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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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29. We have also received interesting comments on the place of the humanities in the national life and on their influences in politics, in the arts and in civilization generally. The philosopher with his contemplative and critical tradition may serve as a useful brake on the rightly impetuous man of action, a brake often needed in the world of today. Moreover, letters and philosophy, if they cannot themselves produce the artist or the man of letters, can help to produce the atmosphere in which he can do his best work. This is ably expressed in the brief of the National Conference of Canadian Universities. The study of arts and letters helps to form "the citizens with trained minds, liberal and informed opinions, good taste, and critical judgement without whom a national civilization is impossible".16 Faculties of arts offer a congenial atmosphere for the growth of the creative worker in music and the arts. Generous aid is given for scientific research but "there is no comparable financial encouragement for the task of introducing our youth to the great ideas enshrined in our cultural heritage and inspiring in their minds and hearts a cordial and critical devotion to them".17

30. The remedies suggested are varied and interesting, representing as might be expected different conceptions of the same problem. Attention is given to the question of university teaching. The universities, we are told, should confine themselves to their proper task of developing intellectual and aesthetic capacity, eliminating all courses designed to develop skills; they should provide adequate libraries and student residences, and pay more adequate salaries, especially to younger staff members; and they should remember that large numbers and high standards are "almost incompatible". Again, it was suggested that all Canadian universities might learn from Canada's two institutes of mediaeval studies with their unified approach to the whole of man's activities during a given period and in relation to a particular tradition. If the Ph.D. candidate were required to give evidence not only of precise knowledge but of an understanding of the relation of his study to the whole question of human existence, the term "doctor of philosophy" would regain its true and original meaning; this we heard from a scholar much concerned with the present state of the humanities, particularly of philosophy.

31. We received a number of suggestions for immediate and practical remedies. The Canadian Social Science research Council proposes suitable grants for post-graduate fellowships, for scholarships and for research; the establishment of a National Library; the placing of public records under the control of the Public Archives where they may be readily available for research; a more complete distribution of printed government documents; and in the interests of scholars, a re-organization of the National Museum. The Humanities research Council speaks particularly of the need to lighten the load and to increase facilities for research by university professors; and to provide funds for the publication of scholarly work. The Univer-


sity of New Brunswick gives particular attention to the problem of the university professor who cannot afford to devote his summers to study and research. Travelling fellowships are recommended to make possible visits to libraries, museums and other repositories of research materials and, in addition, grants for special expenses including stenographic help and the costs of publication.

32. We have had brought to our attention from various sources the urgent need to make it possible for the scholar in the humanities and social sciences to do work comparable in intellectual and social value to that of his colleague in the natural sciences. We have found no one answer to this problem; but we believe that many of our recommendations, particularly those relating to universities, scholarships and to a council for the arts, letters, humanities and social sciences, would help to give its true place in our national life to the proper study of mankind.


The Nature of Scientific research

33. Scholarly work and research in the natural sciences present a broad and complex picture. The natural sciences cannot be considered only as areas of study and intellectual investigation. The social and philosophic implications of scientific discovery, the special techniques employed, and the striking practical applications of scientific principles have so coloured and transformed every aspect of modern life that historians now speak freely of the age of science as opposed to a former so-called age of religion.

34. At first sight the Canadian picture seems a bright one. We were much impressed by the general interest in science and the appreciation of its importance as shown in the briefs. The universal emphasis on "research", a word made sacred in modern times mainly by the feats of the scientists, suggests the reputation they enjoy. Unlike work in the humanities, scientific research in Canada is conducted on a vast scale in federal, provincial and private laboratories, in addition to the fundamental work of the universities. Yet we are reminded by scientists that if the Canadian record in science is better than in other fields, it is still restricted often by the same causes that affect the humanities.

