Once again, there seems to be a heavier hand in censoring or editing Statistics Canada’s releases. This morning The Daily reported that:
“Spending on research and development in the higher education sector amounted to $9.6 billion (current dollars) in the fiscal year 2006/2007.”
but there was no word on whether this was an increase or decrease from the previous period, which Statscan releases almost always have.
I checked and found that the summary in the Daily is word for word identical to the highlights in the Science Statistics (as it is for many publications) except that it excludes the words “up 1.1% from 2005/6”.
As Jim Stanford pointed out earlier this week, the lede is the most important part of the story. The Statscan Daily report on this took out the context and information that might lead reporters onto a potentially negative story about this issue.
This 1.1% increase is less than the rate of inflation and in constant dollar terms, R&D funding in the higher education sector actually declined by 1.2%. In fact the Science Statistics publication shows that 2006/7 was the first time in a decade that research and development spending in the higher education sector in Canada (HERD) actually declined in constant dollar terms (see table 1.1, page 9 in the Science Statistics document). The average rate of growth in constant dollar terms had been 8.8% a year since 1996/7.
Why did it decline?
The stats tables show that it is almost entirely because of lower funding from the federal government. This amounted to a 4.4% cut in funding in constant dollar terms. The federal funding cut of $102 million in real dollar terms was responsible for almost all the total $105 million total decline. In actual current dollars, the federal cut amounted to $55 million in a year that the fedeal government registered a $13 billion surplus.
Why is this relevant?
The year 2006/7 was the first year that the Harper government was in office. Investment in research and development is essential to increase our economy’s productivity, which hasn’t increased since the start of 2006 (and has grown at a dismal rate since 2000).
Canada has some of the most generous tax incentives for private R&D in the world, yet Canada has one of the lowest rates of investment in R&D among OECD countries thanks to both low rates of government and business investment in R&D, accoridng to Industry Canada’s Science and Technology Data tables. Canada’s investment in higher education R&D had recently been relatively good, but it looks like the current federal government may soon rectify that.
The Harper government is laying off federal scientists and forcing departments to slash their R&D budgets . It is deregulating food safety inspection and transferring or selling off federal labs to the private sector, intent on further commercialization and privatization. They eliminated the national science advisor and have instead appointed Preston Manning among others to help advise on science issues. This approach to science recently earned the Harper government scathing criticism in an editorial in Nature, one of the most respected science publications in the world.
Was the removal of these four words (which effectively killed news interest in this story) the result of overactive self-censorship within Statistics Canada or the consequence of the long reach of Harper’s communications tsars? I suspect we’ll never know, but in whatever case it is a concern. The threat of budget cuts can be very effective in keeping departments and agencies in line.
This development is disturbing: both the drop in funding for R&D for the health of our economy, and what appears to be a diminishing level of objectivity in Statistics Canada’s reporting.
At one point, Statistics Canada was ranked the top statistical agency in the world by The Economist magazine. They still produce a tremendous amount of excellent material and have many superb staff, but with this type of political spin-doctoring, I suspect they wouldn’t make it onto the podium either right now.
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- Rethinking Economics Waterloo Conference, Feb 7 (January 22nd, 2015)
- Alex Usher Needs to Consider Taxation (May 20th, 2014)
- Alex Usher is Wrong on Tuition Fees (May 12th, 2014)