Researchers at Memorial University are trying something they say is unique in Canada - setting up a group to fund purely "curiosity-based" research on economics.
The Collaborative Applied Research in Economics (CARE) group has managed to wrangle around $700,000 from the government and private groups for a three-year project at the university.
Economics professor Wade Locke said the goal is to inject some good information into public debate on important issues, based on sound economics.
"A lot of discussions and debates have gone on, based on either opinion or description with a paucity of good, technical economic analysis that's explained in a way that people can appreciate," he said. "It's meant to address issues that both we and the public feel are important for the people of the province, and that's what we're trying to do without being political."
First on the agenda are two researchers funded by the CARE plan to watch for the moose.
The idea is to do an economic analysis of moose-vehicle accidents in the province and the costs tied to preventing accidents.
"The issue is there are policies that are designed to mitigate moose accidents. How do people perceive the benefit of that, and what (are) the costs of it, and is one worth the other?" Locke said. "That's what they're doing, and within a year they'll have results in terms of a survey they're doing."
The CARE group was launched by Memorial earlier this week without much fanfare, but Locke said the real interest will probably come later on, when they start to roll out the fruits of their research.
They have a laundry-list of projects under consideration, tackling everything from the Newfoundland and Labrador labour market to a case study of rural economic development on Fogo Island.
With all of these projects, the idea is to do the complex economic analysis, but then explain it in a way that normal people can understand - without dumbing it down to just a list of recommendations.
Locke said part of the problem with a lot of economic research is that it boils down to big words and complex equations.
"The words are one thing, but the technical math that underlies it is so complicated that you either take it on face value ... if you're a policy decision-maker, you've got to say, OK I either accept that or I don't accept that," he said. "It's a problem, because it's not the best way to make policy decisions. What we've decided to do is try to give our students a sense of applied economic research and provide very technical, but explained in a way that's easy to understand, analysis."
For the moment, the CARE group plans on running as a three-year project out of Memorial, but if it's successful, Locke said, he'd like to see it turn into a permanent institute doing public-policy research.
"We're not directing research. We want people to do research they find interesting. We want it to be easy for them to do it," he said. "I hope that we're able to make a positive contribution to this particular province so that there can be more and better empirically-based policy decision-making in this province."
The project is getting money from the federal government through Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the provincial government, Memorial University and Husky Energy.
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