35. We have said something earlier in this chapter of the nature of scientific work in general. We might return to the simple definition of many scientists that scientific research is the investigation of natural phenomena in the endeavour to determine laws and relationships which may or may not have a practical application. As we have suggested, the scientist has much in common with other scholars. The use of certain techniques demanding highly specialized training does not alter the fact that the distinguishing marks of the great scientist are those of the


great mind working in any field, disinterested enthusiasm and creative imagination. A Canadian scientist recently recalled Lord Keynes' story of Newton who, asked by Halley how he knew that one of his fundamental theories was sound replied, startled, "Why, I've known it for years. If you'll give me a few days I'll certainly find you a proof of it," as he did.17a

36. The story sounds somewhat strange to those acquainted with modern methods of research. It serves, however, to point to the distinction emphasized by all modern scientists between fundamental and applied research. The "fundamental" research worker studies natural phenomena in the search for laws and relationships. He may or may not have in mind a possible application of his new knowledge. Some scientists refer to fundamental research as the "raw material" of science to be "processed" before it can be used. Others insist that the true scientist loves knowledge for its own sake and that in his absorption in the purely intellectual problem the thought of a practical application, for the moment, is unimportant. Indeed, as the story of Newton would suggest, the intensity of his desire for personal intellectual satisfaction may sometimes even be sufficient to make him forget for the moment the importance of assembling and arranging the evidence necessary for the support of his own intuitive conviction. It is, however, our impression that all modern scientists, without denying the importance of intuitive conviction, agree with Halley in insisting on the evidence.

37. Applied research, as the name implies, is the application of known scientific principles to the solution of a specific problem. As we have been informed, the problems of applied research lend themselves particularly well to large co-operative efforts employing great numbers of scientists and technicians which are so common in modern scientific research. Modern scientists often refer also to "basic research", that is, research which lies between fundamental and applied research. Here the worker explores a limited field. He generally has no immediate practical objective, but there is a likelihood that his findings will ultimately have a practical application.

38. It is important to distinguish between these types of research but it is, as scientists agree, impossible to separate them. Charles II, we are told, derived infinite amusement from the fact that the Fellows of his own Royal Society were able to detach themselves so completely from practical problems as to spend their time in "the weighing of ayre".18 But, nearly three centuries later, when the whole material basis of life has been altered by the application of scientific principles to practical problems, no fundamental research worker can be unaware of the possible practical results of anything he may do. With some, this possibility may be the initial incentive. On the other hand, the worker in basic or even in applied science may be driven back to fundamental research by the


exigencies of his problem or from intellectual curiosity. Moreover, the applied scientist in any field may stumble into another as did the man who, trying to obtain quinine from aniline, produced a beautiful purple dye and so laid the foundations of a great modern industry.19

39. Although the various types of research merge into one another, we have been reminded many times that the distinction between them is most important. All modern governments now devote increasingly large sums to scientific research. In 1937, Great Britain was spending $20 million, the U.S.A. $41 million and Canada less than $3 million for this purpose. By 1947 corresponding sums were $400 million in Great Britain, $626 million in the United States and $40 million in Canada. There is strong pressure for further expenditures to solve pressing practical problems in industry, in defence and in medicine.

40. In these circumstances, the sense of urgency makes it easy to emphasize the importance of applied research at the expense of fundamental work. The results of fundamental research are always slow in appearing; they may be negative or, if positive, they may be of no "practical" importance. Many people today, seeing the modern equivalents of "the weighing of ayre", are as amused as Charles II but less tolerant. It has, however, been pointed out to us repeatedly that fundamental research in science makes an essential contribution to our intellectual development and to our understanding of every aspect of modern life, and that without fundamental research there can be no proper teaching of science, no scientific workers and no applied science.

41. The warning is particularly necessary on this continent, where so many scientific workers have concentrated on applied or at most on basic research, making use of fundamental principles developed in the research centres of Europe. The following judgement by an American of his own country is probably equally applicable to ours:

"As a people our strength has lain in the practical application of scientific principles rather than in original discoveries. In the past, our country has made less than its proportionate contribution to the progress of basic science."20

This over-dependence, always dangerous, is especially so at the present time when so many research centres in Europe have been destroyed.

