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Federal science policy decried

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Manitoba already gets less than its fair share of federal research cash, so Ottawa's stingy new science policy could hit the province particularly hard, a panel of local academics said Wednesday night.

That financial reality, coupled with the muzzling of federal experts and cuts to politically touchy research on climate and water quality, suggest a dangerous trend, the academics said.

"My concern is mostly with the effect on young scientists," said Peter Blunden, a University of Manitoba physicist. "These are good scientists who are now unable to train graduate students. It's like a lost generation of scientists."

Blunden was among four scientists in a panel discussion of Canada's science policy Wednesday night, hosted by the Canadian Association of University of Teachers.

Manitoba has already seen several high-profile cuts to science projects close to home, including the near-death of the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora and the closure of the federal fisheries library in recent months.

The panellists said the slow erosion of grant money in recent years has stymied young researchers and forced the big granting agencies to fund only a small fraction of worthy applications.

Panellist Jim Clark, a psychology professor at the University of Winnipeg, said Manitoba researchers get about two per cent of all federal grants, well below what it merits, based on population. A further erosion in the amount and focus of science grants "could be really devastating in Manitoba," where there is little provincial cash to pick up the slack, Clark said. "Once you fall behind, it's very hard to catch up."

U of M biologist Judith Anderson, whose lab studies muscle stem cells and how drugs might repair them, said the country's big granting agencies, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, have seen their funding for basic, curiosity-driven experiments diverted to research with an economic potential and obvious practical application.

"It's pretty hard to apply knowledge before its discovered," she said.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2014 A8

History

Updated on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8:06 AM CDT: Corrects name to Peter Blunden

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