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Renowned Botanist Peter Raven
Leaves His Mark on AAAS Board
Peter Raven is one of those rare individuals who knew what he wanted to do at the earliest of ages. When he was only six years old, he began growing caterpillars into butterflies. When he was eight, he became a member of the California Academy of Sciences. At 15, in San Francisco's Presidio, he found a kind of creeping manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri subsp. ravenii) that no one else had seen for five decades.
Today, Raven is a world-famous botanist and conservationist, known both for his technical abilities and his passionate commitment to a vision of world peace, justice, and sustainability. He is the recipient of numerous, prestigious awards, including the Japanese government's International Prize for Biology, a U.S. National Medal of Science, and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and he has held both Guggenheim and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. He also has served for three years on the AAAS Boardas president elect, president, and chairman of the board, a tenure that ended in February, at the close AAAS Annual Meeting in Denver.
Raven, who is the Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, was originally attracted to the AAAS back in the 1950s, when he was a graduate student at UCLA. "AAAS was the preeminent scientific organization even then," he says, "with important meetingswhere we could all exchange information with colleaguesand an outstanding journal. So it was natural that I and nearly all of my fellow graduate students joined."
As former Home Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, and a current member of the academies of science in Argentina, China, India, Italy, the U.K., and Russia, among other countries, Raven has sought to strengthen AAAS's international program during his time on the board. This hasn't been easy, he says, "but the future looks very good with the recent appointment of Shere Abbott, AAAS's new international officer, with whom I've worked for years and for whom I have the highest respect."
Alan Leshner, the chief executive officer of the AAAS, notes that Raven's commitment to international matters has been one of his greatest contributions to the board. "He's been a leader in global science for decades," Leshner says, "as well as a leader in international and national science communities."
Indeed, notes Raven, whose calls for sustainable development and conservation have been so profound that Time magazine dubbed him a "Hero for the Planet," the world needs scientific leadership now more than ever. "Scientists in today's world are called on increasingly to provide sound input in an increasingly complex world," he says. And rather than shunning politics for the ivory tower of pure research, Raven emphasizes that putting "sound facts, clearly stated, into a political context, in a way that they can be understood, is extremely important."
In the past, Raven has openly admonished wealthy countries for excessive consumption and pollution. Today, he says, he is even more worried that "the health of the global environment is being neglected, which will lead surely to a world in which there is less beauty and less opportunity for all those who come after us, one with many fewer kinds of plants and animals, one that is simply not as rich and diverse as the one in which we live now."
Because of that concern, Raven says he has been "deeply impressed by the programs of AAAS in improving education, and in making the scientific enterprise increasingly inclusive."
"To me, that is a central point of American life, and our only hope for being able to use the fruits of science, engineering, and medicine effectively in the future."
Looking back on his own board work, Raven says he's most proud of having participated in the hiring of Alan Leshner. And in the future, he'd like to see the AAAS be more recognized here in the United States, "so that all of the extraordinary programs that the AAAS carries out could be more widely respected."
In addition to his work at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Raven expects to continue as Chair of the Division of Earth and Life Studies of the National Research Council and Chair of the National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. He is President-Elect of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.
1 April 2003