Principal Agencies of Basic and Applied research in Canada


42. There is no difficulty in convincing the modern industrialist of the importance of applied research, and most industrial firms today have their own laboratories for testing and experimenting, and very often for much more ambitious projects of applied and basic research. research in applied


science, where practical results may be anticipated, where costs may be precisely estimated, and where co-ordination of effort and the close co-operation of a large number of workers may be achieved with maximum benefit, is a very proper field for industry. In most modern countries, industry makes very important contributions to this kind of scientific work. In Canada, however, although there is an increasing awareness of its importance, industrial research lags behind the general development of industry. This may be partly accounted for by the very rapid process of industrialization which has hardly left time for long-range planning. The most important cause of the deficiency however is that so many Canadian firms are branches of British or of American companies. In such organizations the main research work is done at the centre and the Canadian branch confines its activities to turning out exact counterparts of British or American originals. Such practices, although no doubt economically sound, deprive Canadians of the opportunity of exercising their capacity and ingenuity in this kind of work. Out of 12,000 patents issued in Canada in 1947, fewer than 1,000 were granted to Canadians living in Canada. We are told that Canadian schools of applied science are adversely affected by the limited opportunities offered to their students in Canadian industry.21


43. The Provincial Governments have also given attention to scientific research in problems of particular interest to them. Most of the Provincial Governments have undertaken or supported research projects in at least some of their departments. In such fields as highway construction, forestry development, fisheries and wildlife management, and agriculture, the provincial activities have formed a very substantial part of the total Canadian programme.

44. The Provincial Governments have also supported a large amount of research work through research councils or research foundations. The earliest of these organizations to be established was the research Council of Alberta, which was formed in 1921. Throughout the thirty years of its existence, this Council has worked in very close association with the University of Alberta, primarily on problems connected with the fuel and mineral resources of the province.

45. Late in the same decade, the Ontario research Foundation was established and is supported jointly by the Government and the industries of that province. This organization undertakes a substantial programme of basic research and also enters into industrial contracts to do research or to act as consultant for individual companies or groups of companies. Although most of the industrial fellowships established under this programme have been sponsored by Ontario companies, a number of them have been established by companies from other provinces. In order to


provide more assistance to research, the Government of Ontario has recently established the research Council of Ontario. This body has no laboratories. With the assistance of a number of committees, it serves as an advisory body, and also provides financial support for research done in the Ontario research Foundation and in the universities of the province. It also awards a substantial number of scholarships.

46. During the past few years, a number of other provinces have established research organizations. British Columbia established the British Columbia research Council which has its laboratories on the grounds of the university; its activities are in general similar to those of the Ontario research Foundation. Nova Scotia set up the Nova Scotia research Foundation, which is at present an organization without laboratories operating like the research Council of Ontario, although it has taken an active interest in economic surveys and industrial development. The Saskatchewan research Council operates no laboratories of its own, but supports work in a number of laboratories at the University of Saskatchewan, both through grants and by the provision of scholarships. The Province of Quebec has established a Scientific research Bureau, which has supported research primarily through the award of scholarships. Newfoundland has taken preliminary steps toward the formation of a research council or commission, but the final form of the proposed organization is apparently not yet determined.

47. Through these various channels, the provinces have made a very substantial contribution to the progress of Canadian scientific research, and the tendency recently has been toward an expansion of provincial interest in this field.


48. The Federal Government now spends well over $50 million a year on scientific research. The work is done chiefly in departmental laboratories and in the laboratories of the National research Council including the important Chalk River plant. The National research Council is also responsible for the co-ordination and encouragement of Canadian research generally.

Departmental Laboratories

49. Scientific research is carried on by the Departments of Agriculture, Resources and Development, Mines and Technical Surveys, Fisheries, Defence, and Health and Welfare. These departments, concerned with the conservation and development of natural resources and with the health and security of the nation, naturally spend much time on practical problems. They necessarily, however, pay attention to basic and even to fundamental research. Some practical reasons for this are obvious. The fundamental or basic research necessary for the control of a pest or disease cannot well


be undertaken after the evil has reached the epidemic stage. If the preliminary work is not being done elsewhere, the department must undertake it. Moreover, it is generally agreed that the association of basic and even of fundamental research with practical applictions [sic] is essential to the proper functioning of the laboratories in that it helps them to attract and to retain first class men. All federal departments, however, work in co-operation with universities, particularly in connection with problems of fundamental research.

