More Recent Comments

Friday, November 06, 2015

Canada's new Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, is NOT a Nobel Prize winner

Canada has a new government under the Liberal Party and a new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I'm very excited about this change. I'm a member of the Liberal Party of Canada and I voted for the Liberal Candidate in my riding.

One of the big changes is supposed to be increased transparency of government, more openness with the press, and a promise to base decisions on evidence and science. In other words, truth is supposed to be the new buzzword on Parliament Hill. Trudeau's new cabinet even has a Minister of Science, unlike previous cabinets.

I watched the swearing in ceremony on Wednesday to see who would be in charge of science. It's Kirsty Duncan the MP from Etobicoke North. I didn't recognize the name even though I had criticized her interference with CIHR back in 20131 [Kirsty Duncan MP Objects to "Bias" in the Working Group on CIHR Funding of a Clinical Trial on "Liberation Therapy"].

I was a bit surprised to learn that she was a Nobel Prize winner (see screenshot). She is not a Nobel Prize winner and she is not a Nobel Laureate as claimed on her Facebook page a few years ago [Kirsty Duncan Withdraws False Nobel Claim]. She contributed to some work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007. Here's a summary of her contribution according to the Fake Nobel Laureates Hall of Shame website [Kirsty Duncan: Canada’s Fake Nobel Laureate Member of Parliament].
Given all of the above, one is left wondering what Duncan’s contribution to the IPCC actually is. It turns out she was one of hundreds of people who worked on a 517-page report titled The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability. Published in 1997, this wasn’t one of the IPCC’s opus climate assessments, but a smaller publication.

The Canadian contingent for that report included 22 individuals. Another 22 contributors came from New Zealand and 63 more came from Australia. The US sent 102 people, Cuba seven, Kenya six, Zimbabwe five and so on. You can see the full list here.

Duncan was one of 39 who helped write Chapter 8, which discusses how climate change might affect North America. The report had 11 chapters overall.

That is the basis on which people all over the world have claimed that Duncan is a Nobel Prize winner. A 1/39th contribution. To one chapter out of 11. Of a not-very-important IPCC report.
Given that Kirsty Duncan retracted her previous claims of being a Nobel Prize winner back in 2013, why was she identified as a Nobel Prize winner on the CBC broadcast last Wednesday?

The press was given advance (embargoed) notice of the new cabinet ministers along with their biographies so they would be prepared for the announcement at the swearing in ceremony. Presumably, the biography for Kirsty Duncan said something about her having won a Nobel Prize and that's why it appeared on the CBC banner during her swearing in.

There are two problems here. The first one is whether the Liberal government was being truthful when it supplied information to the press about Kirsty Duncan. The second is whether we should appoint someone to be Minister of Science if she lies about winning a Nobel Prize.

This is very disappointing. I was really hoping that Justin Trudeau would "get" what it means to be a scientist and what it means to be scientific.

Note: Kirsty Duncan is identified as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto on several websites. I couldn't find her on the University of Toronto website or the University of Toronto, Scarborough (UTSC) website. Does anyone know where she teaches? Currently, on the official government website (The Honourable Kirsty Duncan), she's listed as a former Associate Professor of Health Studies at the University of Toronto. There's nothing about being an Adjunct Professor and there's no mention of Nobel Prizes on that website.

1. As my old thesis supervisor says, when you get older you learn lots and lots of new things every day so you occasionally have to delete some irrelevant bits of information from your brain's storage facility in order to make space for more important stuff. This is why aging baby boomers invented the computer hard drive and the internet.


  1. My Facebook page claims that I am Lord High Emperor of the Universe. And I stand by that claim until someone can prove otherwise.

  2. Unlike President Obama's first energy secretary, Steven Chu, and co-science adviser, Harold Varmus, roughly the counterparts of the Canadian science minister, both of whom are Nobel Laurettes.

    1. In Canada, and many other countries, the Minister of Science has to be a member of Parliament.

    2. That seems rather odd. Scientists would have a hard time winning an election to congress. Most competent ones wouldn't try.

    3. That seems rather odd

      I think you'll find that it's the American system that's odd.

    4. Re Lawrence Moran

      Scientists in the US Congress are few and far between. The only 2 that I know of recently are Rush Holt from New Jersey and Bill Foster of Illinois, both physicists. There are a few physicians but none of them are/were active scientists.

    5. I had the pleasure of voting for Rush Holt, but as of 2015 he has retired from Congress. He is now CEO of AAAS.

  3. Her biography states "Duncan was an adjunct professor teaching both medical geography at the University of Toronto and global environmental processes at Royal Roads University,...". There is a new items from 2008 with her receiving a reward on the UTSC webstie.

