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Canada shifting funding to commercial value research

In May, the government of Canada and the National Research Council (NRC), which is a government sponsored agency, announced a major shift in research funding. Perhaps John McDougall, the president of the NRC, stated the premise behind this refocus best, \Innovation is not valuable unless it has commercial value\". Indeed, it appears that the current Canadian government wants to focus funding on "business-driven, industry-relevant research and development."

Though the announcement of this redirection of funding support sounds well-intended, I am not convinced that its intent to support innovation and research infrastructure in Canada solely through a market driven approach is the best step forward. Though there are certainly merits to encouraging industry by creating commercial value, this view is also short-sighted. Many basic science research questions may not have any direct commercial value in the short-term because the results of such research, their implications and possible applications are simply not known until the research brings forth new knowledge and new ideas. Most scientist will tell you that despite efforts to advance knowledge through logical experimentation, many times, new ideas and innovation derive serendipitously.

The beauty about research is that it reveals the unexpected, it opens up frontiers of knowledge that we could not have imagined prior to their discovery, and to reduce our capacity to look for these fountains of knowledge in lieu of business plan-like research models may in fact by stymying some of the greatest innovations in the long-term.

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