The National research Council

50. By far the most extensive and comprehensive of government laboratories are those of the National research Council which are devoted primarily to basic and fundamental research of interest to scientific and industrial activities of the broadest nature. The first laboratory was opened in 1932 with four research divisions: biology, chemistry, physics and mechanical engineering. During the period 1939-45, the demands of war made necessary a rapid expansion which was effected within the existing framework. In four years the staff increased from 300 to 2,500, and the budget from $900,000 to $7,000,000.

51. During the war almost all military research in Canada was carried on in laboratories under the control of the Council, of which at one time or another there were twenty-one in the various provinces of this country. At the close of the war the Government, on the advice of the National research Council, set up the Defence research Board which assumed direction of all laboratories devoted exclusively to military projects and also became responsible for staff planning and the general direction of defence research, leaving the Council to revert to peacetime programmes. Today the National research Council Laboratories include thirteen divisions: eight at Ottawa, the original four, and in addition, radio and electrical engineering, chemical engineering, building research and medical sciences; three at the Atomic Energy Establishment at Chalk River, taken over in 1947; and, in addition, the Prairie Regional Laboratory and the Maritime Regional Laboratory. Over 3,000 persons, including 754 professional scientists, are employed.

52. The operation of laboratories, however, was not the original, nor, in the opinion of some, is it the most important function of the National research Council. This body has played a unique and an invaluable part in the whole development of scientific research in Canada. The Council dates back to 1916. In 1914 it became apparent that the other western nations must, like Germany, enlist for the war effort all the resources of science. Following the advice and example of Great Britain, Canada prepared to organize her scientific effort on a national basis. In 1916 a Privy Council Committee set up the Honorary Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial research. This Council still operates under the


now commonly accepted name of the National research Council of Canada. In its various activities it represents public recognition of the fact that in peace and in war a modern nation's strength rests not only on the work of brilliant individuals but on the adequate direction and the integration of all its scientific resources.

53. The first Council under Dr. A. B. Macallum expressed its embarrassment at having undertaken to co-ordinate scientific research in a country so backward in scientific matters that there was little to co-ordinate. There were few research laboratories and only a few workers; perhaps some fifty men in the whole of Canada were competent to carry on real research.

54. The first need, then, was for trained men. The Council promptly made effective the scholarship scheme which we have described earlier, and which was perhaps the most important factor in the contribution of the National research Council to scientific work during the recent war. The scheme would however have been ineffective had not the Council simultaneously turned its attention to the problem of developing Canadian graduate schools as the only effective way of keeping Canadian research workers in Canada. In 1919 at only two universities, Toronto and McGill, could graduate studies in science be carried beyond the master's degree. In the preceding twenty-three years these two had given between them only eleven degrees in pure science. The chief cause was not lack of interest on the part of the institutions but poverty. The total annual revenues of these two universities amounted at that time to only a million and a half dollars.

55. Along with the scholarship scheme, therefore, the Council established a companion scheme for building up facilities for graduate study through grants-in-aid to enable universities to obtain research equipment and adequate assistance for professors engaged in research. These grants are mentioned elsewhere in this Report. They have been increased during the years, and an effort has been made to give them in such a way as to help the university to become a centre of organized research.

56. The National research Council also makes grants for applied research mainly through its Associate research Committees. These committees were organized early in the history of the Council to co-ordinate research, especially applied research, in various fields. At first, like the parent council, they found there was little to co-ordinate. There are now twenty-nine of these committees co-ordinating research projects in such diverse fields as aeronautics, corrosion, food preservation, geophysics, electrical units, and synthetic rubber. They spend $400,000 annually, working mainly with bodies primarily interested in applied research, but exercising an important influence on universities since many minor investigations essential to the solution of the main problem are conducted by university professors.


