Thursday, April 23, 2015

Killing Science in Canada

Two years ago, the Harper Government quietly defenestrated pure science research in Canada. A few months ago, the Harper Government quietly defenestrated pure health researchin Canada. Why?

Some strategy may seem valid upon first inspection, but as we look at how science drives the modern economy, we see that what Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done will have many negative impacts on Canada and our economy. A poor idea, with poor results.

Canada has benefited greatly from science. Our country enjoys the highest scientific literacy rate in the world. The results of this can be seen in our high tech science sectors and many historical innovations.

Pure research in Canada enabled scientists to freely ask “why?”. Well, not that free, scientists first apply for research grants and viable research is funded. Canada has a very long, diverse, proud and distinguished science history. When scientists were finished asking “why?”, results were openly published and openly communicated to other scientists, then they moved on to their next “why?”.

Providing answers to questions built a library of knowledge, some of which launched modern industries. Yes, industry needs science and innovation to remain competitive, ergo profitable. In the past, companies went “shopping for science”, when it suited them to make new markets, or out-innovate the competition. If companies didn't find the science they needed, a partnership with academia was formed to get the solution. It's a flexible system. If corporations needed it, they paid for it. Letting millions of scientists ask “why?”, freely, has led to our modern society.

Imagine, back in the day, Galileo partnering with the Catholic Church for research on astronomy and getting funded to deliver unwanted results?

Under Stephen Harper Government, pure science research has been eliminated. No more “why?”. Now our science research must have private and public cooperation, to be funded. These private-public partnerships have already been demonstrated to be less effective and more costly, in Ontario. Leveraging this failed model into Canadian science is equally misinformed.

Is it wise to limit a scientists ability to ask “why?” to only those questions corporations are interested in? Are corporations better at asking “why?”. Is creating this complex relationship to ask "why?"the most efficient means of research? A wrong question takes time to discover the question is invalid, forcing two groups to fail doesn't seem wise.

Many top-gun researchers were attracted to Canada, since we were a global leader in science research. Now they are saying they will leave Canada to conduct their future pure research. When the smart people leave, there is good reason. Too many "restrictions" on what can now be studied, in Canada. New and upcoming researchers are now scratching Canada off their list of places to innovate.

What is the long term impact on our economy of losing the best and brightest? When top-gun scientists say they are leaving Canada, because of Stephen Harper Government, shouldn't we be asking our next Canadian Government how we can fix this, quickly?

Since some corporations don't have expertise in research science, and in some cases are completely scientifically illiterate, their inability to identify a viable opportunity could end an excellent idea before it even begins. Can we trust “business zombies” to see the next trillion dollar idea? I say no, since our Stephen Harper Government is ignoring the next generation of future market opportunities.

With a $300 trillion market in green energy and economy leaving Canada behind, it's evident that we need to accelerate green innovation, delivering jobs and a more secure future. 

When China ignored steam engine science, it put them 100 years behind those that allowed science to freely innovate; answering questions and enabling new industry with new solutions. Is Stephen Harper the best leadership to be diddling around with pure science and health research? No way. Investing and developing future technology strategy isn't easy and our current Government isn't showing any results.

But, as with many other conservative policies, one must look at what isn't discussed to get a better idea of what is happening, and what the actual final results will be. Sometimes a change may be sold with one goal, but enable other poor policy results. With a limited pool of resources, for research partnerships, larger economics will be given “first in line” treatment. With big oil scrambling, do or die, to lower the production cost of tarsands, it seems Stephen Harper Government is giving away free science research to his blind business stakeholders. Since the Stephen Harper Government has basically put Canada “all-in” on tarsands, we already know which wheels will be the squeakiest in a failing bitumen market. More corporate welfare, “mission accomplished”?

Why should Canada be giving free corporate welfare to foreign companies and then see very poor returns on investment? With foreign corporations using temporary foreign workers, in Canada, what is the benefit of giving these resources away? Political power? No, it couldn't be that.

Coming from a government, that sees no value in the reality of evidence, decisions made regarding research in Canada will be equally short-sighted and most likely damaging. Does smaller government means funding private sector research? Seems like the American conservative ideology of “Smaller Government” means staying out of science, completely, please! Government shouldn't be dictating science and government shouldn't be betting on the dead horses. Let the free market kill dumb ideas, we see this trend with fossil fuels, now. 

Science has given us understanding of gravity, evolution, neuroscience, medicine, cars, even the thingy you are reading this blog on. Should a 2-bit economist Harper Government mess with success? We already know that private systems inherently cost more and deliver less. This recycled and failed US conservative ideology has damaged America to the point of dysfunction. Does this matter? Nope, not to the 1% that profit from unregulated “trade secrets” and monopoly markets.

The reality is that government and science don't and shouldn't mix: one is based on fact, the other is based on, well, lets just say fiction. Florida wants to ban scientists from saying “climate change”, is this the smartest direction to take in a competitive global market? No.

Science research is the basis for our modern economy and many take for granted the technology they use each day. When I see a 4 year old operating an iPhone, I understand that they don't understand. I hope they ask “why?” some day and can get a real answer. Seems some think things just magically happen, but no, it took a lot of failures and successes to get to where we are today. 

