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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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study; it will certainly affect the quality of their training and so have an injurious effect on the next generation of Canadian scientists.

65. Another fact mentioned earlier in connection with the humanities and social sciences has been brought to our attention. Limited funds, and the general tendency to demand rapid and obvious returns, are having an injurious effect on all scientific research. In government laboratories, men fitted and trained for serious research may have to spend much time on routine experiment, demonstration and extension work. These are essential services but they could be performed as well by others. In the universities, the problem is even more serious. Not only commercial firms but even government agencies offer grants for applied research which cannot be expected to add in any way to the knowledge of scientific principles. Occasionally private donors offering research grants require that all research projects be approved by them. University authorities generally agree with scientists that these gifts should be steadily refused; it is, however, not always easy to justify such refusals. The inclination to hurry students along into scientific specialization without a proper grounding in the humanities, has already been noticed in a previous chapter. We heard of the unhappy effects of this tendency from a representative of an important school of applied science.

Nature and Quality of Scientific Work in Canada

66. Although we welcomed all information on scientific work in Canada as pertinent to our inquiry, we were particularly interested in gathering opinions on the permanent value of Canada's general contribution in those fields of intellectual investigation which are attracting so many of the best minds of the modern world. We believe that we are following the wishes of those who have offered us their opinions by passing on these opinions tentatively, and as matters for examination and discussion.

67. Canadian scientists have done distinguished work in almost all branches of science. The laboratories of physics at the University of Toronto and McGill University and the Faculty of Sciences at Laval University have long enjoyed a world-wide reputation. In newer university centres, we are told, promising work is now in progress which equals and may even surpass the achievements of the past. In the biological sciences also there are a number of Canadians with international reputations. In medical research, work in endocrinology has brought to Canada the one Nobel Prize ever received in this country. The Banting and Best Department of Medical research at the University of Toronto, the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill and the Institute of Medicine and of Experimental Surgery of the University of Montreal are internationally known.

68. Yet Canada not only follows the example of the United States in


depending on outside sources for many fundamental ideas; Canada also imports a great many leading scientists. Exchange both of scientists and of scientific ideas is good in itself, but in Canada there has been perhaps a too consistent practice of exporting bright young men and importing senior scientists. Moreover, striking individual achievements are no substitute for steady consistent work. For example, although good work in chemistry has appeared in a variety of fields, we are told that probably not one Canadian graduate school in chemistry could be placed among the first ten on the continent. In the important field of mathematics, we are told, in spite of much recent progress, Canada lags far behind countries smaller and poorer than herself.

69. We are told that medical research in Canada is in general on a much higher plane than research in the physical and biological sciences. This is to be attributed at least partly to public interest in any promising project of medical research, and money is generally forthcoming. The able young research worker in medicine, unlike his colleagues in the other sciences, is under no strong temptation to carry his talents out of the country. Facilities for his training and for his later work are generally available; and academic appointments which leave him leisure for research are not too difficult to secure. Good work has been accomplished in physics, chemistry and biology, but in the face of greater difficulties.

The Problem of Co-ordinating Scientific research

70. There seems to be general agreement that Canadian scientific work has developed remarkably within the last generation; that Canadian scientists in many fields have done distinguished work; but that the inevitable problems of rapid expansion, and the particular pressure in this period of crisis to adopt short cuts and to emphasize practical applications create serious problems which must be solved if Canadian achievements in science are to match those of even the smaller nations of the western world.

71. On one important matter which was brought to our attention, the need for greater co-ordination of all scientific research in Canada, authorities are not in complete agreement. We have already discussed the work of the National research Council in stimulating and co-ordinating efforts in all scientific fields and among all research agencies through voluntary committees. But with rapidly growing expenditures on research in an increasing number of government departments, there has appeared a need for some supervisory authority to assure co-operation and to prevent wasteful duplication.

