Correspondence

Nature 455, 729 (9 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455729a; Published online 8 October 2008

Science lobbying in Canada needs stepping up

Mehrdad Hariri1

  1. Ontario Cancer Institute, University of Toronto, 610 University Avenue, Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto MSG 2M9, Canada
    Email: mhariri@uhnres.utoronto.ca

Sir

Your Editorial 'The other North American election' (Nature 455, 263; 2008) draws attention to an apparent lack of urgency towards general science issues in the Canadian election campaign. This must surely reflect public opinion and therefore inadequate advocacy efforts by the scientific community.

By comparison with the prominence given to science-related issues in the US presidential election, their marginalization in Canadian politics is noticeable (see http://www.sciencecanada.blogspot.com). During the first 16 days of the election campaign's 37 days, there were only two direct pronouncements on scientific research: one by the Liberal leader on a single visit to a university and the other a mention of research and development by the prime minister during a visit to an industrial firm. That was the scale of attention to science by all main political parties: Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and Greens.

Science advocacy in Canada needs to be stepped up. Professional and lobbying organizations that bring science to the attention of policy-makers need to be stronger and more visible. In the United States, for example, there are numerous organizations and professional associations with dynamic and systematic links to policy-makers, Congress and the Senate; in Canada, such relations are largely conducted at a personal level.

The retired politician Preston Manning, cited in your Editorial, is not alone in calling for an independent ministry for science: many scientists have said the same. They are right to insist that science should no longer come under the ministry for industry. Its position there reflects the government's limited grasp of the importance of science policy, not helped by the dearth of scientific and engineering training among parliamentarians.

Unlike Canada, the United States runs fellowship programmes for training young scientists in science policy and the policy-making process, through its science academies and organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It is time for Canadian scientists to initiate organized efforts to take science into mainstream Canadian society. This will mean strengthening existing professional organizations and establishing new and dynamic networks of science advocates. Only then can we hope that research funding will warrant more than a passing mention in political manifestos.