In the article, Mr. Manning talks about the federal government's inability to react to "scientific" crises due to a lack of scientific knowledge available to the politicians. Mr. Manning talks about the lack of medical isotopes resulting from the shutdown of an aging nuclear reactor at Chalk River as an impetus to create new scientific projects funded by the government.
While I think Mr. Manning's cause is a noble one, I can't help but smell something funny.
This paragraph, for example.
[T]his country has yet to figure out a funding formula for publicly funded science projects that insures long-term viability. Capital funds, personnel funds, operating funds and infrastructure funds are all required to energize a big science project such as the development of a next-generation unclear research reactor.
Wait, what? Funding formula for publicly funded science projects? Capital funds, personnel funds, operating funds, and infrastructure funds? Insuring long-term viability?
Now, I'll leave that for the moment because I have something else I want to get to, but do you see how you could substitute "science projects" with "health care" or "education" or, you get the idea. Indeed, sound public investment can be conservative talking points. Imagine injecting capital funds, personnel funds, operating funds and infrastructure funds into energizing a big health care project? And, he's a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute.
But, that's for a different story.
Further down the piece, Mr. Manning suggests a remedy for this lack of scientific knowledge in the public sphere:
Create a separate federal ministry and department of science and technology.
Until recently, we had a couple of ministries promoting scientific research and technological innovation - Environment, Natural Resources, and Industry Canada - until the government felt they were not cooperating with the message of Canada's New Government.
In addition, it seems to me that scientific establishments abound in this country - universities could use injections of such funding.
And, that's why this whole piece smells funny. The entire infrastructure is there - both scientific and political.
The problem, especially for this Conservative government, is that it would be unable to control the message. You can control the message if you create a ministry within the government (or, shut down the message of an existing ministry). You can control the message if you "recruit members of the science community to run for office", and ultimately run for your party. You can say that leaders appointed to work in Crown corporations should be appointed based upon merit but you can appoint those with political ties too as Mr. Manning warns ...
[A]ppointments to the boards of Crown corporations ... have been based as much on political patronage considerations as on scientific or business competency.
... and even when they are appointed based on merit, they are still targeted for partisan attack.
However, I'm drawn to this paragraph in the middle of Mr. Manning's piece:
[M]any Canadian scientific establishments [have] never really learned to put its key messages in the form and language necessary to communicate effectively with taxpayers, politicians, or the media.
Why is it necessary for scientific establishments to communicate effectively with taxpayers - why must a scientific message be entirely catered to the taxpaying audience? Why must science be tailored to a cost benefit analysis of this nature? I'm presuming we're not talking about research into a new formula for streak-free Windex here, but real scientific research.
It would be very easy to snuff out an individual research project if it did not hold up to this type of financial scrutiny, never mind the fact that that individual project could have profound implications down the road.
And, so it's easy then to see how the scientific message can be ultimately controlled. You can control the message by turning off the project funding if it doesn't satisfy the taxpayer.
I would like to believe Mr. Manning. I just can't, however. I would like to see sound public investment as much as the next person, and I'm glad that Mr. Manning has taken the leap that one can be conservative and call for more publicly funded institutions, but I can't help but question the ultimate motives.