Ethnobotanist Michael J. Balick Receives Prestigious International Science Award

Director of New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Economic Botany Cited for International Research Projects by AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, has named Michael Jeffrey Balick, PhD of The New York Botanical Garden recipient of the 2004 International Scientific Cooperation Award.

Dr. Balick was honored by AAAS for his tireless efforts to promote scientific collaboration within the field of ethnobotany — the study of the relationship between plants and people across cultures. In particular, Balick was cited for his research emphasis “on preserving traditional knowledge and respect for the values of local peoples, and his support for the development of scientific institutions in areas of the world where they are needed most.”

Dr. Balick is the Philecology Curator and Director of The New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) Institute of Economic Botany and Vice President for Research and Training at NYBG in Bronx, New York. He is the author of numerous books and scientific papers in the field of ethnobotany, plant systematics, and related studies. He also actively serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council (ABC), the nation’s leading non-profit research and education organization in the field of herbal medicine (

“Over the past 30 years,” AAAS Chief International Officer Sherburne Abbott said, “Dr. Balick has developed a shared vision of research with his collaborators in many different parts of the world, working with them to gather essential financial and intellectual resources. He has been a leader in revitalizing the little-known field of ethnobotany.”

Dr. Balick commented, “I am honored to accept this award on behalf of my colleagues—the dedicated scientists, students, and indigenous people with whom I have worked in many places around the world. I have been privileged to collaborate with, educate, and, most importantly, learn so much from them. Our model in this scientific research is one of full partnership, ensuring local interest and benefits that will last far beyond the lifetime of the immediate project.”

Dr. Balick’s research has helped to transform ethnobotany into an internationally recognized academic discipline. His work has taken him to some of the most remote and biologically diverse sites on the planet. Beginning in Costa Rica, for example, Balick played a key role in building a major botanical garden, then worked on the domestication of native plants in the Amazon Valley and Northeastern Brazil. In Belize, he and his principal collaborator Rosita Arvigo established critical links between ethnobotany, conservation, local education and economic development. His investigations also have taken him to China, Thailand and India, as well as the Caribbean, where he developed a new program to fund research projects in ethnobotany and economic botany with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Currently, Dr. Balick is working in the Federated States of Micronesia in the Pacific, with a coalition of groups that include the New York Botanical Garden, The National Tropical Botanical Garden, the College of Micronesia, the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center, the Nature Conservancy, the Pohnpei Council of Traditional Leaders, and Pohnpei State Government. The goal of Dr. Balick’s current work is to build a locally based scientific infrastructure that fosters the sustainable utilization of resources while also preserving traditional knowledge, in keeping with Micronesian values.

Dr. Balick received his bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Plant Science from the University of Delaware and his master’s degree and doctorate in Biology from Harvard University. He has worked at The New York Botanical Garden since 1980, and holds adjunct positions at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Columbia University, through the Consortium for Environmental Research and Conservation, New York University Biology Department, and City University of New York. He is a co-founder, with Dr. Arvigo, of the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation in Belize, which promotes the importance of traditional knowledge, conservation and sustainable farming.

“Balick was a leader in opening the dialogue and debate on intellectual property rights, long before it was fashion,” said Abbott, who also directs the AAAS Center for Science, Innovation & Sustainable Development. “When he received one of the first collecting contracts from the National Cancer Institute to gather plant samples from Central and South America for screening against AIDS and cancer, he positioned his work with traditional healers in Belize, making them equal partners in the endeavor. He also worked to ensure that local people would benefit from any discoveries that were made from their plants.”

Balick, a Fellow of the AAAS and former President of the Society for Economic Botany, also has helped to influence the training of many young people in the field of ethnobotany. He serves on the boards of many local and international conservation organizations.

“This award is most appropriate and fitting,” said Mark Blumenthal, Founder and Executive Director of ABC. “Mike is one of the hardest working people in the ethnobotanical field today. His experience and wisdom are cherished by those of us here at ABC who receive his advice and guidance. He has many interesting and worthwhile projects going on and all of us at ABC are grateful for his help in guiding our organization in the mission of promoting responsible, science-based herbal medicine that maintains respect for its origins from traditional cultures.”

Blumenthal added that the award provides additional recognition of the importance of ethnobotany. “AAAS has recognized that scientific research on the conservation and utilization of indigenous medicinal plants, and the preservation of native cultures and practices, all play a vital role in modern science, especially in an age of globalization and loss of cultural diversity.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science ( AAAS ( was founded in 1848, and serves some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million.

The New York Botanical Garden, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1891, is one of the world’s great collections of plants, the region’s leading educational center about gardening and horticulture, and an international center for plant research. The New York Botanical Garden is located at Bronx River Parkway (Exit 7W) at Fordham Road, and is easy to reach by car or by a 20-minute ride on the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal. For more information on the Garden, see

For more information on AAAS awards, go to Awards will be bestowed at the 2005 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on 19 February.

About the American Botanical Council

Established in 1988, the American Botanical Council (ABC) is the leading nonprofit, member-based international organization working to educate consumers, healthcare professionals, researchers, educators, industry, and the media on the safe and effective use of herbs and medicinal plants products. ABC is located on a 2.5 acre site in Austin, Texas where it publishes HerbalGram, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal. ABC is also the publisher of The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, a continuing education and reference book, which contains extensive monographs on the safety and efficacy of 29 popular herbs. More information is available at

Cheryl Dipper Ruiz
Phone: 512-926-4900; Fax: 512-926-2345
E-mail: [email protected]
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