Dr. Hubel recalled that, upon discovery, they studied this first cat neuron for nine hours straight. Their seminal 1959 publication of these findings, they wrote, "of course gives no hint of our struggle. As usual in science reports we presented the bare results, with little of the sense of excitement or fun."
Neuroscience is a field that's literally changing everything. As we understand how the brain works, how it interacts with the rest of the body and how the external world impacts both feeling and thought, the practical implications are enormous. Haring aids for the deaf, better therapies for those suffering from mental illness, improved educational techniques and even more effective marketing practices all result from this field.
But none of these results came from a two-step process of A) research leading to B) commercialization. It takes a lot of misfires, experiments, iterative thinking and cross-jurisdictional sharing to land, eventually, on the innovations that change our world for the better.
Now, ask yourself - would a couple of geeky scientists playing with cats and cameras have been able to secure funding in Canada today? Would they have had the networking savvy and marketing acumen to pitch their work the right way to funders unwilling to take risks on endeavours they can't understand?
There's a reason Canada lags in R&D and innovation - we have developed a culture where the focus is on elevator pitches, low-hanging fruit and straight-to-market production. This isn't a symptom of an over-regulation; in fact, the Harper Government is focused on de-regulation and still unwilling to support endeavours that fit within their narrowly-conceived mandate/that isn't intuitive for them.
Science for science's sake isn't a waste of time; it's an investment in the future. Yes, we want to be sure scarce public dollars aren't going to studies of beer consumption of soccer fans, but for our own sake, we do have to think beyond the straight-to-market approach favoured by our current federal government. We also shouldn't expect researchers to be master salespeople, especially as these two skills rarely come together.
Perhaps we should look at ways to partner R&D people with sales people, creating healthy, mutually beneficial relationships that allow for experimentation but always keep an eye on how the science could be turned into profitable opportunity. There are countless opportunities and permutations possible, many of which we can't fathom until we give it a try.
It's not regulation, but functional fixedness that is stifling innovation in Canada. It's time our government takes off its blinders and looks a bit further afield than it has become accustomed to.
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