Taking this scientific progress for granted is very ignorant, but very common. Trust me, there is no more comical an exchange than one that uses the technology, that enables the exchange, while one party refutes the same technology that enables the discussion. Beyond ludicrous.

Another facet of ignorance is the economics of science-based technology, in Canada. In short, a great waste of Canadian taxpayers money. The Research and Development Tax Credit has delivered innovation for Canada. Science works, but, what happens to this investment after it is delivered to its industry stakeholder is far from a thing I would describe as working. Canadians investing public dollars only to have the results sold to a company at pennies on the dollar. A rip-off.

The R&D Tax Credit has failed Canada, on many dimensions. While delivering a core of value added research, it mostly leaves the biggest investor, the Canadian taxpayer, left holding a hot potato, while the company gets what it needs. Taking this failed model and building upon it, to service the corporate welfare model is the new science model in Canada. So companies get what they need, then eventually leave or cease operations. Just ask GM, Ford, etc. Why are corporations entitled to public money to do what they do?

The Canadian taxpayer initially funded the science research for Solid Oxide Fuel Cell. This was initially a poor investment choice for the Canadian Government, since the company lacked the manufacturing technology to leverage this product to market, but since when has a poor decision stopped free money? The company eventually failed, as predicted, the technology that you and I paid for was bought by a US company for pennies & has been generating research jobs for the past 10 years, totally about $75,000,000. Also, when this product goes to market, the company will be generating profits, as it executes an intelligent technology roll-out, for 30-50 years totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. The US Military is now using this technology, so, when do we get a divided from this investment? Well, we got fleeced, eh!

Now, in Canada, a group of dumb companies are able to access world-class science to do more dumb things. What a dumb way to treat the science that made Canada a world leader. There is a long list of accomplishments I can cite, but here is a handy list for you that can help you understand the importance of making science a useful tool.

The wireless communication we have today is based upon Canadian science that was performed over 100 years ago. The electron microscope, the zipper, the G-Force suit, the list continues. If we look at the economic impacts of pure science research, we quickly see that politics has no place in critical thinking, making markets and delivering tomorrows economies. Let business take successful technology and apply it.

Ontario is currently a global centre of excellence in neuroscience. Do we need an ignorant conservative government messing this up? Lots of jobs, lots of success, lots of economic benefits. One can only imagine the future lobotomy of the Ontario science economy a conservative government will enact. It's happening in the US, Australia and the UK. Do conservatives forget what made us succeed? Yes.

The questions that science minds are asking don't require politics in the formula. When industry reaches out to academia to progress science, there is a reason for doing so. Science and industry having the freedom to choose how it operates is critical in a competitive global market. Forcing two groups “to dance” to produce science when only one group is required is adding complexity and red tape to something that worked very well. The reality is that industry and science we working just fine before Harper Government. 

Having been in industry where the time differential between initial discovery to market implementation can be 10-50 years, folks in the know understand that science typically leads industry. For example, I was one of the first non-military designers, in the world, to use RFID in manufacturing, over 15 years ago. Recently, I saw another RFID innovation that can take this technology to economies of scaleIf you do your due diligence, this initial research was done, in 1945. So, 70 years later, we see that innovation to bring this technology to market, economically, takes some time, research and a lot of mistakes. Lots of expensive mistakes, mind you. Under Canada's current leadership, tomorrows economy doesn't belong to Canadians or the investments they make as tax payers.

Science quietly keeps working adding knowledge and understanding to our body of knowledge. When industry thinks it can innovate, based on new, or old, science, it can “shop around” and find the best solution to their challenge. If nothing exists, industry partnering with academia is quite common, these days.

Should science be forced to only research the topics that industry needs, right now? Does this make sense? Why are we burdening the mechanism that delivered modern society with having to find “economic” interest before proceeding with research? Seems like a higher risk to have said science research become successful. Is this a tool that favours the big dogs? I think it is.

Such big questions, but, given the Harper track record on pretty much all its policy, seems after we strip away the ~3500 layers of communications marketing, we typically find the same root cause: corporate welfare and entitlement. Why should the Canadian taxpayer help companies do their work? Should tax payers flip the bill for things that companies should be funding themselves? Seems Canada has been transformed into a pure mechanism of corporate welfare. Is that smart?

Why should NRC or CIHR be forced to stop asking the most important questions, of our times, to help tarsands companies, etc., improve upon a failed economic models? Why should health research science be forced to find an industry partner to support research? Upon first inspection the idea of teaming science and industry makes sense, but, should that be the only research model in Canada? No, for decades, science and industry has done perfectly well when it needed to answer its “why?”.

By limiting science with coupling this “discovery relationship” between scientists and corporations, the resultant odds of success is lesser than a system that is free to operate as it sees fit, when it needs “it”. When there is a relationship formed, is the scientist free to research, or is the corporation directing? Now we are adding another layer of management and complexity to the research / market process. This process may benefit large companies, while leaving unrecognized gems unpolished and forgotten. Perhaps that researcher will leave Canada to make billions, as some are now saying they will do. Canada becomes a loser, by default, less jobs, less technology, more stagnation. 

Should corporations be directing science in Canada? Will one corporation sponsor research into tarsands cancer that can damage another corporations business model? Well, again, we start to see what is on the other side of this poor leadership ideology from Stephen Harper Government.

Smaller science? No thanks!