For the second time in two days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the credentials of Science Minister Kirsty Duncan by saying she is a “Nobel Prize-winning scientist.”
There’s just one problem — she is not.
Duncan has taught health studies as an associate professor at the University of Toronto, holds a doctorate in geography from the University of Edinburgh and has lectured around the world on issues including pandemic preparedness and climate change.
She describes herself as a medical geographer who has focused on the connections between environmental change, pandemic influenza and human health.
In November 2015, Duncan was named Minister of Science and she subsequently became Minister for Sports and People with Disabilities as well, after Liberal MP Kent Hehr resigned from cabinet following sexual misconduct allegations earlier this year.
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During her time as science minister, Duncan has been a vocal advocate for getting more women and girls into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and has led a portfolio largely free of the controversies and critiques that have plagued some other members of the Trudeau cabinet.
According to her official biography on the Government of Canada website, she also “served on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
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That is how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says individuals who worked on its prize-winning research should be attributed.
But during a panel discussion on science and innovation with American TV host Bill Nye “The Science Guy” on Tuesday, and again during a panel on women’s leadership on Wednesday, Trudeau said something entirely different.
“Our Minister for Science, Kirsty Duncan, is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist,” said Trudeau on Tuesday, while touting the role women who come from scientific fields have in his caucus.
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Again on Wednesday, Trudeau made the same claim while discussing his decision to build a gender-balanced cabinet, the criticism of which largely disappeared once people saw the credentials of the individuals named to it.
“Nobody made those criticisms any more. The backgrounds, the experience, the CVs — a Nobel Prize-winning scientist happens to be the woman in charge of the ministry of science,” he said.
This is not the first time the issue of how to attribute individuals who worked on the IPCC’s prize-winning research has come up.
The organization won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Al Gore in 2007 for its efforts “to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
The Nobel Prize committee pointed to the dozens of reports the IPCC had produced over roughly two decades as the basis for that decision.
However, individuals who had worked on a variety of those reports and research projects quickly began calling themselves Nobel laureates.
That led the IPCC to issue a statement in 2012 warning individuals to stop.
“The prize was awarded to the IPCC as an organization and not to any individual associated with the IPCC,” the organization said. “Thus it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official or scientist who worked on IPCC reports as a Nobel laureate or Nobel Prize winner.”
The proper way to reference an individual associated with work done by the IPCC, the organization said, is exactly how Duncan is described in her official biography: someone who “contributed to the reports of the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.”
Global News contacted the Prime Minister’s Office to ask why Trudeau continues to describe Duncan as such but a spokesperson did not say whether Trudeau would stop using the phrase to describe Duncan in the future.
“As stated in her biography, ‘Minister Duncan served on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,'” said spokesperson Chantal Gagnon in an email. “We are incredibly proud of the work she has accomplished.”
It’s not the first time members of the Trudeau cabinet have run into issues with how their credentials are described.
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Last year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan came under fire after he described himself as the “architect” of Operation Medusa, which was one of the most successful operations by Canada during the Afghanistan War.
Sajjan, who played an intelligence role in that war, was accused of inflating his responsibilities and diminishing the role of the military leadership and other soldiers during the conflict.
He later retracted that comment and apologized on the floor of the House of Commons for the description.
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