I hope you have all been in good spirits despite the lingering pandemic. I must say that I have been so impressed by the entire scientific community in this past year. I would like to thank you for the resilience you have demonstrated. The health crisis has taken its toll on all of us and on our younger members and female research professors in particular.
As early as March 2020, the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) were quick to implement a series of measures to lessen the impacts of the pandemic within their communities by, for example, providing an extra year of funding to groups, networks, centres and institutes. More recently, financial resources of $1,8M were allocated to give more time to nearly 220 graduating grant holders whose work was slowed by the pandemic and support was made available to new researchers.
We also provided funding for several research projects to address the pandemic, including the new Québec COVID-19 biobank and Québec COVID Pandemic Network. More recently, the CentreEau-COVID project to screen for COVID-19 in wastewater for the early detection of viral load changes in our communities, Observatory on child health and education to better understand the repercussions of the pandemic for better decision making, a project on the long-term physical and mental health impacts of COVID-19, initiatives focused on the groups that were most exposed to the virus including seniors, a number of programs and projects in collaboration with the Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur (to which we report), the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation and the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, as well as the new Impulsion program to contribute to Québec’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
Even so, we know all too well that our community will be feeling the effects of the health crisis for a very long time. We are currently in discussions with government authorities on this important topic.
A call to the scientific community
As we manage the impacts of the pandemic, we are also actively addressing a number of issues, including the government’s upcoming research and innovation and life sciences strategies and ambitious innovation zones. I am contributing to the development of the research and innovation strategy as a member of the new Innovation Council and remain a partner and collaborator of the Chief Innovator. I hope many of you have taken the time to submit a brief as part of the strategy consultation process. It is essential that the academic community be a strong voice to affirm the importance of increased long-term support for basic and non-directed research in all knowledge sectors.
Research and science must be seen as the keys to a swift post-pandemic recovery. Nations and regions, including the US, Europe, England, Ireland. South Korea and Switzerland, have said in no uncertain terms that they will substantially increase the amounts allocated to basic research to support the development of a more innovative—and more equitable—society. Basic research will be among the assets and perhaps even the secret weapon. There will be enormous demand for government funding, so be sure to share your thoughts on the future of the research and innovation strategy. Québec could lose big if we do not maintain and augment our non-directed research capacities in all scientific disciplines and sectors.
FRQ’s strategic planning
In close collaboration with the members of our three boards of directors, we are beginning the work and consultation on the FRQ’s 2022–2027 strategic plans. We hope you will play an active role in their development, either through our programs aimed to support new researchers, research groups and teams and studies into major societal challenges or our most recent initiatives, including Audace (intersectoriality), Engagement (participatory science), Dialogue (science and society), Prisme (arts and sciences) and Impulsion (economic recovery). Our new strategic plans are also the opportunity to demonstrate and broaden the FRQ’s leadership on topics related to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), open access to research articles and open science and overarching sustainable development (SD) goals. We are also putting the finishing touches on our EDI strategy, which we plan to release this summer. At their April meetings, the three boards approved the FRQ’s participation in cOAlition S, an initiative to make full and immediate open access to research publications a reality. Finally, a day of discussions on the SDGs is planned in late June. We will soon have more details for you so you can get involved and be sure your comments and suggestions are considered in real time. It is clear that the implementation of new directions will require flexibility and time on our part.
On another note, in February, the report by the Comité sur l’université du future, which I had the pleasure of chairing, was released by the Minister of Higher Education. We are currently focused on the Minister’s follow-up committee. I am very glad that several of the committee’s recommendations will be updated over the next two years. Some will have positive impacts on our higher learning institutions.
In closing, I would like to touch upon three issues of great importance to me: French-language research, disinformation and science diplomacy and advice. Indeed, the FRQ recently launched a new monthly program that recognizes French-language publications: the Prix Publication en français Gisèle-Lamoureux (FRQNT), Prix Publication en français Alice-Girard (FRQS) and Prix Publication en français Louise-Dandurand (FRQSC). I am especially grateful to Louise Dandurand’s family, who agreed to let the FRQSC name its new award in her honour. Louise led the Fonds for several years and was a member of my Comité de Sages advisory committee.
There is no doubt that disinformation has been part of our media landscape for quite a while, but it has become rampant with the development of social media and, more recently, the pandemic. Not too long ago, we organized a discussion panel on this complex issue and sent out a short survey to community members whose work delves into disinformation to guide our actions. Our aim is to support innovative research and communication projects in this area. Indeed, the quality of scientific communication and involvement of our researchers in the public sphere depend on their outcomes. If you have any ideas or suggestions, do not hesitate to share them with me. Our future actions must be based on convincing data and research and not on the countless positions of too many armchair quarterbacks!
Finally, with regard to science diplomacy and advice, I would like to personally invite you to the 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments hosted by the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) in a hybrid format. The event will be held in Montréal from August 29 to September. Attendance is free, and over 1 000 people are already registered. I look forward to seeing you there!