Marcia McNutt. Credit: AAAS

Marcia McNutt, a marine geophysicist who served as president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) from 2000 to 2002, has been nominated by the Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to succeed Ralph Cicerone as its next president, the academy announced on 6 July.

She is expected to be the sole nominee for president and, if her nomination is ratified, would be the first woman president of NAS since its founding in 1863, according to NAS spokesperson William Kearney.

McNutt told Eos that as NAS president, she would make climate change a top priority. Her goal “would be to spur serious action on mitigation and adaptation, showing U.S. leadership in technology choices and policy solutions that can be widely adopted,” she said.

She also pledged to keep NAS “the place where the nation can turn to for an unbiased answer to a scientific question. I strongly believe that science should not dictate to society what to do, but can only describe the likely results of various choices, allowing clearer decisions to be made.”

Long History of Leadership and Academic Service

McNutt has served as editor in chief of the Science family of journals since May 2013. From 2009 to 2013 she was director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Previous positions include president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and professor of geophysics at Stanford University.

In 2005, McNutt was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Since 1984, she has served on more than 30 committees and boards of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She is a fellow of AGU, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Association of Geodesy.

McNutt also received AGU’s Macelwane Medal in 1988, for research accomplishments by a young scientist, and AGU’s Maurice Ewing Medal in 2007 for her significant contributions to deep-sea exploration.

In an interview with Eos, current NAS president Ralph Cicerone praised McNutt’s leadership skills and experience. He named a host of issues he could see her tackling in the new post, from transparency of data and better funding for federal science agencies to sustainability, cybersecurity, national goals for space exploration, and more.

It is symbolically important that McNutt would be NAS’s first woman president, he added. But at first, “It didn’t hit me in the face that hard because I’ve just regarded Marcia as a colleague—and so many other women like Marcia as colleagues,” Cicerone explained.

Cicerone said he will step down after 11 years as NAS president before the end of his second 6-year term to pursue other interests, including conducting more research.

Unforeseen Consequences of Missing Committee Meetings

Reflecting on receiving the nomination, McNutt told Eos that she had originally been a member of the nominating committee for the next NAS president. “I had to miss the first meeting because I had a conflict. After the first meeting, the chair asked if I would be willing to step off the committee to become a candidate instead.”

Being chosen seemed like a long shot to her, but she welcomed the turnabout. “I was honored simply to have my name discussed in the same association with so many distinguished scientific leaders,” she said.

McNutt’s nomination will be presented to the full NAS membership for ratification from 15 December 2015 to 31 January 2016. Cicerone will step down as NAS president on 30 June 2016, after which, if ratified, McNutt would succeed him.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), McNutt nominated as president of National Academy of Sciences, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO032489. Published on 7 July 2015.

Text © 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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