A scientist’s precipitous fall from grace
What a disappointment. That’s the most succinct way I can express myself regarding the scandal surrounding the false academic credentials of Louis LaPierre. His resignation from the various commissions, review boards and academic institutions he sat on was the only sensible thing for him to do subsequent to a well led Radio-Canada / CBC New Brunswick investigation into his true academic background.
Louis LaPierre bagan his academic career in the early 1970s by becoming a professor of biology at the still nascent Université de Moncton. In 1974, he earned a Master’s Degree in Science Education from the University of Maine and he obtained a Doctoral Certificate in Education from Walden University in the mid 80s. The problem is that he falsely maintained, from that point on, that he had obtained a Master’s in Wildlife Biology and a Doctorate in Ecology from the University of Maine, thus apparently qualifying him as an expert in those fields. He not only lied about his academic credentials to his employer, the Université de Moncton, but he also went on accepting positions on various government and academic panels and he became a hired consultant on numerous projects based on those false credentials.
Over a 40 year career, Louis LaPierre gained the confidence of governments, businesses, students and environmental organizations and he exercised his growing influence in many ways, some warranted, some not.
Louis LaPierre accomplished a lot of good work over the years, there is no doubt about that. I believe his greatest accomplishments came as he mastered the fine art of bringing together leaders from different backgrounds to tackle very real problems such as waste management and the protection of coastlines from excessive human interference, to name but a few. He also contributed significantly to the establishment of new structures for public education on the environment.
The problem is, he also took on challenges where he simply was not qualified to do so and he hid that fact from everyone.
Louis LaPierre took on jobs such as preparing reports on the ecological effects of low-level military flights over Labrador. He also partook in assessing other people’s scientific work, often rejecting the conclusions of scientists who were better qualified than he. He permitted this type of charade to continue for years.
He also benefitted financially from many of his appointments, especially in the latter years of his career. And, no doubt, other more qualified individuals were passed up for those various appointments, thus affecting their careers.
Indeed, the Louis LaPierre scandal has made many victims. For one, the Université de Moncton. Its reputation has been negatively affected (deservingly so, to a certain extent, because of its inability to properly screen for this type of fraudulent misrepresentation). Next, the hundreds of students who obtained a degree under Louis LaPierre (myself included). They must now deal with the effects of the UdeM’s dwindling reputation and questions that may be raised about the quality of their education and the value of their diplomas.
The winners? It’s hard to speak of winners in this one but the opponents of the shale gas industry in this province have been provided a real big stick to swing at the Alward government and any subsequent government that may hold up the shale gas banner. Opponents certainly have a right to demand that all work done by Louis LaPierre on this file be relegated to the trash heap including his suggestion for (and the subsequent creation of) the N.B. Energy Institute. It was designed to scientifically monitor and regulate the industry in this province. Its credibility was instantly undermined when Louis LaPierre admitted to having lied about his academic credentials. It cannot recover from such a scandalous origin.
As is often the case when a scandal of this nature erupts, it becomes necessary to find a positive lesson from all the negative consequences. There are so many negative aspects to this story. There must necessarily be as many lessons to be taken. I will not enumerate them all. I will conclude by saying that reverence for any individual is hardly ever warranted. When dealing with such important issues as the ecology and sustainable development, citizens must scrutinize all claims of expertise. We must not elevate individuals to “star” quality. What are important are the structures that we put in place for determining our path forward. We need open forums and unpretentious leaders. We need science and reason to come to the fore. We need checks and balances. We need democracy.