Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

"For the People": The Role of Science

Marcia K. McNutt

President, National Academy of Sciences

March 23, 2022, 5:00pm-7:00pm ET

Register here


Abstract

Democracy is famously described, in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as "government of the people, by the people and for the people." But how can leaders and policy makers know that the decisions they make are in the best interests of the people? Science is the only tool that humankind as devised for reliably peering into the future to determine how the laws of natural and human nature will play out under different policy and management options. It is not the role of science to prescribe what the policies should be, as there are factors other than science that must be weighed by leaders in any decision. However, by predicting what outcomes will ensue under different options, members of the public and others can ask: “Is this outcome compatible with our values?” The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was established by Abraham Lincoln to provide science-based advice to better inform decisions on national security and the wellbeing of American citizens. In the more than 150 years since its founding, the NAS has weighed in on the challenges of the times, and we have emerged stronger thanks to this advice.

Panel

Jason Furman

Aetna Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and Department of Economics, Harvard University

James H. Stock

Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability and Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University

Latanya Sweeney

Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology, Harvard Kennedy School

Moderated by

Sheila Jasanoff

Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School

About the speaker

Marcia K. McNutt is a geophysicist and president of the National Academy of Sciences. From 2013 to 2016, she served as editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals. Prior to joining Science, she was director of the U.S. Geological Survey 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. For her contributions, she was awarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Meritorious Service Medal. Before joining the USGS, McNutt served as president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, in Moss Landing, California. McNutt served as president of the American Geophysical Union from 2000 to 2002. She was chair of the Board of Governors for Joint Oceanographic Institutions, and is a fellow of AGU, the Geological Society of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and International Association of Geodesy.

Co-sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.