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Nice labs, empty heads

Building research labs is great if you're doing research. It's sort of useless if you're not. Canada is doing a lot less research these days.

Building research labs is great if you’re doing research.

It’s sort of useless if you’re not.

Canada is doing a lot less research these days.

Our scientists were leading an international stem cell research project.

As of last week, it no longer is.

In January, the nonprofit, nongovernment organization that finances many groundbreaking science projects was shut out of the budget.

It was funding Canada’s contribution to the stem cell project.

It is controversial science among Christian fanatics, who question the morality of using the pinprick-sized, week-old human embryos for research.

By cutting the flow of money, Ottawa has essentially pulled Canada out of the project.

“It does not look good,” Frank Grosveld, a researcher at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, told the Globe and Mail’s Anne McIlroy last week.

It’s a blow to Canada’s international reputation; it will cost the nation its leadership role in the project and may cost the nation any future commercialization of the discoveries.

It is those breakthroughs that will fuel future economies.

Instead, Canada appears to be putting its faith in faith.

In its stimulus budget, Ottawa is pumping lots of money into noncontroversial scientific labs - buying beakers, bunson burners and those high stools scientists like to slide up to their melamine counters.

But it’s dramatically severing support for the science that goes on in those refurbished labs.

It’s clever, really.

During the next election, politicians will argue, convincingly, that they have increased support for science.

But they have done so at the expense of primary research, and controversial science in particular.

Of course, it’s often the controversial science that sparks the biggest breakthroughs—in fighting cancer and muscular sclerosis and spinal injuries.

The government’s approach is a lot like building theatres, and then cutting grants to the scriptwriters, actors and theatre companies that use the facilities.

It puts a lot of contractors to work in the short term, and creates a lot of expensive, empty facilities in the future.

In short, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Ottawa should amend its budget to better balance research funding and the creation of new scientific facilities.

If it acts quickly, it might preserve Canada’s leadership position on stem cell research.

Such investigation holds many benefits for Canada beyond mere prestige.

It promises to improve our health, and heal our sick economy. (Richard Mostyn)