Was NSERC there?

“Was NSERC listening?” That was a reaction from the Twitter world to yesterday’s plenary address by Mike Lazaridis to the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Indeed, Lazaridis rocked the casbah yesterday with his speech on the “Power of Ideas”. “We need research that tackles big questions, not just research that looks at commercial gains”, he thundered to a packed audience of thousands gathered in Vancouver for the meeting of the AAAS. “The ideas that seem to have no implication at all are the ones that we need to be truly excited about.”  Contrast this with …

First, let’s keep going with more good staff from Lazaridis. “We must be bold and think big… We’re surrounded by devices that are so sleek and powerful that we’re tempted to think it’s the machines themselves that are valuable. But the devices are just ideas, made into a form that we can hold in our hands … We must have faith in our scientists and their ideas. They will help change the world. Science brings the world’s people together in pursuit of big ideas.”

Now contrast this with the joint pre-budget submission by NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC and CFI to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. The global job market is increasingly being driven by talented, skilled, creative and highly mobile people who are commercializing innovative ideas and developing new business processes that drive economies and improve quality of life.”

Lazaridis’ was a hugely inspirational speech, which he closed by imploring all the scientists and policymakers at AAAS to remember that the most groundbreaking discoveries of the past 100 years were made by thinkers who had boundless curiosity and unfettered intellectual freedom. “We must remember how powerful the combination of curiosity and imagination truly is.”

And “Talk is cheap” is not a label that can be thrown at Lazaridis anytime soon. The man did after all put his money where his vision is, by founding the Perimeter Institute just over a decade ago and the Institute for Quantum Computing shortly thereafter. “We need this type of blue-sky research that will lead to developments we can’t even imagine,” he said.

This must be music for the ears of Canada’s scientists who have been witnessing the mission drift of the granting councils” for the last five years.

In their submission to Flaherty, the Tri-council presidents seemed to be pitching for the creation of an “Industrial Research and Innovation Council” (IRIC) to deliver the federal government’s business innovation programs, as proposed by the Jenkins panel.

In his speech,  Mike Lazaridis seemed to be speaking for, and on behalf of, NSERC.

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