Fellow in Focus: Timothy Caulfield, FRSC, FCAHS

Over the past decade, much of Timothy Caulfield’s research has focused on social issues associated with emerging science and technology, including stem cell and genetic research. He’s also fascinated with how science is represented and perceived by the general public.  His most recent publication, The Cure for Everything! explores the ways in which interest groups distort our relationship with food and fitness, overshadowing the valid science on the issue.

“The public gets much of its information about science from popular culture. And research tells us that popular culture informs both public perceptions and policy development,” says Prof. Caulfield, a self-confessed fitness fanatic, a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, and a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Prof. Caulfield was also a member of the Council’s Expert Panel on the Integrated Testing of Pesticides.

His interest in health law stems from the interdisciplinary nature of the field.  “I love integrating evidence and perspectives from a wide range of disciplines,” says Prof. Caulfield.  “Also, it always seems to be at the cutting edge of social issues.”

In 2008, his particular interest in pop culture representations of science led him to a joint project with his brother Sean, entitled Imagining Science, which explored the impact of some of the breakthroughs and controversies in the world of genetics, bio-technologies and human engineering.

Held at the Art Gallery of Alberta, the exhibition was built on a series of conversations and collaborations between artists, scientists, bio-ethicists, lawyers and philosophers. A book of the same name, Imagining Science: Art, Science and Social Change, co-edited by the brothers, was released in conjunction with the exhibition. It featured the images and essays from the project.   

The project explored some of the complex legal, ethical and social issues and questions associated with advancements in areas such as genetics testing, stem cell research, and cloning. It also highlighted some unique links between art and science. Prof. Caulfield sees the benefits in bringing these sometimes disparate fields together.

“Art and science certainly complement each other. Art can be a reflection of public sentiment. And it can be a vehicle to explore the challenges associated with science. Science can serve to provide art with subject matter, powerful images and a new way of seeing the world,” says Prof. Caulfield.

In 2011, the Caulfield brothers again joined forces for a similar project entitled, Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art. The aim of the multimedia exhibit, held at Calgary's Glenbow Museum, was to encourage public discussion around the controversial issue of stem-cell research. Included in the exhibit was a sculpture made from scans of human embryos, a tent with images of human cells and drawings of one of the artists' chromosomes.

At the moment, Prof. Caulfield has a number of projects on the go that explore the ways in which popular culture, including the news media, represent a range of science issues.

Mr. Caulfield has published over 200 articles and book chapters and has numerous awards for his academic work. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and is a senior health scholar with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. He earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alberta, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Alberta, and a Master of Laws from Dalhousie University. He was the Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta from 1993 to 2011 and is now leading the Faculty of Law’s newly formed Health Law and Science Policy Group (HeaLS).

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