Fettering unfettered research funding: The NSERC ways

Last week, I resigned from a committee that is supposed to liaise between NSERC and Canada’s Mathematics and Statistics communities. The reason? An unsettling lack of transparency, shoddy consultation, and poor decision-making by NSERC’s management in handling recent government budget increases. These problems are not new to NSERC. They date back to the presidency of Suzanne Fortier, but they seem to be reaching a crescendo with Mario Pinto. Fortier had to deal with the tightly earmarked budget increases of the Harper years, and so mastered the art of quietly re-allocating what used to be “internally unfettered” NSERC funding. Pinto has been living the dream of allocating three consecutive installments of new unfettered money from government. NSERC claims that all the new funds are going straight to the Discovery Grant program. We beg to differ. Once the funds arrive to NSERC, they become less unfettered than you think.

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For UBC faculty, the malaise persists

It is amazing what a couple of investment bankers can do to a university! Thirty months after the highjacking of UBC’s governance and processes by government appointed Board members, the faculty are still feeling the angst. But so does the administration. In March 2016 and in an unprecedented act, 800 faculty members voted non-confidence in the UBC Board of Governors. The Chancellor, a retired banker, remained. In a poll executed earlier that year by the Faculty Association, 642 out of 885 respondents said they had no confidence in the Chancellor leading the presidential search. He remained. Subsequently, an elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position from that committee citing “manipulation of information and processes to achieve desired decisions and to minimize academic voices.” He remained. Last week, another elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position on the Board of Governors. The Chancellor remains. Continue reading

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Statistical science is everywhere

By Professor Nancy Reid, OC, FRSC

On Saturday, April 7, The Globe and Mail published a long article on advances in counselling and therapy around mental health—Rethinking therapy: how 45 questions can revolutionize mental health. The punch line? A new emphasis on data collection and analysis is helping therapists to track patients’ progress, alert them to troubling trends, give patients affirmation with their progress, and more. The use of these data collection efforts have been validated by clinical trials. Data collection and clinical trials have informed medical practice for chronic and acute diseases for more than seventy years.

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Did you say, Father’s day?

Last Monday, I wasn’t feeling great, so I asked a good friend of mine to come over and give me company, which he promptly did. Yes, this may be uncommon in this part of the world, but both he and I hail from cultures where this is done.

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The Problem with Naylor’s Panel Report

The report of Naylor’s panel reviewing Canadian Science is out. It is an incredibly eloquent “plaidoyer” for basic research both in terms of its role, past and present, in the advancement of society. It is of course music to the ears of Canada’s university researchers as well as administrators, though for different reasons. Government officials have not yet made any substantial comment and expectations raised by the report must be weighing heavy. The commitment of the Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, to basic research is beyond reproach, but she has to contend with “another minister of (applicable?) science,” and 29 of her colleagues around the cabinet table all with other priorities. This is seen in Budget 2017, which was not kind to her ministerial mandate –at least according to Canada’s rank-and-file researchers. The Naylor report made the job that much tougher by not making the required bold moves in re-prioritizing and re-allocating some of the current government’s expenditures on university research.

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Berdahl vs. Potter: The Tale of Two “Globe and Mail” Editorials

Oct. 22, 2015, Globe and Mail Editorial re: Jennifer Berdahl: “It’s far from clear, though, that her blog post was an exercise in academic freedom. Her post was one remark about one unexplained kerfuffle in a university’s administration, not a piece of data in a social research program.”

Mar. 23, 2017, Globe and Mail Editorial re: Andrew Potter: “The right of university professors to speak their minds without fear of sanction is critical in a free society. It matters not a whit that the online Maclean’s column that got Mr. Potter in trouble was poorly thought out.”

There are many similarities between the case of Jennifer Berdahl at UBC, and the Andrew Potter affair at McGill. Both faculty members made statements that caused displeasure to the powers in their respective universities and provinces. Both had their rights to academic freedom usurped and challenged. Both paid a heavy price for exercising this right. Much remains to be uncovered, but there is one glaring difference between the two cases. The establishment, at least outside Quebec, rallied around Andrew Potter, defending his right to academic freedom, and publicly chastising Suzanne Fortier, the Principal of McGill. Jennifer Berdahl didn’t have that luxury. No pundit/public figure questioned the role and attitude of Martha Piper, then acting president of UBC, of John Montalbano, then Chair of the Board, and of Lindsay Gordon, who is astonishingly still vying for a reappointment as Chancellor. What gives?

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Budget 2017, Naylor’s review, and the Mathematical Sciences in Canada

James Colliander, Director of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) 
Nassif Ghoussoub, Director of the Banff International Research Station (BIRS)
Ian Hambleton, Director of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Fields)
Luc Vinet, Directeur du Centre de Recherches Mathématiques (CRM)

The direct funding of research initiatives on artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing via Budget 2017, and the release of the report of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review present an opportunity to reflect on the role of mathematical sciences within Canada’s scientific heritage and future, but also on our country’s ways of funding research. The importance of the mathematical sciences (mathematics, statistics and computer science) is deepening in almost all areas of knowledge. Mathematical sciences provide a conceptual infrastructure underpinning advances in biology, engineering, humanities, medicine, social sciences and beyond. Progress in our understanding in all these fields depends upon advanced research and high-level training in the mathematical sciences.

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