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Well…. from his Office, actually.  And it’s a form letter too, so I am a bit disappointed.  I wonder if anyone ever actually read the details in my original letter.  The NRC is cutting back CISTI’s budget – the National Science Library – by 70% and nobody seems to be noticing.  Except when it’s too late…. which it probably is already.

Since the letter was addressed to “Sir/Madam” I take it there is nothing confidential or indeed personal about this letter, so here it is – as they say on As It Happens – for the record.

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thank you for your letter regarding the federal funding of research in Canada.

The Liberal Party of Canada has always recognized the importance of supporting research in science and technology. Former Liberal governments have created powerful tools to reinvigorate public research: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs Program, Genome Canada and the Indirect Costs Program for Canada’s colleges and universities.

In contrast, the Conservative governments’ recent budget demonstrates its failure to grasp the importance of scientific research for creating the jobs of tomorrow. Three national research granting councils, which play essential roles in funding the scientists who conduct the research, will be subjected to “efficiency and focusing” cuts over the next three years. Equally disturbing, the budget failed to provide Genome Canada with new funding, obstructing the multi-year process of engaging talented Canadian scientists and private-sector partners in the next research cycle.

Be assured that the Liberal Party will work relentlessly to push this government into making long-term commitments to science, research and innovation. We will raise this issue in the House of Commons, pressuring the government to send a clear message that our country is in this for the long haul.

By allowing our scientists to make long term plans government sends the signal that it really does believe in what they are doing, and, more importantly, that it understand the nature of their work. Long term, predictable support provides our scientists with the tools they need to do their work. It also communicates that we want our scientists to stay in Canada, and, moreover, that we want scientists from the rest of the world to come here to work.

This support must extend to all forms of research – engineering and natural sciences, medicine and life sciences, the humanities and social sciences. It is not appropriate for government to impose constraints on which forms of research are more likely to be funded. Such a policy – valuing applied science over fundamental science that has less obvious commercial value – is shortsighted and wrong.

Thank you again for sharing your views on this important matter.

Sincerely,

The Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Today’s Globe and Mail Editorial encourages the Government of Canada to follow in the footsteps of the Obama administration’s “sea change on science”. The editorial also mentions that, between 2000 and 2005

the budget for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research tripled, and that of the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council doubled.

The Globe could have added that between 2006 and 2009, funding for research at the National Research Council (not including funds for the Industrial Research Assistance Program IRAP, which, while extremely valuable are not really expenditures on public scientific research) have decreased by ~12%*:

nrc-funding1

 

whereas funding for the Department of National Defense has increased by ~30%*.

dnd

Compared with other government programs, one might be lead to conclude that research at the NRC was especially vulnerable (and relatively small).

goc-expenditures

*[All figures were extracted from publicly available documents on the Government of Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat web site.]

CJC cover and spineOne consequence of the privatization of the NRC Research Press and its separation from CISTI (Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information) is the risk that Canada’s largest academic science publisher will no longer be able to sustain its Open Access publishing policy.  Currently, the home page of the NRC Research Press informs us that:

NRC Research Press journals are compliant with open access policies of top international granting bodies, including the US National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, the UK Medical Research Council, the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale in France, and others. The Press allows authors extensive rights to archive pre-prints and post-prints of their manuscripts (6 months after publication). According to the SHERPA project on open access, NRC Research Press is a “green” publisher, offering authors the highest level of archiving rights. 

However, the message that the Director General of CISTI has sent out to stakeholders states:

Free electronic access to Research press journals for Canadians is in question due to the projected loss of DSP support.

“DSP” refers to the Government of Canada’s Depository Services Program whose mission is

to ensure that Canadians have ready and equal access to federal government information.

So while it is likely that a privatized Research Press will aim to stay as “Open” as possible, it may no longer be able to afford “free access” to Canadians for the content it publishes.

My prediction is that Scientists across Canada will be quite concerned about this when they find out about it.

Dr. Michael Ignatieff

Leader of the Opposition
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0A6

Feb. 26, 2009

Dear Dr. Ignatieff,

I am writing to express my concern about the recently announced budget cuts at the National Research Council (NRC), both at the Institute for Information Technology and at Canada’s National Science Library – the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI).

I am worried by a noticeable trend in the Government’s recent budget that may not have been apparent at first reading.  It appears that funding for Genome Canada was completely omitted, amounting to a cut of $140M.  Funding to research granting councils (NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR) is also being reduced by $150M and now the budget of the NRC is cut by a further $27.7M.

The lion’s share of these cuts to the NRC are shouldered by the National Science Library CISTI. From the present budget of about $48M the current budget by NRC to CISTI for 2010 is targeted at $16M – a dramatic drop of close to 70%.  While some proportion of this cut will be accounted for by the planned privatization of the NRC Press this measure represents a major slashing of public spending on the basic infrastructure of science and technology: knowledge.  At a time when scholarly science libraries are transforming from bricks and mortar repositories of papers and books to sophisticated information retrieval engines in specific fields of science, our country needs more, not less, investment in next-generation digital libraries as well as time to implement them.

The proposal to privatize the NRC Press is understandable and perhaps desirable since this division of CISTI is already run and operated like a non-profit business.  However, this proposal also incurs the risk of making Canada’s largest science publisher vulnerable for takeover by international scientific publishing giants like Thompson-Reuters and Elsevier, which, needless to say, would be a significant blow to Canadian scholarly publishing.

The Government asserts that funding for science and technology is healthy by pointing to increases in NRC’s  IRAP program to channel an extra $200M to small and medium enterprises. This is no doubt welcome news for the private sector in an economic downturn, but it appears to have come at the expense of public science research and the National scientific knowledge infrastructure.

Furthermore, the announced increases of 2B$ to capital expenditures for infrastructure to Universities from the from the Canadian Fund for Innovation are pointless if there is no corresponding investment in research scientists, professors and students, nor any investment in modernizing libraries and information resources for scientists to use in research and to disseminate their results.

I urge the leader of the opposition to, in his own words, “hold the government accountable” and publicly oppose these damaging blows to Canadian science funding.  It takes decades to build scientific research and develop a knowledge-based economy and merely days to destroy it.

Now is not the time to add valuable knowledge workers to the ranks of the unemployed.

Sincerely yours,

Andre Vellino Ph.D.

Adjunct Research Professor, 
Institute of Cognitive Science, Carleton University

Adjunct Professor, 
School of Information Studies, University of Ottawa

vellino@gmail.com 

Constitutent of Ottawa Center

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