The Submission of BIRS and Canada’s Mathematical Sciences Institutes to Canada’s Fundamental Science Review

The Mathematical Sciences are the foundation of any advanced research ecosystem, and Canada’s mathematical sciences institutes have been instrumental in supporting this ecosystem. They do so by providing scientific leadership, by developing coherent national strategies for mathematical and statistical discovery and innovation, by transcending geographic and disciplinary barriers, by maximizing provincial leveraging, by spearheading international partnerships, and by connecting the research enterprise with the imperatives of providing training and education at all levels.

The modus operandi of these institutes complements, and sometimes fills gaps in the current Canadian granting system. In addition to advocating for the continuation and the enhancement of support for these institutes, we believe that an examination of the pattern of success generated by the Institutes may also have bearing on some of the issues that your panel is considering so as to chart a better future for Canada’s scientific research.

We submit the following points and recommendations for consideration by the Panel:

Canada’s science policy should foster the primary goals of fundamental science: to explain and improve humankind’s understanding of the natural world, and to open the way for future progress through training of young scientists. This aspect should be streamlined and separated from the various funding programs within NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC, NRC, NCE and other agencies that promote commercializable lines of investigation through partnerships with the industrial sector.

The federal research strategy should be revised to restore coherence to the portfolio of offered programs. The task of matching sufficient funds to research proposals that merit investment is obstructed by the complexity of navigating through hundreds of programs. Research investment programs should be reconfigured or merged to eliminate artificial barriers between disciplines and granting agencies. For example, statistical scientists should have access to envelopes supporting methodological research in fields like genomics, clinical trials, and public health at CIHR, social networks, analytics, and data mining at SSHRC.

Mathematical, statistical and computational sciences with broad access to larger thematic program areas could more effectively contribute across the spectrum of Canada’s research activities. Ideas from Computer Science, Statistics and Mathematics define the frameworks used to understand nature: examples include interactions of matter, flows of energy and information, and the dynamics of social and biological systems. The importance of the mathematical sciences is deepening in almost all areas of knowledge. Improvements in our understanding depend upon research and high-level training in the mathematical sciences.

Funding allocations to support research should follow consistent and rigorous evaluation processes incorporating independent scientific peer review. Direct research investments without peer review undermine the transparency of the portfolio of research funding programs.

Mathematical scientists helped to create the National Research Council in 1916 and launched MITACS in 1999. Through our international partnerships, interdisciplinary and industrial outreach activities, and a robust national network, the mathematical sciences institutes demonstrate excellence and provide scientific leadership for Canada.

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