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Stephen Meyer, expert on interaction of science, economics and politics, dies at 54

Stephen M. Meyer
Stephen M. Meyer
Stephen M. Meyer
Stephen M. Meyer

Stephen M. Meyer, MIT political science professor, an expert in national security issues and a passionate advocate of global biodiversity, died Dec. 10 at the age of 54. The cause was cancer.

Meyer, the director of the MIT Project on Environmental Politics and Policy and a member of the MIT Council on the Environment, focused his teaching and research on the interaction of science, economics and politics in policy-making, particularly in the areas of natural resource exploitation, land use and wildlife habitat preservation.

A researcher with a wide range of interests, Meyer concentrated on arms control, Soviet military programs and weapons technology when he first joined the MIT faculty in 1980. In 1984, he published his first book, "The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation" (University of Chicago Press.)

More recently, he turned his attention to environmental issues, publishing "Environmental Protection and Economic Prosperity" (MIT Press) in 2004. In September Meyer published "The End of the Wild" (Boston Review), a call to action to preserve what is left of species biodiversity, including the creation of trans-regional "meta-reserves." The book strikes a somber note, arguing that " 'the extinction crisis'--the race to save the composition, structure and organization of biodiversity as it exists today--is over, and we have lost."

Meyer received his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. He joined MIT as an assistant professor in 1980 and earned tenure in 1990. In 1997, he became a faculty associate with the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine.

Meyer also worked in a wide range of non-academic positions, beginning in the 1980s as a consultant to the RAND Corporation and the U.S. government. From 1992 to 1993, he was the principal investigator for the National Council on Soviet and East European Studies. In the late 1990s, he served on committees of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. In 2002 he became a principal investigator of the National Science Foundation in the area of dynamics of community-based environmental protection. In 2005 he was awarded the Francis W. Sargent Conservation Award by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

In 2004, Meyer was honored with the Arthur C. Smith Award, which is given to MIT faculty members for meaningful contributions and devotion to undergraduate student life at MIT.

Meyer also served on the board of advisors of Advocates for the Future from 1999 to 2002, the editorial board of International Studies Quarterly from 1990 to 1996, and the Committee on Science, Arms Control and National Security of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 1989 to 1992. He was an adjunct research fellow at the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University from 1980 to 1995.

Meyer, a resident of Sudbury, is the author of numerous journal articles, research papers and book chapters on issues of arms control and the environment. His MIT activities ranged from a seat on the MIT ROTC Committee from 1987 to 1991 to a position on the executive committee of the Center for International Studies from 1988 to 1995.

In September, even while struggling with cancer, Meyer agreed to write an essay about the issues he explored in "The End of the Wild" for the Boston Globe, using speech-to-text software because, as he told the Globe editors, his hands were paralyzed. In an e-mail to editors, published by the Globe on Sept. 3, Meyer wrote, "This will undoubtedly be the last article I ever publish and I'm happy about the message it carries."

In the article, Meyer concluded: "The global biodiversity collapse underway is unstoppable. Yet we can influence how it plays out in our own backyards. Obviously we should protect ourselves from insect-borne disease. But our solutions must be effective, and we must thoroughly examine the consequences. This means becoming more aware of the diversity of life sharing space with us and how our individual actions matter. It would be a shame if fireflies, spring peepers and lady slippers become mere museum displays to our grandchildren."

Meyer is survived by his wife, Deborah M. Dineen; a son, Seth Meyer; his parents, Harvey and Rebecca Meyer of Worcester; a brother, Kenneth Meyer of Henderson, Tenn.; a sister, Deborah Blumenthal of Rockville, New York; and nephews.

A memorial visitation will be held Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 3 to 7:30 p.m. at the Duckett-J.S. Waterman & Sons Home of Memorial Tribute, 656 Boston Post Rd. (Rte. 20), Sudbury. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to the Dr. Stephen M. Meyer Environmental Preservation Fund, c/o Lincoln-Sudbury Employees Federal Credit Union, 278 Old Sudbury Rd., Sudbury, MA 01776.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 2006 (download PDF).

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