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Mourning the Loss of Former PAI Board Chair Jack Gibbons

Stories and Profiles

The Directors, officers, and staff of PAI mourn the loss of our former Board Chair John H. Gibbons on July 17th at the age of 86.  Jack served ably as Chair from 2004 to 2007. Throughout his distinguished professional career, Jack was the epitome of the citizen scientist who sought to bring scientific evidence and objective judgment to the policymaking process.

Jack was best known as the chief White House science advisor to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1998, coordinating government-wide science and technology policies on issues ranging from biomedical research to nuclear weapons testing and representing the U.S. government in international scientific fora.

Vicki Sant and Jack Gibbons Talking at Fall 2006 BOD Meeting
Vicki Sant and Jack Gibbons Talking at Fall 2006 BOD Meeting

Originally a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he first came to Washington in 1973 at the height of the Arab oil embargo to lead the federal government’s effort to encourage energy conservation, a cause he continued to champion as White House science adviser. As a result of his expertise, Jack contributed valuable insights and encouragement to PAI’s work on global climate change and its intersection with demographic factors.

Jack wrote:  “I’ve preached for nearly three decades that we must come to grips with the closely coupled issues of population and climate. Both issues are long-term and resilient because of historical and social factors. But they must be faced squarely and comprehensively, however traumatically.” His interest in PAI’s work was no doubt influenced in good measure by his wife Mary Ann, who was an active volunteer supporter of several local Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Jack also served with distinction for 14 years as the director of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, an agency that provided Congress with expert analysis of legislative proposals related to science and technology including world population and contraception, biodiversity, and global futures modeling. Two years after his departure in 1993, OTA was abolished, a victim of the new Republican House majority’s “Contract With America.” With its demise came the end of any independent, nonpartisan capacity of Congress to conduct evidence-based evaluations of emerging science and technology issues, an outcome Jack presciently predicted.

During his tenure on the PAI Board, Jack could always be counted on for intelligent interventions, gentle persuasion, good humor, and enormous wisdom. We also fondly remember Jack’s penchant for peppering his conversation with familiar quotations appropriate for the occasion. In his honor, let us conclude this tribute by quoting another fellow scientist and policymaker, Ben Franklin, who once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.”

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