My area of research is the international cruise ship industry, specifically the risk factors associated with cruise ship travel. This research is extremely relevant and helpful to Canadians, who spend over a billion dollars a year on cruise ship vacations. However, because this research does not have direct commercial value – and is often critical of the cruise ship industry – it has little hope of receiving funding from federal government granting councils. This is due in no small part to our government’s focus on funding research that has commercial application or serves the needs of industry.
A major focus of my research is the social epidemiology of sexual assaults on cruise ships. Based on industry data, a person is 50 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted on a cruise ship than on land in Canada (a large proportion of victims are children under the age of 18). This research has relevance to Canadian consumers and their families. With funding it could yield a fuller understanding not just of the incidence of sexual assault on cruise ships, but where and when there is the greatest risk. Information about sexual assaults on cruise ships is not good for business, and as government funding for research increasingly focuses on benefits to industry rather than to people, pursuit of this type of research becomes increasingly difficult.
Another major focus of my research is the security of cruise ships. This topic is quite timely given the number of ships that have gone adrift because of lost propulsion, the number that have lost electrical power, and those that have run aground, capsized, or sunk. The capsizing of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, which resulted in the loss of life, is a recent example of ship security gone wrong. Even though this research could increase passenger safety, it has the potential to put industry in a bad light. For that reason alone, it is unlikely to receive support through government funding councils, given their new coziness with the private sector.
The problem with reductions in funding for research, as well the move toward targeted funding favouring research with commercial application or direct benefit to industry, is that the pursuit of research like mine will move forward slower than it should. In addition, lack of support means the research will not meet its full potential and may not be effectively disseminated. It isn’t that the research doesn’t have direct value to Canadians, but because it doesn’t directly benefit industry and commercial interests it is unlikely to be funded through the government’s granting councils. This is a serious flaw in our federal research policy, and one that will have direct negative consequences for many Canadians.
Ross A. Klein, PhD
Memorial University of Newfoundland