CDN Science Strategy 2014 - Fails, distortions & ironies

As I read through the 2014 Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy ("the Strategy") I can across a number of statements that I found telling in one way or another. Here are the top 9.

1. The government knows that their policies are not working...

The facts are right there in the Strategy. Page 7 quotes the OECD, Main Science and Technology Indicators, 2014:

The proportion of Canada’s overall R&D effort undertaken by the business sector fell from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 52.3 percent in 2012 – well below the OECD average of 67.9 percent.

while Page 8 goes on to state:

Despite Canadian federal and provincial governments providing some of the world’s most generous incentives to encourage business R&D and innovation, Canada’s overall performance is below the OECD average on this measure.

So it is clear that the ruling party knows that their poicies are not giving the desired results. And yet the strategy doubles down on the same policies they have ben expounding since 2007.

I am somehow reminded of Einstein's definition of insanity.

2. ... but they don't want you to look too hard

On page two, the Strategy states:

Our ST&I ecosystem will feel the full impact of these measures over time

I suppose the authors could be saying "We've thought this out well and the models show that this will turn positive in the next XX years" but I don't believe that. At best, it's hopeful optimism in the face of stomach churning, nation ruining fear.

3. The Government doesn't appreciate the irony in their own words

On Page 3 the strategy begins with a quote from Alexander Graham Bell:

“Don’t keep forever on the public road, going only where others have gone, and following one after the other like a flock of sheep. Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Of course it will be a little thing, but do not ignore it. Follow it up, explore all around it; one discovery will lead to another, and before you know it you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought.”

The irony is actually on two levels. The first is that this quote advocates "going where others [have not] gone." But the Strategy is not a Science strategy, it's an "Innovation" strategy. What's the difference? Check out the definition of innovation that is quoted in the Strategy:

Innovation is the “implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations.”

Does this look like "going where no-one has gone before?" To me it seems like tweaking the existing or, at best, doing applied research using the results of basic research to create something. But to really "leave the beaten track" you need to be the ones doing the basic research, and from that you can develop something truly revolutionary. Which is exactly what the Strategy does not support.

The second irony? That the person they quote actually stole the invention he is best known for.

4. They talk accountability, but don't talk metrics

Check out page 16 - the Strategy has a subsection about enhacing transparency and accountability, but does not talk about how to measure the return on investment. Now, granted, this is not a simple task:

The process of ensuring that the research we fund delivers benefits to Canadians and the continuous search for better ways to improve the measurement of performance and results are complex tasks.

but why mention measuring something they do not know how to actually measure?

In fact, if you haven't measured the return on investment, how do you know there is a problem? Oh yeah - it has been measured (see point 1, above). The Government just doesn't want to be held accountable (point 2), it just wants to hold others accountable.

5. The Government knows that Canada's competitors are thriving because of science

On page 11 the Strategy states:

Newly developed economies like China, India and Brazil are making substantial research and technology investments. They have rapidly-growing scientific establishments that contribute strongly to their competitiveness.

What have Harper and his cronies done? Oh yes, they have gone on a drastic, intentional, and well documented war on basic and regulatory sciences. Nice to see that they are learning from the successes of others.

6. Reduce red tape for industry - sure! Do the same for taxpayer funded science?

Page 16 again. Section 3.3 - "Reducing administrative burden." It starts promisingly enough:

At the same time, an excessive administrative burden can result in scientists and researchers wasting energy, time and resources on paperwork, rather than on advancing science – an inefficient and unproductive use of resources.

It is hard to argue against this point and I don't want to. After all, this describes much of what is happening inside government science labs: Deputy Ministers are signing off on $5000 travel claims, and administrative burdens for the common workers increase both up the chain (e.g. reviewing and editing briefing notes and justifications for each manager on the way to the DM) and at the bottom (where, of course, the documents have to be written). That is but one example of the increasing non-productive uses that the taxpayer is funding Government scientists to do.

So I was hopeful that the red tape reduction was to help out the scientists that are being paid by my (and your) tax money. Nope. Instead, the Strategy says that the federal government will:

Expand the current efforts of funding agencies supported by the federal government to improve client service, harmonize and simplify administrative requirements as well as align and integrate funding opportunities.

Change up Government to reduce red tape for industry? Sure! Reduce administrative burden inside government so taxpayer funds are spent more efficiently? (crickets)

7. The Strategy distorts the Government's support for science ...

On page 39, the Strategy talks about supporting research infrastructure. It states, among other things, that the Government is supplying:

$53 billion in new and existing funding for provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure.

Note the "and existing" part - how much new funding is there? Also note that the type of infrastructure is not limited to scientific and research infrastructure - it could be bridges and sewers. How much can go to science? It might sound good at first:

provinces and territories can access up to $10 billion of federal matching funds

but note the hooks. 1) It is matching funds, and provinces are already having to deal with funding activities that have been downloaded to their levels from the feds, and 2) it's "up to." How much of this money will actually be spent? I'm not hopeful.

8. ... distorts the Government's "successes" ...

This one might be my favorite. The Government would like you to believe that, under it's watch, Canadian scientists have been more productive than ever before. Specifically, page 34 claims that in 2011 federal researchers produced 10% more natural science & engineering papers than in 2006. Sounds impressive until you look at the dates. 2011? Why not 2012? Or 2013? Surely they must have the numbers!

The reason for stopping at 2011 is simple. The Government's attack on Federal science really hit it's stride in 2012. Check for yourself.

So - they tout their "success" but it's only a "success" because they avoid telling you the whole story.

9. ... and doeasn't realize it's successes are failures

And - finally - it appears that the Government does not realize what a success looks like. Or, if it does, it's definition is not in sync with most Canadians.

Page 51 of the Strategy tells the story of Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited:

Starting out with just four employees, ONC now has more than 400 worldwide and was acquired by Royal DSM, a global life and materials sciences company in July 2012.

Whoa - so the Government's idea of success is to have a Canadian company bought out by a foreign-owned multi-national? Looks like it. After all, taxpayers are helping to fund this multi-national:

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency funding has helped ONC to purchase new equipment, develop new technology, expand facilities and undertake marketing activities.

Wonderful use of Canadian tax money, don't you think?


I wanted to make this list a round 10, but I couldn't choose which other fail to add. Do you have any ideas? Post them (or any thoughts on the ones I did list) below!