The appointment of National Research Council president John MacDougall in Canada — effectively the country’s top scientist — is being received by scientists the way James Watt was received by environmentalists in the Reagan Administration as head of the national park system. Like Watt, MacDougall seems antagonistic to the field that is supposed to be fostering with federal funds. Recently, MacDougall announced that “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value.” It turns out that all of that stuff by Galileo was just academic crap.
Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, announced that the NRC will shift its focus away from basic research to “large-scale research projects that are directed by and for Canadian business.” That will mean little or no funding for basic research under the $900 million annual budget. It is part of the conservative governments shift toward industry despite protests from leading scientists that the approach is simplistic and shortsighted. Those commercial applications are built on a foundation of basic research.
McDougall’s bio says that he began his career as a petroleum engineer and ultimately became the owner of an international engineering consulting firm.
The shift in funding and policy is a major blow for universities in Canada and will hurt both the scientific and educational communities in Canada. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of science — a type of science philistines, people who are “guided by materialism and . . . disdainful of intellectual or artistic values.”