Innovation Anthology

Canadian Science Needs More Than Funding



by Dr. Sarah Boon, Science Borealis co-founder and Board of Directors member

Two reviews of Canadian science were released recently: the Naylor Report and the Global Young Academy report. While both champion Canadian science, neither report mentions that increasing funding for Canadian science requires public support and a strong Canadian science culture, which requires effective science communication. Building public support is a key―but often neglected―component of reforming Canada’s science funding ecosystem, and was the topic of a recent iPolitics op-ed by Jim Woodgett and Jeremy Kerr.

The Naylor Report is a federally funded review of our scientific research landscape that provides advice on how it can be rejuvenated after a decade of decline under the Harper government. Released in April, the report outlines a way forward for Canadian science that includes increased financial investment, and restructuring to better coordinate funding bodies and improve the diversity of funding recipients. Galvanized by the report, scientists have held meetings and panel discussions to address how best to implement the report’s recommendations.

Some of the outcomes of the Naylor Report were confirmed in a second report released at the end of June by the Global Young Academy, which determined that 40 per cent of Canadian scientists had turned from basic to applied research in the last decade in response to changes in the government’s funding model. This report also recommended increases in science funding.

In general, Canadians have positive attitudes about science, according to a 2014 report from the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). Compared to other countries, Canadians report a high level of engagement with science, and increasingly rely on the Internet to find science news. When you look at the actual numbers, however, most of this interest is related to new scientific discoveries. According to the report, Canada also has a high level of science literacy. However, there remains a gap between science and society, and the CCA recommends that Canada enhance science communication and engagement in order to bridge it.

This recommendation is critical: Canadians engaged in, and with knowledge of, science are more likely to support the funding increases outlined in both the Naylor and Global Young Academy reports. But getting Canadians engaged in science requires science communication and communicators―neither of which are mentioned in either science funding report.

Of the many science outreach organizations in Canada, the CCA report identifies “over 400 initiatives related to museums, science centres, zoos, or aquariums; 64 NGOs or associations; 49 educational initiatives; 60 government policies and programs; 27 media programs; and a variety of other organizations and programs.”

These numbers suggest that the majority of science outreach in Canada happens through institutions such as museums and through educational initiatives generally aimed at school-aged children. There are also groups like the Canadian Science Policy Centre and Evidence for Democracy, who for years have worked to engage researchers with policy makers and to engage the public with science policy. While there are also several training programs (i.e., “media programs”) for communicators, there are limited opportunities for science communication initiatives to obtain funding―particularly for those aimed at adults.


This is the first article in a two-part series inspired by the Naylor Report. The second article appears September 13.

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