Order of Canada winner lied about Ph.D

Why no one spotted a top science adviser who ‘misrepresented’ his credentials for 40 years
CP / Fred Chartrand

When Maurice Dusseault heard the news, his reaction was, “Dammit, dammit, dammit. That shouldn’t happen.” Louis LaPierre—then chair of New Brunswick’s new Energy Institute, where he was Dusseault’s colleague, and an esteemed scientist—had lied about his Ph.D. in ecology. In revelations that have shocked the scientific community, it turns out that LaPierre, who received the Order of Canada last year for his environmental conservation work, doesn’t have such a degree. Instead, he has a Ph.D. in education with a focus on the environment. He lied about his master’s degree, too—it’s in environmental education, not wildlife ecology.

LaPierre has refused interviews since he first told Radio-Canada a mix-up in his resumé accounted for the false claim that he received a doctorate from the University of Maine. But last week, he issued a statement admitting he “misrepresented” his credentials.

LaPierre was already at the centre of New Brunswick’s debate over how—or if—the province should develop its shale gas reserves. His 2012 report on the topic helped shaped the government’s plans to allow exploratory drilling. He recommended the province establish an energy institute to provide independent scientific input on public policy decisions over energy resources and, earlier this year, the government picked LaPierre to chair the new body. He resigned the position last week.

Now, with his reputation in ruins, LaPierre may undo the very process he set out to create. Critics have called for reviews of LaPierre’s work. (He’s sat on numerous scientific review panels across Canada and taught at the University of Moncton for three decades, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Environment Canada.) “The future of the institute is in jeopardy,” says Liberal energy critic Rick Doucet and, with it, he adds, the government’s strategy to gain public support for shale gas development. Others are calling for the institute to be shut down.

David Pearson, LaPierre’s colleague on an unrelated environmental review panel overseeing a potential pit mine near Marathon, Ont., is perplexed by the whole affair. There was nothing about the scientist’s performance that suggested anything might be amiss. “I really did find [these revelations] hard to believe,” he says.

So far, the shale gas industry has declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said it was a matter for the government, but added, “We support the Energy Institute and what it was established to achieve.” The government, for its part, has stuck by the institute and rejects calls for reviews of its work.

Dusseault, an engineering professor at the University of Waterloo with expertise in shale gas, argues the institute is more than one person. “[It] has an important role to play,” he says, by helping the government make decisions about energy resources. “I hope it gets over this bump.”