Members of the environmental science community were shocked when the chairman of the New Brunswick Energy Institute resigned after admitting to false claims of having a doctorate in environmental science. Louis LaPierre said in a letter to the provincial government that he takes full responsibility for his actions and apologizes for any embarrassment he has caused to people who placed their trust in him.

Concerns were first raised when a Radio-Canada report raised questions about LaPierre’s academic history. LaPierre claimed to have a PhD in ecology from the University of Maine. Upon further investigation, it became evident that this was not entirely true. LaPierre does hold a PhD, though it is in education, not science, and it is from Walden, an online university based in Minnesota.

Colleagues and other members of the environmental science community expressed deep concern over the impact his resignation has on the credibility of many of the projects LaPierre was a part of. Ian Jones, a biology professor at Memorial University, said the resignation is a “tragedy” for environmental assessments in Atlantic Canada. LaPierre was a powerful figure in many environmental evaluations in the region. His involvement was so extensive that it would be difficult to go back and re-evaluate their integrity. 

“I think the public needs to consider what else was compromised in the array of important environmental processes that were largely controlled by this individual,” said Ian Goudie, a wildlife biologist who worked on a project that was chaired by LaPierre while he worked with the Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research. 

Though these academics and many others are concerned over the credibility of LaPierre’s work, the New Brunswick Government doesn’t seem to agree. New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard contends that the controversy does not tarnish the work LaPierre did for the province as chair on the New Brunswick Energy Institute. Premier David Alward also agrees that the contentions over LaPierre’s credentials do not undermine the work he and the institute have done, and that it is premature to be ordering reviews of the institute’s reports.

The news of LaPierre’s misrepresented academic credentials adds another piece of momentum to the ongoing debate of shale gas exploration in the province, an issue he had been advising the provincial government on for the past few years as chair of the institute. Leonard said that science was never an aspect of LaPierre’s job during the NB Energy Institute’s research on shale gas. This is a major shift from comments the government made last year touting the integrity and importance of LaPierre’s scientific reputation. Premier Alward noted on January 31 that “Dr. LaPierre is an internationally-recognized scientist.”

Whether the government will choose to call for reviews of the New Brunswick Energy Institute’s work under LaPierre has yet to be seen. LaPierre’s controversial resignation will no doubt cast an air of caution around the integrity of any work he has been involved with during his career.

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