News from the National Academy of Sciences

Date: Jan. 17, 2012


Harold Shapiro to Receive Public Welfare Medal, Academy's Most Prestigious Award

WASHINGTON – Harold T. Shapiro, an economist lauded for his ability to distill, debate, and resolve the complex aspects of controversial scientific issues, has been awarded the Public Welfare Medal, the National Academy of Sciences’ most prestigious award. Established in 1914, the medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.

“We honor Dr. Shapiro’s tireless efforts to promote public understanding of science,” said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award. “Throughout his long and distinguished career, he has taken on a remarkable variety of complex and important problems, often building consensus among disparate personalities by employing a disciplined approach that emphasizes respect for all viewpoints.”

Shapiro, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, is a renowned economist and institutional leader. A professor of economics and public affairs and president emeritus of Princeton University, Shapiro holds a long-standing interest in applied econometrics and has helped formulate several prominent regional and national economic forecasts. Shapiro holds 15 honorary doctorates in science, law, and public policy in addition to a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. Scientific leaders in fields ranging from engineering to stem cell biology have praised his ability to master new areas of research. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the European Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the College of Physicians of Pennsylvania.

Throughout his career, Shapiro has helped to shape science and public policy. “In an era that is overflowing with new discoveries, it is important to recall that the more knowledge we have, the more capacity we have, and the more capacity we have, the greater our ethical responsibilities,” Shapiro said in a 2000 lecture to the American College of Surgeons. “One of the greatest ethical challenges of this extraordinary age of scientific discovery is to ensure that we deploy our new knowledge so that it will strengthen our communities and yield the greatest benefits to our entire society.”

Capable of stripping away extraneous details and homing in on a problem’s essence, Shapiro has enabled leaders with divergent viewpoints to form effective public policy on topics as distinct as biomedical science and particle physics. In 1996, Shapiro was appointed by President Clinton as chair of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, a position he held until 2001. He has also chaired many other high-level groups, including the National Research Council’s Committee on the Organizational Structure of the National Institutes of Health and Committee on Elementary Particle Physics, the InterAcademy Council’s review of the procedures and processes of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a committee formed by NAS and the National Academy of Engineering to investigate the nation’s energy future. Shapiro has also served as a member and vice chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“Harold Shapiro has quietly but profoundly influenced American science, helping the government, the scientific community, and the general public to address some of the most complex and contentious scientific and ethical issues of our time,” said NAS President Ralph Cicerone. “His wise counsel and skillful leadership have been crucial to the success of projects in areas as diverse as stem cells, energy, the structure of the NIH, and high-energy physics.”

The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Shapiro on April 30 during the Academy’s 149th annual meeting. Previous recipients of the medal include Ismail Serageldin, Eugenie C. Scott, Neal Lane, Norman Borlaug, William T. Golden, Maxine F. Singer, C. Everett Koop, and Carl Sagan.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council — provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer
Office of News and Public Information

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