Timothy Caulfield

Current affiliation:
University of Alberta

This unrivalled communicator is debunking myths and assumptions about innovation in the health sector – from research on stem cells to diets to alternative medicine – for the benefit of the public and decision-makers. 

How would you define yourself?

I am someone who hit the lottery and fell into a fantastically engaging and rewarding career. I truly feel unbelievably lucky. I am a science geek, a lover of evidence and an interdisciplinary hyper-rationalist who enjoys integrating a wide range of perspectives in the pursuit of health and science policies that will benefit all Canadians. I also thoroughly enjoy engaging the general public on controversial health and science issues.

What is the public purpose of your work? How does it/will it impact the lives of Canadians?

I hope that my work helps to inform the development of Canadian health and science policy. We live in an era awash in evidence, but so often it is under-utilized or misapplied by both the public and policymakers. Much of our work seeks to cut through the misinformation and empirically explore the nature and extent of social concerns associated with health technologies (stem cell research, cloning, genetic tests, etc.) and health services (complementary and alternative medicines, transplantation, etc.). Another arm of my research is the exploration of legal and ethical principles in the context of research and the delivery of healthcare services. The goal of my work in this area is to clarify the rights and interests of all relevant parties – including researchers, patients, the public and healthcare providers.

Briefly explain one of the most interesting discoveries you have made so far.

I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful interdisciplinary teams. Together we have used a wide range of methods to explore, for example, the impact of gene patents on health care and the research environment, how the popular press represents emerging technologies (and the impact these representations might have on policy development), the issues associated with medical tourism, etc. We have also done much to respond to the ethical controversies associated with emerging technologies, including helping to craft national and international guidelines associated with stem cell research, cloning, and genome research. All of this work has been referenced by courts, in policy documents, ethics guidelines, etc.

I am also proud of the work I have done with my brother, Professor Sean Caulfield, to bring together the science and art community in an effort to tackle provocative science issues in a unique and engaging way.

How will the Trudeau Fellowship help you pursue your work?

The Trudeau award provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together internationally renowned scholars and policymakers (including fellows and scholars) to highlight and critique pressing health and science policy issues. Specifically, I’d like to identify a range of health and science issues where we could use existing evidence to improve policy and public health. 

Timothy Caulfield is the 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. 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 Health Law and Science Policy Group (HeaLS). Over the past several years, Professor Caulfield has been involved in a variety of interdisciplinary research endeavours that have allowed him to publish over 250 articles and book chapters. He is a health senior scholar with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the principal investigator for a number of large interdisciplinary projects that explore ethical, legal, and health policy issues associated with a range of topics, including stem cell research, genetics, patient safety, the prevention of chronic disease, obesity policy, the commercialization of research, complementary and alternative medicine, and access to health care. Professor Caulfield is and has been involved with a number of national and international policy and research ethics committees, including the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, Genome Canada’s Science Advisory Committee, the Ethics and Public Policy Committee for International Society for Stem Cell Research, and the Federal Panel on Research Ethics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.  He writes frequently for the popular press on a range of health and science policy issues and is the author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin 2012).