October 28, 2020

From dodging bullets in Lebanon to Canadian chief scientist | Science

From dodging bullets in Lebanon to Canadian chief scientist | Science

Mona Nemer is the chief scientific adviser to the Government of Canada, a position that does not exist in the Spanish Executive and that she believes is essential. "More and more political issues have to do with science. Health, environment, economy, disruptive technologies, agriculture, oceans, transportation, electric cars, autonomous vehicles. If people do not understand the science behind it and how the discovery process works, they can not judge whether a decision is based on evidence or demagoguery. Science is crucial for democracy ", emphasizes this doctor in chemistry born in Beirut (Lebanon) in 1957.

In his opinion, phenomena such as the boom in Donald Trump in the US or the extreme right in Europe "have to do with the lack of interest in science." "Research consists in finding certainty, but also in pursuing the good of humanity. Instead of saying that immigrants stay with our jobs or that we do not have money because of the free market, it is important that people see that the goal is that we all benefit from the advances and find the real reasons why this is not is happening, "says Nemer, visiting Spain to strengthen ties in research between the two countries.

The Lebanese-Canadian scientist had not turned 18 years old when a projectile grazed her head and fell at her side. "I still have that bullet," says this daughter of a Christian institute teacher and technologist. Nemer emigrated to the US shortly after the start of the war in Lebanon in 1975 and then settled in Canada, where he developed his scientific career focusing first on the search for diagnostic methods of heart problems in adults and newborns and then as vice-rector for research. from the University of Ottawa. A year ago he won a public contest to fill the position desert since 2008 which makes her the main science adviser to Justin Trudeau and guarantor that the policy of the entire Executive is based on evidence.

One of its main competences is to ensure that scientists can speak freely

Another of its main competences is to ensure that scientists can speak freely. In 2013 a survey assured that almost 90% of Canadian scientists felt gagged by the Government. The Executive had interposed between journalists and scientists a barrier of press officers and administrative procedures that silenced de facto the voices of researchers experts in climate change, threatened species and other issues that could clash with the political line of the Government led then by the conservative Stephen Harper. One of the main commitments of the progressive Trudeau during the electoral campaign in 2015 was to eliminate those gags. In March of this year, a similar survey showed that 50% of researchers still do not feel free to speak. According to Nemer, the consultation was made before the introduction of new scientific integrity guidelines so that the government can not silence the results of publicly funded research.

"The scientists did not feel comfortable. It is possible that the government did not explicitly tell them not to publish certain information, but they were afraid that there would be reprisals if they published. Now you can speak directly with any government scientist about their work, they are free to talk to any journalist, "says Nemer.

Another of its measures has been to create a new program of scientific education for public employees. The goal is not so much that officials know about science as they are capable of "identifying what constitutes proven evidence and what is not and are capable of making decisions based on them". "There is a huge barrier between science and society and also between science and politics. In Canada, as in any other country, most of the officials have no scientific training and that is why the barrier still stands, "he explains.

During his visit to Spain, Nemer met with the Secretary of State for Science, Ángeles Heras, and the president of the Higher Council for Scientific Research, Rosa Menéndez, to resume collaborations in research that had been halted by the crisis and to seek new ones in areas like the call blue economy. He has also participated in the international congress on scientific diplomacy organized by the Ministry of Science directed by Pedro Duque, who wants to launch a national plan in this area in 2019.


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