In a move that is hugely positive for Canadian science and evidence-based policy, Dr. Mona Nemer was named Canada’s new chief science advisor by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week, filling a role that has been vacant since 2008.
In this role, Nemer will not only be available to advise on key science-related issues, but she will also help develop guidelines to ensure that government science is made available to the public. Her recommendations will build a framework that support federal scientists in speaking freely about their work.
Scientists are also hopeful that Nemer will push for the government to adopt recommendations from the Naylor report, a landmark review and action plan to overhaul federal research funding, which includes a $1.3-billion boost in the research budget over four years. Advocates say that enacting the plan is key to staying in the innovation race.
Nemer is a highly accomplished medical researcher, known for her work on heart failure and congenital heart disease, contributing over 200 publications to scientific literature. Beyond the lab, she served for over a decade as the vice-president, research at the University of Ottawa, proving that she is a vocal champion for research. She also brings her experience serving on many national and international scientific advisory boards.
This combination of deep science knowledge and policy experience will be powerful when it comes to making sure that Canada’s priorities reflect the best known science.
It will be critical for Nemer to listen to thought leaders across the sciences to build informed and impartial recommendations. She will need to make some compelling arguments, since science and politics won’t always see eye to eye, and in practice compromises will need to be made.
Since her role is only advisory in nature, the public will also be looking to the government to see whether policy decisions actually follow Nemer’s recommendations.
But transparency will be key to getting the public on board in a time when science skepticism runs high. Nearly half of Canadians falsely believe that scientific facts are just opinions. Hopefully better science communication will help reverse this trend.
“I’m taking this job to make a difference – and I intend to do so,” said Nemer at a press conference. “We scientists have an important role inside and outside our labs, like in engaging in knowledge exchange and in explaining science to the public, including to youth. Let’s all work together to make Canada a global leader in science.”