Rosina Bierbaum

2000 Waldo E. Smith Medal (INACTIVE) Winner

Office of Science and Technology, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.

Rosina M. Bierbaum was awarded the Waldo E. Smith Medal at the AGU Spring Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on June 2, 2000, in Washington, D.C. The medal recognizes extraordinary service to geophysics.


“Dr. Rosina M. Bierbaum came to Washington, D.C. in 1980 as a Congressional Science Fellow in the oceans program of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), determined to play an important role in connecting environmental issues. Only a few–too few–Earth system scientists have had the vision and courage to commit themselves to the public policy arena immediately after completing their Ph.D. This nation, in fact all nations of the world, have benefitted from Rosina’s decision, and today we recognize her outstanding contributions throughout the last 2 decades to the analysis and assessment of a wide range of global and regional environmental issues, issues of critical importance to the nation. In Bob Palmer’s words, ‘I have known and worked with Dr. Bierbaum virtually from the day she arrived in Washington…she was instrumental in building OTA’s reputation as a thoughtful and reliable source of policy analysis in the environmental arena….’ In Bob Watson’s words, ‘…there is virtually no one in America who has a better grasp of these issues than Rosina.’

“Dr. Bierbaum has applied her sound and broad scientific background, outstanding analytical capabilities, superb practical sense and feel for political considerations, and exceptional oral and written communication skills to many assessments of issues such as natural hazards, acid rain, air and water quality, ecosystem management, and climate and global change. As a result of her efforts, political leaders throughout the world have received scientifically sound information and insights on which to base policy decisions. In Jerry Mahlman’s words, ‘…she became the interface between the science community and the Vice President and President on science/science policy issues.’

“Dr. Bierbaum served, with great distinction, for more than a decade in the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on major environmental issues and their social and economic implications. For example, the report, “Preparing for an Uncertain Climate,” developed under her leadership, was one of the first comprehensive efforts to formulate conceptually a sustainable development strategy for the United States. She not only served as the principal leader of that and many studies and assessments at OTA but also was skilled at communicating the results of OTA’s studies to the public, industry, scientific and professional societies, and Congress through both formal testimony and informal briefings. For her outstanding leadership she was named a Senior Associate, OTA’s highest honor. In Bob White’s words, ‘She was the principal author…of Preparing for an Uncertain Climate…and that document remains as a landmark report on issues of adaptation to climate change.’

“For most of the last decade, Dr. Bierbaum has served with distinction in the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) of the President, most recently as Associate Director for Environment. Her contributions to the development of our nation’s policies on environmental programs are numerous and widely recognized. She has a unique talent that brings scientific understanding and insights to a complex process of public policy development. Dr. Bierbaum is recognized as one of the leaders in the national assessment of the consequences of climate variability and change for our nation, an assessment that is now well underway and which is a pathfinder effort among the nations of the world–another important example of leadership in the public policy arena. She was an early participant in the issue of climate change and continues to provide leadership in the work of both the International Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In Jack Gibbons words, ‘She’s the most constantly productive, capable, and effective colleague I’ve had in 2 decades.’

“She has provided balanced and thoughtful guidance that is based on her own broad scientific knowledge and her special ability to interact with many scientists to obtain the very best information for the policy under consideration. During 1998-1999, Dr. Bierbaum delivered numerous speeches and presentations to a wide variety of organizations across the nation on environmental issues, while at the same time interacting effectively with elected political officials, nationally and internationally. She has that rare talent of being able to address many issues congruently. In Ari Patrinos’ words, ‘She has displayed exceptional leadership, deep scientific insight, and a wonderful ability to motivate and inspire scientists and managers.’ And according to Tom Karl, ‘She has provided scientific leadership and foresight, uncommon in even the most articulate scientific leaders.’

“We are pleased to present to you someone who is a role model to all of us in both the scientific and policy world, this year’s Waldo E. Smith Medalist, Rosina M. Bierbaum.”

—RICHARD E. HALLGREN and ROBERT W. CORELL, American Meteorological Society, Washington, D.C.


“It is an honor to be in the company of such a distinguished audience. How did I get to be here, on this side of the stage? I started life as a scientist, a ‘discoverer’ of knowledge; then became an ‘assessor’ of knowledge; and now, from my office in the White House, have become a ‘user’ of knowledge.

“My parents reminded me that I also stood on a stage 30 years ago on the first Earth Day–that’s the day I won the regional science fair. Then, I was a teenager and newly enthralled with Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. My plan was to study the ocean and uncover its secrets for the rest of my quiet research life.

“However, 20 years ago, I unexpectedly won a Congressional Fellowship and hesitantly ventured forth from the ivory tower of academia, knowing only that there were three branches of government. Many colleagues frowned upon me, saying it was not appropriate for scientists to be ‘tainted’ with policy. After all, Mark Twain called Washington ‘the asylum for the weak of spirit and the feeble of ability.’ On my first day in D.C., I attended a Congressional hearing, eager to hear a brilliant discourse between Congress and leading scientists testifying on ozone depletion and climate change. The uneasy exchange was sorely disappointing; the lawyers and the scientists spoke past–not to–each other. I realized that there was a crying need for translators and assessors of science, perhaps more so than that for one more, no-doubt brilliant, researcher in a lovely marine setting!

“Now, for the last 8 years, I’ve tried to coordinate the federal environmental research portfolio and set priorities, both to solve the nation’s problems and to continue to advance basic knowledge. But, all good research can’t be funded simultaneously. To help set priorities, we’ve done assessments on everything from endocrine disruptors to climate change.

“Science is not the loudest voice in Washington, and science funding is not an entitlement; it competes with school lunches and veterans’ benefits. Scientists must communicate their findings and the value of science to others. We must explain the importance of continuing and enhancing research funding. We must not be afraid to interpret how science can be used to make wise policy decisions today, even as we continue to reduce uncertainties tomorrow.

“It is awe-inspiring to be in the presence of so many D.C. mentors and to have citations from such leaders. Some, such as Bob Corell and Dick Hallgren, I’ve known for decades, and some have come more recently into my life. They are the antithesis of the ‘weak of spirit and feeble of mind’ that Twain warned us about. Washington needs many more of them! And special thanks to my earliest mentors, Herman and Rosina Bierbaum, my parents, who raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be: a marine biologist, an assessor of science, or even a public servant.

“I am very, very honored that AGU is saying that being a translator, a communicator, and an assessor of science is something to aspire to, and that doing it well is a serious career for a scientist and worthy of this prestigious Waldo Smith Medal. Thank you so very much.”

—ROSINA M. BIERBAUM, Office of Science and Technology, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.