Introducing Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Those who need no introduction are most deserving of one…

…but how do you introduce a legend?

Dr. Lubchenco arrived at the AMS Annual Meeting here in New Orleans yesterday. This morning she delivers a keynote talk at the Seventh Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research, in Room 243 of the Ernest N Morial Convention Center. The title of her talk? Science for a Weather-Ready Nation.


Dr. Jane Lubchenco has served as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator since early 2009.

In a way, you could stop there. To merit that Presidential, Senate-confirmed appointment speaks volumes. The handful of NOAA leaders appointed since formation of the agency have included very distinguished natural scientists with a proven track record for management and leadership, as well as a personal integrity that will withstand the obligatory and ever more-stringent White House background check. The number of folks who have this skill set and personal history?

Vanishingly small.

Dr. Lubchenco is the first woman to hold this position.

Are you male? You might gloss over this one. But women don’t. They know all too personally the deeper significance of this brief sentence. With each such appointment they relive anew the entire history of what it’s meant to be a woman throughout the whole of human experience…the barriers, the inequities, the slights and sacrifices and reverses, and the difficult personal choices that are captured by this short phrase.  

Back to “distinguished natural scientist.” Let’s unpack that one.

Dr. Lubchenco is an ecologist and environmental scientist by education and training. She was a professor at Oregon State University for 32 years, and a professor at Harvard for two years before that.

Hmm. Pretty good. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. There’s more. A lot more.

Scientists live and die not just by the number of papers they publish, but by the citations to their work. In Dr. Lubchenco’s case, not one, but EIGHT of her papers have been referenced so extensively that they have been included in the list of “Science-Citation Classics” by those who study such things.

Dr. Lubchenco has received numerous honors and awards.

Another inadequate shorthand. She’s been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, The Royal Society, and more. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1993. [The world’s best scientists all live in hope of receiving any one of these honors. In her case, it’s the other way around. These institutions hope to gain prestige for themselves by adding her to their ranks.]

Against this backdrop it’s probably no surprise that

Dr. Lubchenco has served as a President of the Ecological Society of America.

But guess what. There’s more here too.

She has also served as the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

If you’ve ever been in academia, you know a little about interdisciplinary politics. Do you think the physicists are thrilled to see an ecologist in this seat? How about the chemists? [And so on…you get the idea]. But the AAAS is more than just another science society. It’s played an historic role in the advancement of science, and the use of science in policy, for most of our country’s history. So for Dr. Lubchenco to lead such a broad, historic enterprise is a big deal.

But that’s not all.

She has also served as the President of the International Council for Science.

The AAAS? An important, but domestic organization. Extend the same arguments now to the worldwide arena. Let the implications sink in.

Dr. Lubchenco has founded not one, but three organizations aiming to improve communication of scientific knowledge to the public, policymakers, media, and industry.

Three? Are you serious? Where does she find the time and energy to add this to her other achievements?

Ladies and gentlemen, join me in welcoming Dr. Jane Lubchenco.

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