Technology & Science

Canada gets top marks for science, technology research

Science and technology in Canada is healthy and growing, but research into natural resources and the environment has fallen behind, according to a new report.

Research into environment, natural resources in decline, says report

A report released Thursday says that scientific enterprise and innovation in Canada is healthy, growing and well respected around the world. (Nicolas Loran/iStock)

 Science and technology in Canada is healthy and growing, but research into natural resources and the environment has fallen behind, according to a new report released by the Council of Canadian Academies.

The findings, titled The State of Science and Technology in Canada, are based on analyses of peer-reviewed scientific papers, patents and opinion surveys of the world's top researchers. 

The report concludes that, overall, scientific enterprise and innovation in Canada is healthy, internationally competitive and well respected.

"There is much for Canadians to be proud of as Canada's international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs," Eliot Phillipson, chair of the panel that authored the report, said in a statement.

Strengths in medicine, visual arts

Looking at research within a variety of disciplines, the panel identified six fields in which Canada excels: clinical medicine, historical studies; information and communication technologies; psychology and cognitive sciences; physics and astronomy; and visual and performing arts.

Compared to the results of a similar report published in 2006, however, research into natural resources and the environment has declined in the past five years.

Previously considered two of the country's top strengths, these areas are now lagging, due to a drop in the share of world research publications and to a growing proportion of world experts identifying Canada as falling behind.

The report emphasizes that the declines do not imply that Canada is weak in these areas, but rather that its gains are just not as fast as the world average.

The assessment is one of the one of the most in-depth and comprehensive of its kind, synthesizing data about publications and patents and information from surveys in a range of disciplines.   In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada's research activity was ranked fourth highest in the world, behind the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents rated Canadian research in their field as being strong compared with the rest of the world.

The panel also found that Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world's research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world's most frequently cited papers – a number Phillipson says is impressive considering the country has less than 0.5 per cent of the world's population.

"That means that Canada is punching well above its weight, that our scientific contributions are having an impact, and that the world is taking note," Phillipson said in a teleconference Wednesday afternoon.

Looking to the future

Phillipson also identified rapidly growing areas where Canada is at the forefront of global research: wireless technology and networking, information processing and computation, digital media technologies, nanotechnologies, personalized medicine, tissue engineering and energy technology.

"About the future and whether Canada is well positioned to compete in the emerging areas of science and technology that will shape the world in which we live," Phillipson said, "the short answer is yes, Canada is well positioned to compete."