MPs get lessons in social science

November 20, 1998

In an effort to gain more recognition for the social sciences and humanities, 65 of Canada's top researchers this month met for two days with more than 100 politicians and senior civil servants in Ottawa to try to prove the importance of their work.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), a federal body that funds research outside medical, engineering or pure science, and 25 of Canada's universities organised 135 small meetings as part of a profile-building exercise.

SSHRC president Marc Renaud says he believes his is the first research body in the world to hold this type of event. He recently met counterparts from social sciences and humanities agencies in Britain, United States, Australia and several other countries, who, he said, were interested in following the idea.

"You know the old saying, 'Publish or perish'?" he asked. "We now have to change that expression to 'Go Public or perish'."

The council covers 20,000 university professors and 40,000 graduate students in more than 80 universities. It is aware that, in cost-cutting times, public image is everything. So researchers involved in subjects ranging from 18th-century Canadian writing to employee creativity, met in politicians' offices and, with coaching, tried to prove their relevance.

McGill University professor Martha Crago talked to MP Nancy Karetak Lindell and two other researchers in similar fields. The MP was especially interested in her talk on language use in aboriginal homes and schools. With a constituency in the Northwest Territories largely made up of aboriginal Canadians, Ms Lindell said she would like to follow up the research."I might invite her to speak at McGill," said Professor Crago.

The SSHRC would like more money. Even though, in the last federal budget Can$13 million (Pounds 5.1 million) was added to its Can$91 million budget, two studies from outside agencies concluded that it needs much more.

As politicians of all allegiances met researchers on Parliament Hill, Mr Renaud emphasised how important he believes research has been to their work. Supreme court judges relied on a lot of material that had been researched with SSHRC grants in reaching their August decision on the constitutionality of Quebec secession, for example.

Mr Renaud would like to see closer ties between politicians and academics as in the United States.

Stephane Dion, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, said: "The government has to hear what the experts are saying."

Mr Dion, a professor at the Universite de Montreal before going into politics, says his government has benefited from research findings on youth crime, which proved helpful in countering attacks by opposition and lobbyists, who were trying to get the government to take what he sees as too hard a tack on young offenders.

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