Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Higgs boson and #cdnpoli

A reminder from Ted Hsu, Liberal MP and physics Ph.D., on the occasion of the Higgs boson scientific news, of the importance of research funding for such endeavours: "Decades of research pays off big with Higgs boson discovery."
While research into high energy physics certainly does not come cheaply, and we don’t always know immediately what practical uses the results of that research will have, understanding the universe we live in is an important activity that has never failed to give us tools by which we might move humanity forward and improve the lives of billions.
Canada has a tremendous history of contributing to basic research that has revolutionized the world. The most famous example is perhaps the discovery of insulin by Dr. Frederick Banting and his research assistant Charles Best working at the University of Toronto.
Sadly under Stephen Harper the Government of Canada is steadily walking away from funding basic research. For instance, the National Research Council has been ordered to turn away from early stage research and focus instead on direct commercial applications.
Granting councils like the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) have increasingly lost funding for basic research. Since 2006 funding for Discovery grants has fallen from $420 million to $360 million.
I’m sure that today we will all see and read many stories about the years of effort it has taken to find the Higgs boson. As we reflect on the significance of this accomplishment, I hope we take a moment to consider the thousands of basic research groups across this country. It is the curiosity and dedication of these researchers, along with funding to test their ideas, and heeding their expert advice and warnings that will help us build a healthier, more prosperous civilization for everyone.
That is a good message on this day of discovery but also a good encapsulation of a central difference between the priorities of conservatives and those of us who disagree. Basic support for such science is part of our infrastructure, like the roads and hospitals we build. Private industry ultimately benefits from the fruits of that research, it's not just about funding the end product commercial applications.