February 20, 2019 – Thunder Bay, Ont.
This talk has been cancelled due to Sunday's flights being cancelled. Dr. Timothy Caulfield is no mere lecturer and researcher – he’s also a best-selling author and media star.
Indeed, the professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta has so successfully bridged the gap between academia and the mainstream that it’s sometimes difficult to know how many Tim Caulfields there are out there.
“I am very active in the media space, let’s put it that way,” Caulfield concedes with a laugh. “But at the core, I think of myself as an academic and a writer.”
All of those facets will be on display when Caulfield comes to Lakehead University as part of Research & Innovation Week. Caulfield’s presentation, titled “Battling the Bunk Machines: Health in the Era of Celebrity, Social Media & Twisted Facts,” will discuss serious matters in an engaging and entertaining way.
Caulfield, who is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, has published hundreds of articles on topics such as stem cells, genetics, research ethics and associated science and health policy issues. His talk focuses on the spread of misinformation and the push of pseudo-science on social media, often by brand-name celebrities.
“Research tells us the general public is finding it increasingly difficult to tell good science from bad science, truth from untruth. A lot of that has to do with pop culture,” Caulfield says. “It’s having an impact on the health care system, it’s having an impact on the kinds of things people do to keep themselves healthy.”
Caulfield’s work has resulted in two national best-sellers, one of which is the provocatively titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash.
The spread of dubious claims, such as 300-calorie-a-day diets and that vaccines lead to autism, are problematic not just because they come from a high-profile source such as a TV or film personality. It resonates with the broader public because of the coverage they receive and the way the message spreads and is amplified.
“It has an impact on all of us, not just the people who think they should follow the advice coming from a celebrity,” he says. “It circulates in our popular culture, whether it’s on social media or the newspaper or the nightly news. It keeps these myths, this misinformation, alive.”
Caulfield did not become a debunker of myths overnight. His interest in health and social policy, and the methodical accumulation of facts and evidence, evolved to the point where he could not help but notice the pervasiveness of celebrity endorsements and the impact of cure-alls.
“Because I have had the opportunity to do work with scientists and the scientific community, it’s so frustrating to see this misinformation and pseudo-science get so much air time,” he says.
Along with his successful writing, Caulfield is also active on social media and has branched out into television production. Originally airing on Vision TV, the series “A User’s Guide to Cheating Death” is now into its second season and is available on Netflix. With a mix of humour and scientific rigour, the show examines gimmicks and alternative medicines like detoxing and anti-aging remedies.
“One way to engage the public is to use these same strategies: use interesting stories, make things interesting visually, make it fun and funny, but still keep it rooted in the science,” he says of his approach, both in the show and engagement in the community.
“What we’re trying to do is think of creative ways to translate academic work back to the public,” he explains.
Caulfield’s presentation takes place Monday, Feb. 25, 7-8 pm in UC 2011. Book signing and refreshments to follow. RSVP on Eventbrite by searching Tim Caulfield.
For more information about Research and Innovation Week visit lakeheadu.ca/ri.
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Lakehead University has approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 faculty and staff in 10 faculties at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s newest Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, Science & Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education, and Graduate Studies. Maclean’s 2019 University Rankings place Lakehead University among Canada's Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities and in 2018 Research Infosource named Lakehead Research University of the Year in its category for the fourth consecutive year. Visit www.lakeheadu.ca.