57. A final aspect of the work of the National research Council was of particular interest to us in relation to our other investigations. This is the Information Division and its general liaison work with all other research bodies governmental, private and industrial. The core of this service is the Council's admirable library with its general information and bibliographical services. The Division is also responsible for the publication of hundreds of scientific papers and of six formal journals of research. It keeps in touch with scientists abroad through the London and Washington offices of the Council and by other means. Finally, in its Technical Information Service, it maintains a field staff of thirteen whose duty it is to call on small industries, explain the services of the Council and solicit technical inquiries which may come in to the number of 4,000 a year.


58. In the preceding pages, in discussing the work of all institutions, and particularly that of the National research Council, we have made constant reference to the universities. In Canada, fundamental research is centred in the universities, traditionally and appropriately. They were the original and are still the chief centres of fundamental research and of scientific instruction in the country. Dalhousie was teaching science in 1854 and McGill gave a course in chemistry in 1857. Although little research was done during the nineteenth century, there was a steady increase of interest in such work during the early part of the twentieth. As we have just seen, the scholars and the facilities of universities were the principal means by which the National research Council succeeded in its remarkable achievement of developing Canadian scientific work and encouraging helpful exchanges and co-operation among all research workers. To say this in no way detracts from the distinguished qualities of the Council itself since most of its membership was, and is, drawn from the staffs of Canadian universities.

59. Although universities do undertake work in basic and applied research, it is their policy to devote themselves mainly to pure or fundamental research. It is generally agreed that this is their proper function, and that fundamental research should be left largely to them. The university is the place where one would expect pure research to flourish; there, traditionally, learning is sought for intellectual satisfaction, and the revelation of new knowledge follows naturally and inevitably on the mastering of the old. To provide complete freedom to the individual worker to choose his path and to follow it without thought of practical results has been the pride of universities in the past. Governmental laboratories with all their advantages cannot reproduce this special atmosphere.

60. For another reason, however, universities should be the chief centres of fundamental research. They are, we are reminded, the training ground for all research workers in science in every field, pure, basic and


applied, and for all recruits to scientific professions. The quality of the graduate depends on the quality of the research work done in the institution: first, because no institution uninterested in research can secure the best professors; second, without the best professors it is impossible to attract the best students; and third, the professor not engaged in research cannot convey to his student that intelligent understanding and lively enthusiasm which is an essential part of the training of a scientist, or of a scholar in any field. In presentations from scientists we found a remarkable degree of unanimity on the importance of associating fundamental research with teaching.

61. But fundamental research by its very nature does not pay for itself. It has always required a patron. It has been taken for granted that the universities in accordance with their tradition will be the patrons, perhaps aided, also according to tradition, by endowments from private persons. Universities, however, have become relatively poorer and persons of wealth increasingly scarce. The Federal Government has long been a patron of fundamental research, but, understandably, not a lavish one; and the poverty of universities has had direct results on the quality as well as on the amount of scientific research in Canada.

62. First, the level of university salaries is too low to attract many of the best men. We have mentioned that the salary scales of professional schools and schools of applied science are higher than in liberal arts colleges. They are, nevertheless, low compared with the financial rewards offered in industry or in ordinary professional life. They are even lower than salaries offered by government laboratories where physicial [sic] facilities for research may be much better.

63. This last fact is of great importance. It is safe to say that, to the best scientists, not money but proper working conditions will be the chief determining influence. It is becoming increasingly difficult for universities to provide equipment, services, and even time for research work. As in other fields, the lack of time and energy for serious work because of the heavy burden of teaching and administrative duties seems to be a universal cause of complaint. If these handicaps are not so serious as in the humanities and social sciences, they are nonetheless a significant factor.

64. These conditions are responsible for the loss of many scientists who would prefer to do their work in the otherwise favourable atmosphere of a university. The most serious loss is that of junior men who, choosing a career, must give thought to their immediate material resources. As one university official with important administrative responsibilities stated, senior men can always be replaced by promising juniors, but the loss of good juniors is irreparable. Want of first class men must lower the quality of research work done. It may also result in the diversion to other activities of able students who might otherwise be attracted to advanced

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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