Future of Humanity Institute logo

Global Catastrophic Risks Conference - Speakers Biographies

Professor Steve Rayner describes himself as an “undisciplined” scholar, committed to changing the world through social science. In addition to being James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization and Director of the James Martin Institute, he heads up the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s national research programme on Science in Society, serves on the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and is a lead author in Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Before coming to the University of Oxford in 2002, Steve spent two decades in the United States developing and leading interdisciplinary research programmes spanning the social and natural sciences. Most recently he was simultaneously Professor of Environment and Public Affairs and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, as well as the Chief Social Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction. Prior to that, he held the rank of Chief Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Located in the Washington DC office, he led the Global Change Research Group from 1991 to 1996. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Global Environmental Studies Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he was responsible for research in Policy, Energy, and Human Systems. He has also taught in interdisciplinary programmes at Virginia Tech, Cornell University, the University of Tennessee, the US Office of Personnel Management's Executive Seminar Center, and the University of London. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University and Boston University School of Public Health.

He has received several awards, including the 25th Annual Homer N. Calver Award from the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association, the PNNL Laboratory Director’s Award for R&D Excellence, and two Martin-Marietta Energy Systems Awards for ground breaking work in risk analysis and global climate change policy analysis respectively. He is a Member of the Cosmos Club in Washington DC and is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Society for Applied Anthropology, and the Royal Society of Arts. In 2003 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specifically in recognition of “distinguished contributions to the fields of risk management, global change and sustainable development through the application of skills as a social anthropologist, multidisciplinary team leader and administrator”.

Steve’s research interests revolve around the relationship between nature and society as mediated by science and technology. He has contributed to the scholarly literatures on the perception and management of environmental and technological risk, the concept of global climatic and environmental change, the idea of sustainable development, and the governance of emerging technologies. He has also contributed to the development of Cultural Theory. Recent publications have focused on theories and practice of public participation in scientific decision making, the role of technical expertise in democratic governance, and the use and non-use of climate forecasting technologies in the US water industry.