The controversy over Louis LaPierre’s doctoral degree has prompted a debate on what qualifies someone as a scientist — a debate that may also raise new questions about LaPierre.
LaPierre resigned from all of his positions, including as head of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, after admitting he lied about his PhD.
LaPierre’s biography said he had a doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine but it turned out to be a doctorate in education from Walden University in Minnesota.
Prof. Andrea Cabajsky, a professor of English at Moncton University, says it’s also important to look beyond someone’s degree at their academic publishing record.
Scientists are expected to conduct original research and report the results in peer-reviewed journals, she said.
“To put it frankly, you're only as good as your last published article,” she says. “In that respect, in academia you really need to be publishing actively and producing research and communicating the results of that research.
“So in effect the PhD gets your foot in the door [during the hiring process], but then when you are publishing, you're renewing your qualifications with each subsequent article that you publish.”
University of Moncton spokesperson Therese Theriault says the university does not have an authoritative listing of LaPierre’s published research. She says that information may be on his CV, but she says it’s not university policy to release that.
LaPierre could not be reached for comment on Monday. His home voice mail says he’s away.
A University of Texas professor, Zen Faulkes, who recently wrote a blog post about the LaPierre case, found four articles by LaPierre during an online search.
'I did have to admit that I was a little surprised that I did not find more of his papers.' - Zen Faulkes, University of Texas professor
“I did have to admit that I was a little surprised that I did not find more of his papers,” Faulkes says. “Typically, we're at a point right now where particularly in biology, usually there's not too much of a difficulty in tracking down a researcher's publication record.”
Two of LaPierre’s articles were about Canada’s Model Forest. In New Brunswick, LaPierre chaired the Fundy Model Forest for ten years.
Two others were about the impact of fenitrothion, an insecticide. One concluded it had no effect on the reproductive systems of red squirrels. The other said it might affect beavers that chewed on trees with fenitrothion residue.
Faulkes says it’s possible LaPierre has more published articles that do not turn up online.
But Brian Haddon, the research editor of the Forestry Chronicle, says he routinely checks footnotes and citations in submitted articles, and “the vast majority” can be found online, including articles dating back to the seventies.
The squirrel article and one of the Model Forest articles appeared in The Forestry Chronicle, which is published by the Canadian Institute of Forestry.
'For someone in academia, that would be very unusual.' - Brian Haddon, research editor of the Forestry Chronicle
Haddon says all scientific articles are peer-reviewed by at least two academics with relevant expertise. He says he was surprised to learn there were so few articles by LaPierre available online. “For someone in academia, that would be very unusual.”
University faculty are assessed on three criteria as they apply for promotions and tenure: teaching, research, and service. Service can include administrative committees and other functions on campus, or work in the wider community.
While LaPierre’s official biography does not identify any academic publications, it includes a long list of government panels he has been part of, many of which studied the environmental impact of proposed government projects.
They include reviews of the Confederation Bridge’s impact on the Northumberland Strait fishery. Transport Canada has launched a review of LaPierre’s work on the Confederation Bridge.
LaPierre was also a member of the advisory panel that supported the controversial proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec, a deal that did not go through.
LaPierre has also been associated with J.D. Irving Ltd., the province’s largest forestry company. He was the first K.C. Irving Chair in Sustainable Development at the University of Moncton, a position to which the company gave $1 million, the largest single donation. In that role, LaPierre advised JDI on sustainable forestry practises.
He also worked with J.K. Irving to develop the Bouctouche Dune, an eco-tourism site in Kent County.
Last week, J.K. Irving said in a letter to the editor in the Telegraph-Journal, which he owns, that LaPierre’s commitment to the environment “is not defined by a university degree but by a genuine passion to work with others to move things forward.”
LaPierre was quoted in a 2007 book about the Irvings, Twenty-first Century Irvings by Harvey Sawler, praising JDI’s commitment to the environment. “I think they’re quite sincere,” he said.