72. The Privy Council Committee on Scientific and Industrial research has now assumed some of this responsibility. The Chairman informally holds a position in connection with all government scientific research in Canada comparable to that of the Lord President of the Council in


Great Britain who exercises general supervision over all government research in the country. This Committee used to confine itself to a yearly review of National research Council estimates. It has now been asked to review generally all estimates and the scientific plans of all the departments of government. Another recent development is the Scientific Advisory Panel to the Privy Council Committee. This Panel is composed of the Chairman of the Defence research Board, the Deputy Minister (or a senior scientist) from departments which have scientific laboratories, a representative of the Department of Finance, and the President of the National research Council as Chairman. The Panel offers advice on general policy, although not in detail, to the Privy Council Committee. The members have visited all laboratories in Ottawa with the result, we are told, that there is now "a group of administrative scientists who are reasonably well aware of what is going on in all such laboratories".22

73. There are those who think that the time has now come for a further step. They point out that the Advisory Panel can give only limited and fragmentary advice, whereas what is needed is a source of advice on broad scientific policy, and an impartial arbiter to co-ordinate competing interests. This need, it was argued, was recognized a generation ago, and the National research Council was set up to meet it. It was prevented from doing so for some years for various reasons; and the government agencies interested in research (agriculture, fisheries, mining and defence) gradually developed their own laboratories. Later the Council was increasingly preoccupied with its own laboratories. ". . . The total effect has been to cause the Council to take a much more limited responsibility for Canadian science than was originally envisaged".23

74. The suggestion has been made that the National research Council should be relieved of all direct administrative responsibility for the laboratories now under its control, and restored to what is conceived to have been its original advisory function. Applied research, it is agreed, must and should remain decentralized. In the opinion of some it is highly desirable that a responsible body (for example, the National research Council) should be charged with the duty of advising on general policy, of centralizing the interests of the Federal Government in fundamental and basic research, and of maintaining close relations with provincial and industrial research organizations. Such a body would also be especially concerned with continuing and extending the aid now given by the Federal Government to universities for fundamental research.

75. We received a variety of opinions on the merits of this and similar schemes for centralization. There was general agreement on the need for close co-operation and mutual exchange of information, and on the necessity of avoiding wasteful duplication. It was however represented that the proposed reconstituted National research Council, "suspended


impotently midway between operating bodies that control budgets and governments that vote the money",24 might lose the present advisory status of the Panel without any useful corresponding gain in power. It was stated also that there would be danger of undue interference with departments of the Federal Government; it would moreover be difficult to secure any better co-ordination with other research agencies than is now done through an elaborate but informal and friendly system of interlocking committees. The dangers of duplication, it was said, may be overrated. Concerted parallel effort with one end in view may be a very proper procedure. "It is not duplication to have two caddies looking for one golf ball."25

76. We are impressed with the difficulty and the importance of this matter, and are grateful for the many helpful opinions that have been offered. We have received a number of specific proposals on which there is general agreement. Since all scientific work depends on fundamental research, since fundamental research is properly carried on chiefly in the universities, and since universities state that they are increasingly hampered by lack of funds, the need for extending immediate and adequate financial assistance to them is generally accepted. This we have discussed elsewhere.

77. It is however important to state here that scientists who are often accused of material and mechanistic inclinations agree that although money is an obvious and prime necessity, it will not of itself provide the answer. Money is required for research professorships, for scholarships at all levels, for equipment, for scientific libraries, for publications, for travel, and so on. In all these helpful suggestions, however, we observed a consciousness that the first need is for brilliant and imaginative leadership, an unknown quantity still awaiting analysis. More than one person has mentioned the influence which Sir Frederick Banting and his colleagues exercised and still exercise over the whole field of Canadian medicine.

78. There has been insistence on the need for proper facilities in leisure, equipment, and technical assistance, but always we were reminded that these alone cannot guarantee results.

"It is important to realize that the person is the all-important factor in fundamental research . . . A man of first-class research abilities may produce much with very little outlay, provided that the cost of his training is not computed. But . . . the results of fundamental research cannot be bought with money. Great sums spent on mediocre research will produce little of fundamental nature, while small sums expended on first-class research may revolutionize a scientific field."26

The long-range results of such work on all workers in the field are emphasized. "Our young engineers and scientists are not doing half the impossible things of which they are capable,"27 because they are not being


challenged vigorously enough; this is the view of a distinguished Canadian who probably knows most of the able young scientists in Canada.

79. The conclusion presented to us, then, is that the great need is for first-class men to give leadership and inspiration through their own brilliant, original discoveries. The future depends not only on the continued liberality of governmental agencies but on the number and quality of the men induced to work at research. The greatest need is to discover and train these men and then to make sure that they are provided with research facilities and opportunities to enable them to render the services of which they are capable.

* 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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