Celebrating great Canadian scientific innovators: moving forward

As you may have read in the media, some members of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame  Selection Committee recently resigned, citing the lack of female nominees as the reason for their departure. I was disappointed by this turn of events, especially at hearing about their decision second hand. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have shown them what the Museum is working on to remedy the current flaws in its process to celebrate outstanding Canadian scientific achievement and innovation, and urged them to remain on the committee to continue working to improve on this important aspect of the Museum’s mandate.

Here are some facts on the situation, as I understand it. Last year, some Selection Committee members voiced the valid concern that the call for nominations of the Hall of Fame generated few women nominees. It is important to note here that, while there have been ups and downs over the years, there are currently 11 women out of 60 Hall of Fame inductees — about 18 per cent — in line with the percentage of women working today in the research fields of science and engineering (source: NSERC).

The Selection Committee members who resigned say they wished to extend a renewed call for nominations in the hope that more women might be nominated. I do not share their view for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that changing the rules midstream would be unfair to those who have taken part in the existing process in good faith; and, the nominations that were received are certainly not devoid of merit. Second, the call for nominations was extended to fifteen months, from the usual twelve months, as a result of the unexpected closure of the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which houses the Hall of Fame. The Museum’s closure impacted greatly on operations and drew heavily on resources within the Corporation during that critical period, which is why the nomination period was extended. At the end of this extended nomination period, as always, every nomination received was submitted to the Selection Committee for review.

The fact is that the concerns the Selection Committee members had expressed last year had been heard loud and clear by those involved, but work in revamping the Hall of Fame came to a temporary halt following the Museum’s closure. With this challenging time now past, the Museum has an opportunity for renewal, and will soon be in a position to announce significant changes regarding how it celebrates outstanding Canadian scientific excellence and achievement going forward. I am confident that, had Committee members known what the Museum is working on, they would have chosen to remain and work for meaningful positive change. Ultimately, what the former Selection Committee members want is the same thing the Museum wants, and that is to see women and men in equal proportion advancing Canadian scientific and technological prowess and benefits to society. To reach that goal, girls need to be encouraged as much as boys to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and this is something the Museum strives to do in a number of ways.

This situation with the Selection Committee is regrettable and saddens me, but the former Committee members chose their own course of action. As a result of their decision — and with deepest apologies to the current nominees — the selection process for the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame has been put on hold until further notice. The Museum is finalizing the details of a new way of celebrating Canadian innovation that it has been working on for some time now, and hopes to make an announcement soon. Stay tuned.