National Academy of Sciences president to explore science’s role in today’s policy April 18

National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt

April 5, 2017

A veteran at deploying science for the nation’s good will examine how to connect the sciences to policy in the current political climate at the Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture at Michigan State University (MSU) Tuesday, April 18.

Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, will deliver “Science Advice for Policy Decisions: Is Anyone Listening?” in the MSU Union Ballroom at 4 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception.

“It is nearly impossible to think of a policy decision today that would not benefit from the best available evidence from science, engineering, or medicine in determining the best course of action,” McNutt said. “The challenge, of course, is delivering that information in a manner that it can be incorporated into the decision-making process effectively.

“Based on its more than 150-year history of advising government, the National Academy of Sciences has many impressive examples of cases in which its advice has greatly benefited the lives of ordinary citizens. Along the way, the academy learned some lessons that are worth reviewing at a time when the problems society faces are especially dire, the historically non-partisan support for science is at risk, and communication is increasingly siloed into partisan channels."

From 2013 to 2016, McNutt served as editor-in-chief of the Science journals. Prior to joining Science, she was director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from 2009 to 2013. During her tenure, the USGS responded to a number of major disasters, including earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and Japan, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. McNutt led a team of government scientists and engineers at BP headquarters in Houston who helped contain the oil and cap the well. She directed the flow rate technical group that estimated the rate of oil discharge during the spill’s active phase.

Before joining the USGS, McNutt, a geophysicist, served as president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in Moss Landing, California. During her time at MBARI, the institution became a leader in developing biological and chemical sensors for remote ocean deployment, installed the first deep-sea cabled observatory in U.S. waters, and advanced the integration of artificial intelligence into autonomous underwater vehicles for complex undersea missions. McNutt was also the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science & Engineering, jointly offered by MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

McNutt has been given numerous prestigious honors and awards. For example, she is an elected member of American Philosophical Society, National Academy of Sciences, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 2002, she was named by Discover Magazine as one of the top fifty women in science, and in 2003 the ARCS Foundation named her as Scientist of the Year. McNutt was also presented with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Meritorious Service Medal.

"Dr. McNutt has an exceptional career guiding science to best inform policy about some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability. He also is director of the MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. "I think the environmental movement pioneer Rachel Carson would be pleased to have such a distinguished scientist so dedicated to ensuring science is heard presenting a lecture that bears her name.”

The Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture Series, organized by the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, is a platform for prominent scientists and scholars to share their ideas about global challenges and opportunities with MSU students, faculty, staff and the general public.  

The series is supported by the National Science Foundation; the MSU offices of the President, Provost and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies; the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; MSU AgBioResearch; the Environmental Science and Policy Program; and Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project.

Previous speakers have included Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economic sciences; William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development at Harvard University; Ruth DeFries, Denning Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University; Simon Levin, Moffett Professor of Biology at Princeton University; Ian Cowx, professor of applied fisheries science at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom; Emilio Moran, an ecological/environmental anthropologist previously at Indiana University and now at John Hannah Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University; Billie Lee Turner II, Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society at Arizona State University; and Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

More information about the Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture Series, and videos of each lecture, can be found on its CSIS page.

Registration for McNutt’s lecture can be obtained here.

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