Research – not just science – at heart of Naylor Report

The recent release of the Naylor Report marked an important landmark in the development of the Canadian research ‘ecosystem,’ and it is appropriate for Western to “applaud federal re-investment in scientific research.” (Seize the moment: Western applauds federal re-investment in scientific research, May 20).

The Naylor Report, more formally known as Canada’s Fundamental Science Review (as per the minister’s mandate), is actually entitled Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research 2017.

This report features a very thorough analysis of the Canadian research ecosystem and offers a sequence of formal recommendations, including the creation of a new advisory committee to oversee and coordinate the Tri Councils agencies, plus the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the suggestion this committee should review (and increase) funding to those funding bodies. Furthermore, the report offers recommendations that digital infrastructure should be strengthened, investigator-based research should be prioritized and early career researchers should be supported, and equity, Indigenous research and multidisciplinarity should be emphasized in this new ecosystem.

These recommendations are clearly to be applauded and highlighted.

However, there is a key message of the Naylor Report missed by Western’s coverage, and indeed by much of the media’s discussion of the report’s release.

The key message, I believe, that needs to be highlighted is the report is not just about science – rather it is about research writ large. In fact, neither the title of the report as published, nor the name of the oversight committee – the National Advisory Committee on Research and Innovation (NACRI) – contain the world ‘science.’ This choice is explicitly meant to reflect an inclusive perspective on research and innovation.

According to the report’s Note on Terminology, the word ‘research’ is used “as an umbrella term covering both ‘science’ and ‘scholarly inquiry.’” Furthermore, “the Panel believes NACRI’s scope must embrace the full range of disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities, a position that explains why ‘research’ rather than ‘science and technology’ figures in its proposed title.”

This perspective pervades the document, but one additional quote will suffice to illustrate the point being highlighted here: “The Panel’s review is focused on research as a quest for knowledge and understanding. That quest is pursued using scientific methods and other forms of rigorous inquiry by colleagues across disciplines from the natural sciences and engineering through to the health sciences, social sciences, and humanities.”

In this light, the headline of the Western News article on April 20 should really have been written to read, “Western applauds federal re-investment that supports rigorous, investigator-based research across the full range of scholarly disciplines.”

This broad conceptualization of research and innovation can yield tremendous opportunities if it is recognized and embraced. Indeed, it must be embraced to fully exploit the proposed emphasis on multidisciplinarity.

We are very fortunate to live in Canada right now – scholarship, including science, is recovering here from years of neglect, while it is under attack in many other countries. While we certainly decry U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to “capital Science” in the United States, his proposed cuts to the social sciences, arts and humanities disciplines – the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts – are not just deep, they are existential.

The Naylor Report is a uniquely Canadian document that recommends an enlightened call for increased investment in research broadly conceived. I encourage the Western research community to respond to this report by thinking broadly, by reaching out across departmental, disciplinary and faculty lines and by celebrating innovative research in all its forms. It is not yet clear when or how the government will respond to these recommendations, but we must be ready when it does.