June 1, 2002

May the best scientist win

Editorial, National Post

Social engineers have their eyes on the $900-million Canada Research Chairs Program that the federal government founded two years ago. Its purpose is to create 2,000 research chairs at Canada's universities by 2005. To date, 500 chairs have been funded by Ottawa and 15% of them have been awarded to women. This is too few according to the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada, a group that represents over 24,000 Canadian academics.

The $900-million fund, 80% of which is destined for research in the sciences, is supposed to add lustre to Canada's poor research and development credentials, reverse the brain drain and help universities attract the world's best minds. Rightly, Ottawa told universities to award the chairs on merit alone.

Wendy Robbins, the vice-president for women's issues of the federation, thinks this is a mistake. "Women researchers," said Dr. Robbins in an interview, "ask different questions than men and we need to make sure that way of looking at the world is protected." She is demanding that Ottawa make the grants dependent on universities meeting quotas for female appointments.

We have gone down this road before. Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, which will support 8,700 university researchers in Canada in 2001-2002, diverts $2.7-million a year exclusively to women. It does so because of a phantasm called "systemic discrimination," which believers say prevents women from getting ahead in sciences. In his letter to the editor today, René Durocher, executive director of the Canada Research Chairs program, promotes the same mischief, implying discrimination exists without any supporting evidence.

All this retards the promotion of science. The goal of the Canada Research Chairs Program and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council should be the promotion of good science, without the taint of social engineering. The only "fair share" that male and female researchers are entitled to is the share they win based on merit.

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