… to Willard S. Boyle, the Canadian physicist who shares this year’s Nobel prize in physics with George E. Smith and Charles C. Kao.

The Canadian inventor of technology that led to the birth of digital photography won a Nobel Prize Tuesday. But physicist Willard Boyle had to move to the United States to do his cutting-edge work.

Dr. Boyle, who won the award with former colleague George Smith, warned that managers need to give scientists leeway to come up with the kinds of transformative inventions that are too often stifled by paperwork and red tape.

What scientists face today is “almost disgraceful … The bureaucrats want to get a hold of the money and ask for business plans. Now do you think that George Smith and I ever wrote a business plan? Not at all,” Dr. Boyle, now 85 and retired, told a reporter Tuesday. “You don’t have time to do that kind of baloney.” […]

News of the prize comes as scholars in Canada and around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the tendency of governments to wade into research by putting strings on funding. In Canada, moves by the federal government to fund projects directly rather than through arms-length granting councils have come under fire by the academic community, as have restrictions on some money given to the councils.

For recent examples of that, see here or here:

Each Strategic Research Network will receive $5 million over five years through NSERC. They were selected through a peer-reviewed competition and support the research priorities areas identified in the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy.

Click through the first link above if you want to see what the nine networks are. I’m more interested in the list of priority areas:

For the 2009 competition, preliminary applications will only be accepted in three target areas (Advanced Communications and Management of Information, Healthy Environment and Ecosystems, and Sustainable Energy Systems), which have an increased competition budget due to additional earmarked funds received by NSERC.

Would Dr. Boyle and Dr. Smith have qualified? Well, they could fall under “Advanced Communications and Management of Information”, if they were doing their work today. But they did it 40 years ago. That’s right. Digital photography may be relatively new, but Boyle and Smith first came up with their idea back in 1969, almost 20 years before I saw a Commodore 64 for the first time. Boyle retired in 1979. Would it have been a “priority area” back then? At Bell Labs, it didn’t have to be. That’s the point.

I’m sure that the strategic networks are doing excellent work. But what the rest of us need is, in Dr. Boyle’s words, “a chance to do the things [we] want to do.”

Thank you, Dr. Boyle, for speaking for us.

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