Alberta Researcher Profile
Who: Timothy Caulfield
Professor, Faculty of Law and School of Public Health, Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, and a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy
Timothy Caulfield, a Professor within the Faculty of Law and School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, is a self-proclaimed ‘science geek’ and has been for as long as he can remember.
With a special interest in how science worked within society, Caulfield decided early to pursue a career in law after completing his undergraduate degree in science.
“I feel incredibly fortunate because it clicked. In that moment, I realized, this is what I want to do…I don't really do traditional legal scholarship, I really do interdisciplinary work that focuses on how science and health is represented in the public sphere.”
Given the interest in policy work early on in his career, it was a natural fit for Caulfield to tie in science and health specifically.
“I was interested in what kind of evidence informs this, whether you're talking about health policy in the context of the privatization of a healthcare system, or whether you're talking about health policy or science policy in the context of stem cell research or genomics. The question is what evidence is being used to inform those policies?”
This expanded to include how pop culture shaped the representation of certain matters within the public sphere such as science policy, public perception, and increasingly, politics. Currently, Caulfield is focused on social media and the impact it has on these perceptions.
“We've explored interesting legal tensions around the use of precision medicine, to do things like decide who gets an organ. Think about how controversial and how tough that decision can be. With the pandemic came a greater understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry.”
When mixing science and law, Caulfield says genomics has always related to the work he does.
“Genomics and genetics have been a consistent theme in my work. I've really been fortunate in that I've been able to carefully scrutinize how this has played out. And it is an extremely exciting area. A lot of my work often critiques how it's portrayed in the popular press.”
For Caulfield writing has always been a passion. His latest book, titled Relax Dammit!: A User's Guide to the Age of Anxiety, came out in 2020 and looks at how misinformation within science affects individuals daily decisions.
Caulfield is working on a new book set to be out in 2023 so be sure to follow him on Twitter to learn more about the release.
Words of Advice
Caulfield’s first piece of advice to incoming students is to recognize that law and science do mix well together, and institutions are better at understanding that more than ever before.
“I think that the connection between policy and science is recognized now and there's a lot of really interesting, fun opportunities there. I hope the institutions support them and give them not only the tools that they need to do it, but also, they have their back, so they feel comfortable speaking in public on these topics. I've been very, very fortunate because my institution has been phenomenal. And so have my funders, they've been phenomenal. And they've all recognized how vital this this work is. I am incredibly grateful.”
With this comes the need to educate the public. Caulfield says the best way to do this is to stay active on social media, as currently it’s the best way to connect with people and share accurate information.
“Be engaged on social media. Do your best to spread the accurate science, we need those science informed voices out there. I don't think everyone has to do it, but those that are interested in engagement, we need your voices.”
Working with Genome Alberta
In working with Genome Alberta, Caulfield says it’s hard to be objective on something you feel so involved with.
“I feel like I'm part of the Genome family. I've been involved with so many Genome Centres across Canada, right from the creation of Genome Canada, so it's hard for me to even be objective about it. Because I really do feel like I'm part of the community. All the Genome Centers have been amazing about that, recognizing the value of interdisciplinary work. I really feel like I've been part of this team. I feel grateful.”
To see what Caulfield is up to follow him on Twitter @CaulfieldTim
. To read more about Tim's research check out his books