There’s a brain drain going on and we’re inviting

Neil Turok’s appointment as executive director of Perimeter Institute continues to be ignored in Canada and followed with interest elsewhere. But this piece is particularly interesting because it reveals the extent to which Turok was becoming very frustrated with science and research funding in Britain. It suggests that Stephen Hawking may soon be joining Turok at Perimeter for extended stays. And, lest Canadians get too cocky, it reminds us that too much of Canada’s research landscape still resembles the mess that Turok is leaving behind him in Britain…

Turok complains, for instance, that Britain’s science minister isn’t a scientist. Well. Canada doesn’t have a science minister and, following what could almost be called the constructive dismissal of his national science advisor, Stephen Harper is not precisely being guided by tippy-top science advise even when setting science policy per se. And when Turok talks about researchers being “ground down by bureaucracy… and hunting for grants,” he is describing the experience of too many Canadian researchers, especially molecular biologists who have to deal with Genome Canada, and that’s a situation that predates the Harper government. (I don’t know enough about the teaching load of Canadian researchers to know whether Turok’s complaint on that score is transferable to Canada.) One hopes Turok won’t lose his franc-parler when he moves to Canada.

Canada really has become a place that can attract the world’s best researchers, and Perimeter is one of the centrepieces of that attraction. Harper is hardly unaware of Perimeter’s importance. But its lessons — that the basic, hard questions are worth asking, even if the immediate payoff isn’t evident; that scientists are best left to decide for themselves what’s worth investigating — are still too often taken for granted.

UPDATE: More on Turok.

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