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Canada’s New Science Officer Will Have a Tough Job—Here’s Who We Think Can Do It

We're going to need a real badass for this one.
Image: Flickr/Tavis Ford

In 2008, Canada eliminated the position of national science adviser, angering scientists who saw the office as a key point of contact between the government and the scientific community.

Over the next eight years, Canada went to war on science by preventing researchers from talking to the press (in a word, "muzzling"), and cutting billions in funding for research. Along the way, Canada gained a reputation for being flagrantly anti-science. Now, Canada is looking to revive the role of the national science adviser, and undo some of the damage done during the Harper years, with a "chief science officer."

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Whoever is chosen for the position, and when—staff of science minister Kirsty Duncan would neither confirm nor deny that they will be named with the release of the federal budget on Tuesday—they will have one hell of a job ahead of them. Although much of the role of the chief science officer appears undefined at the moment, one theme overarches the entire discussion: transparency.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Duncan, he said that the chief science officer would be mandated to "ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions."

The previous Canadian government's dubious record on science is a big ship to turn around, and it's been on the same, dirge-like course for nearly a decade. With that in mind, here are some badass scientists that we think would be perfect for the job.

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KATIE GIBBS
Director, Evidence for Democracy

Katie Gibbs knows how to get people fired up about transparency (resist the urge to fall asleep after reading that word), which is pretty damn impressive.

In 2012, the Harper government's campaign to muzzle scientists was in full swing, and Gibbs was one of the chief organizers behind a protest that ended up swelling into thousands of angry researchers marching on Parliament Hill. A scientist by training, and a staunch advocate of government transparency by trade, Gibbs hasn't let up on her cage-rattling since that day four years ago. In the intervening years, she's helped to run Evidence for Democracy, an advocacy group that sprung up in the wake of the protest.

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Bringing her outlook and history of campaigning for transparency into the government itself would be a big move.

BRENDA PARLEE
Canada Research Chair in Social Responses to Ecological Change, University of Alberta

Parlee's bread and butter is researching the impacts of climate change, but with a focus on aboriginal beliefs that is all too uncommon in Canadian science today.

She and her team of students go out into the field to engage with indigenous communities about changes to their environment as a result of climate change—the declining populations of certain animals, for example. In 2013, she helped organize a permanent exhibit at the University of Alberta called "Elders as Scientists" to raise awareness about indigenous knowledge systems.

Appointing Parlee would make aboriginal knowledge a part of the communication process between scientists, the government, and the public. Canada's track record with our indigenous peoples has been pretty awful in nearly every regard for, well, ever, and including them and their knowledge into our science priorities would be a welcome gesture.

ALAIN BOURQUE
Executive Director, Ouranos

Bourque was once a climatologist for Environment Canada, but these days he mostly specializes in handing out scientific knowledge suplexes. Who better to take on the role of bridging the gap between science, government, and the public?

He's served as the executive director of Ouranos, a Canadian climate change think tank, since 2013, so he knows how to run an organization. He's also somewhat of a firebrand when it comes to keeping temperatures on an even keel, which is a plus, and doesn't hesitate to lay out the scientific consensus about climate in no uncertain terms—even when faced by government ministers.

Basically, he's got the cred and isn't afraid to flaunt it.

DAVID SUZUKI
Activist

Image: Flickr/Stephen Michael Barnett

Lol just kidding.