget 2015 and stand up for science in Canada!
1Research Canada. 2014. Feb 14 Budget 2014 – What it means for us. http://www.rc-rc.ca/blog/budget-2014-research-canadas-analysis
2Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Feb 2014. Operating Grant: 2013-2014 – Funding Decisions Notification (September Competition – 201309MOP). http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/47878.html
3Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Jun 2009. Operating Grant 2008-2009 – Funding Decisions Notification (March 2009 Competition: 200903MOP).
4Orihel D and Schindler D. Apr 2014. Experimental Lakes Area is saved, but it’s a bittersweet victory for science. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/experimental-lakes-area-is-saved-but-its-a-bittersweet-victory-for-science/article17753956/
5Chung E. Oct 2013. Muzzling of federal scientists widespread, survey suggests. CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/muzzling-of-federal-scientists-widespread-survey-suggests-1.2128859
6Pedwell T. Jul 2012. Scientists take aim at Harper cuts with ‘death of evidence’ protest on Parliament Hill. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/scientists-take-aim-at-harper-cuts-with-death-of-evidence-protest-on-parliament-hill/article4403233/
7Government of Canada. Feb 2014. Chapter 3.2: Fostering Job Creation, Innovation and Trade. Budget 2014. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2014/docs/plan/ch3-2-eng.html