Faith may drive religion, but it won’t power a modern economy.
Scientific research is necessary to expand our moribund economy and, more importantly, safeguard the world.
Today, more than ever, our future relies on our ingenuity, imagination, innovation and ideas.
Last week, Canada was a leader in such things.
Today, that leadership is in doubt.
Amid the orgy of spending in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s latest budget, there was one glaring omission: hard science.
While the government is building labs, it is cutting funding to the actual scientists who work in them.
Take, for example, Genome Canada.
It is a nonprofit, nongovernment agency that depends on federal funding support for its many and varied research projects.
The agency, which employs more than 2,000 people, supports 33 research projects in cellular biology, agriculture and cancer research.
In some of those projects, Canada is the leader.
The agency relies on annual federal support, and over the last eight years it has received almost billion.
Last year, it got 0 million.
This year, it will get nothing.
“We’re devastated,” Genome Canada president Martin Godbout told the Globe and Mail this week, adding he doesn’t know why the funding has dried up.
But it’s not the only science agency targeted in Flaherty’s budget.
The National Science and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council have seen their support cut by million.
According to the Globe, Concordia molecular geneticist Adrian Tsang, who is working with Dutch and US researchers on a clean energy source, lost access to a – million, four-year funding grant he needs to carry on his research.
University of Toronto geneticist Corey Nislow and his wife Guri Giaever, who left Stanford because of the lack of support for science under the Bush administration, now see support drying up in Canada. They are considering a return to the US.
There, President Barack Obama has signaled the US needs to shake off the religious dogma that has blunted its research efforts.
“We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs,” said Obama during his inauguration speech.
And he immediately bolstered funding to the National Institutes of Health by .9 billion.
Here, the opposite is happening, forcing the nation’s top researchers to update their resumes.
Flaherty’s budget pledges to build labs, and undoubtably, the government will cite its one-time capital expenditures as evidence it is supporting scientific research.
It’s the same manipulation they pulled with the arts community during the last election—insisting construction of arts centres was direct support for artists.
But, just as a stage needs an actor, a lab needs a scientist.
And, this week, federal support for scientists has been gutted.
Of course, politics might be at play.
Scientists may simply be pushing for increased funding.
But, equally likely, Stephen Harper’s reformed Conservative Party may be using the goodie-laden budget to hide the fact they have just gutted stem cell research.
One of the projects that is now in doubt is Regulome Consortium.
It’s a Canadian-led international effort to figure out stem cell circuitry.
The -million venture was funded by Genome Canada, which received no funding this year.
Regulome Consortium requires million over the next five years to continue its research.
“It shows a lack of understanding in the value of research,” project leader Michael Rudnicki told the Globe.
Of course, stem cell research, which sometimes uses aborted human fetuses, is a sticky subject in religious circles.
So Flaherty’s cuts could also represent a strategic political move.
Controversial science moves elsewhere; grassroots Conservative political support is bolstered.
It’s a dangerous game, especially in this economic climate.
If Canada is to prosper, it must continue to invest in education, science and research.
Faith can build a congregation, but it won’t build a modern economy. (Richard Mostyn)