    1. The Wikipedia article says, "She is also currently an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto" right after mentioning that she is now the Minister of Science.

      The Nature article on her from Wednesday says, "Kirsty Duncan, a medical geographer at the University of Toronto in Canada, ..."

      As far as I know she WAS an Associate Professor back in 2008 (seven yeas ago). I'm just curious about her current affiliation with the University of Toronto. One site says she's on leave.

      There's a lot of misinformation out there. Just today, for example, I read this, "As this viral image from Alana Phillips, a Liberal party member in Canada, rightly boasts, every one of the new cabinet ministers are not only top bananas in their respective departments, their very ministries are conceived and named to suit a 21st century reality: that of equality and diversity. Kirsty Duncan, the minister of science, is, in addition, a Nobel laureate in chemistry," It's accompanied bu a photo with the caption, "Kirsty Duncan has a Nobel Prize in chemistry."

      Where does this misinformation come from? Is it reasonable to assume that Kirsty Duncan herself may be contributing to this?

    2. First, and errata - in my first post, I should have referenced your question, "Does anyone know where she teaches? "

      Second, There's a lot of misinformation out there.

      Absolutely. And in the modern "political machine" era, it's hard to tell what is propagated by the person in question, and what is propagated by various PR wings of the party. Let's hope that this is cleared up quickly, and transparently.

  4. She was elected as an MP in 2008, so there's no way she was active as a professor teaching at the U of T after that.

  5. I met her once. First time a minister of science? why is there one? is this to keep a eye on creationists? Just kidding but i wonder if , finally, the ID/YEC revolution is going to get attention! Hmmm.
    What does the government do about science? Why was iot not needed before?
    Why is someone worthy to oversee science issues in cAnada if they are confused about the merits for getting and claiming a Nobel etc reward??
    Will this come up in the Truedeau loving media ? If it was a Harper PC appointee i think there would be a noise somewhere!
    Does climate change stuff count as science? Is Al Gore a scientist?
    I suspect she sincerely thought she could claim nobel title by being in these studies. Surely she wasn't sincerely hoping to trick people. Unlikely.
    Keep an eye on her about whether she understands what science is as much as what merits science rewards.
    In other words don't say creationism isn't science. Ome could question credibility.
    I got a hunch this is the beginning of a silly period in canadian politics.
    minister for science is silly unless they have some ideas of their own.
    I didn't vote for them.

  6. Robert Byers: There has been a Minister of Science in the past. It was a junior ministry though, and so the title was Minster of State for Science and Technology. Stephen Harper put creationist chiropractor Gary Goodyear in that portfolio.

    1. On of the interesting features of this new cabinet is that science and technology have been separated. Kirsty Duncan is Minister of State for Science and Navdeep Singh Bains is Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

      Right now Ms. Duncan has to report to Navdeep Bains but that's just temporary until new legislation can be passed to elevate Ministers of State to full cabinet members.

  7. I have emailed Ms Duncan asking her to resign from Cabinet - after all, as Harold Wilson, once noted "a week (Nov 4-11) is a long time --- in politics"

  8. Years ago I tried to defend her views on calling for further examination of zambonis I realize that she was crazy and I was wrong. To me this seems like huge huge a mistake...

  9. This is interesting, in light of the rest ...

  10. I'm curious to know how someone with her CV (nowhere to be found, but Scopus is a good way to find publications) could achieve associate professor rank at such a prestigious university.

    She appears to have only 10 papers according to Scopus. She is a middle author among 12 on her most cited paper (only 40 citations), and it is on use of radar to locate frozen bodies, basically results from the failed expedition she is "famous" for, but the radar aspect is not her expertise. Her second-and third-most cited papers were cited 35 and 24 times and when you get to the 4th, only 4. Also, she's not senior or first author on the 35 & 24 citation papers. With a CV like hers, should couldn't land a postdoc position today, nor when she started her academic career.

  11. FYI regarding her role with the IPCC, she was actually a lead author on the IPCC's 2001 3rd assessment report (TAR) (ie one of the biggies). Specifically for the North American Chapter of Working group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

    1. How many North American "lead authors" were there on that report, which was one of four volumes in the assessment? I think there were about one hundred. Is this correct? Would you brag about being a Nobel Prize winner if you were her?

    2. There are 8 lead authors on her chapter, Chapter 15 of Working Group II. The chapter cites two book chapters that Duncan was first or sole author on written in the mid-90's. They were likely written while she was a graduate student, given the dates, and being book chapters, would not have been subject to proper peer review and would have been invited. And those two chapters of hers that were cited were among 22 other papers cited whose first authors started with D. In other words, her own research was an insignificant contribution to the report.