Sunday, March 7, 2010

Science Policy and the Conservative Budget: Part I

One thing that should never be rushed, is political analysis of science policy. Better to delay judgment and make a good policy than to rush into a bad decision without thinking.

Some highlights from the budget that I like include:

Funding Councils

Considering that around the world, government agencies are strongly pushing to reduce science budgets [1,2], I think the fact that Harper isn't going to cut the deficit at the expense of scientific research is a plus. The fact that NSERC, CIHR and SSHRC are going to have their budget increased by $32 million is better, even if that only represents a ~1% increase in total budget.

Post-docs also come out winners with an additional $45 million earmarked for a new post-doc fellowship program to support them financially.

Radioisotopes and TRIUMF

TRIUMF is a big winner this budget, and I'm curious to know if the $126 million over 5 years is meant primarily to improve their production of radioisotopes. Reading the blurb in the budget describing TRIUMF and "its successful relationship with MDS Nordion in the production of
radioisotopes and radiation-related technologies used to diagnose, prevent
and treat disease" makes me strongly suspect that it is.

About $35 million will also be provided to Natural Resources Canada to investigate the development of new technologies for radioisotope production. If my suspicions about TRIUMF are correct, some of this money will end up there too.

Nuclear Energy

AECL gets a cash infusion and the government is reviewing proposals made by companies concerning its future. This cash infusion seems necessary in order to keep things going. I haven't seen anything publicly reported concerning proposals so I'm not going to comment further on this except to say that the government shouldn't waste time. Take the time to make a good decision, but don't drag this out needlessly.

With something as political as AECL, I don't expect there to be a big buildup of knowledge concerning what will happen. It will probably occur suddenly and without much warning. One day the minister responsible will hold a press conference and announce that Company Y's proposal has been accepted and things will go from there.

There are a few items I particularly don't like in this budget, but I'll go over them later.

[1] "Cuts to science budget moderated in Japan" Physics Today, February 2010

[2] "UK slashes physics budget" Physics Today, February 2010

3 comments:

Pascal Lapointe said...

Yes, The fact that NSERC, CIHR and SSHRC are going to have their budget increased by $32 million is good, but it would be good to say they had been cut by a higher sum last year.

Eric said...

Sure, and it would be good to point out that they increased in the years before that too.

Why don't we start from 2006 and track the NSERC budget over the last 4 years to get a bigger picture as to how the NSERC budget has changed?

Eric said...

I knew that Harper had increased NSERC's budget.. but here's the proof:

http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/FactsFigures-TableauxDetailles/QuickFactsonFunding_eng.pdf

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