Government’s cuts to research funding

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 54, No. 9, November 2012, Page 448 Letters

The essence of the research budget proposed by the Harper government can be summarized succinctly: Why waste money on basic science research when funds could be better directed toward industry-driven projects fo­cus­ed on immediate economic gain? While the overall Canadian Foundation for Innovation budget increases to $750 million, most of the monies will be channeled away from groundbreaking science (upon which tomorrow’s medicines are based) to support shortsighted, industry-driven research. This will stymie scientific creativity and innovation, and will jeopardize Canada’s standing as a worldwide leader in science.

The discovery of insulin exemplifies the impact of Canadian inquisitiveness and ingenuity. Dr Frederick Banting devised a method to collect insulin that would prevent its degradation by pancreatic enzymes. With the support of Dr MacLeod at the University of Toronto, he and his assistant, Dr Best, succeeded in isolating insulin, thereby revolutionizing the treatment of diabetes. To date, Ban­ting remains the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine. 

Banting was not motivated by commercial gain and his inspiration did not come from a corporate board meeting. Rather, he was an independent scientist with an idea who found the backing to carry it to fruition. Unfortunately, the priorities of the federal budget make it exceedingly difficult for the nation’s next generation of young scientists to reach similar heights. 

Adjusted for inflation, scientific funding has decreased significantly over the past 5 years and funds have been directed toward businesses and away from independent scientists like Banting. This policy shift will concentrate the decisions about which scientific projects to pursue in the hands of a few who are primarily concerned with their personal economic interests. While the commercial development of science is important, promoting it at the expense of basic science will devastate future inquiry and stifle the innovation and creativity that was so nobly exemplified by Banting.
—Alison Wallace, MD

Alison Wallace, MD. Government’s cuts to research funding. BCMJ, Vol. 54, No. 9, November, 2012, Page(s) 448 - Letters.

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