by William Hooke, AMS Associate Executive Director and Senior Policy Fellow
The AMS and its Policy Program invite you to take on-line survey on R2O: here are four reasons why you should.
“Research-to-operations.” “R2O.” “Applied research.” “Development.” “Technology transfer.” A rich nomenclature has grown up to describe the process and activities by which people and institutions take basic scientific understanding – pure knowledge – and turn it into practical products and services that people want or need. Making the leap from Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves to the radio and then television. Conjoining Boolean algebra and understanding of semi-conducting materials to develop computers and smartphones. Seeing in Bernoulli’s equation the possibility of flight, and inventing the airplane. Discovering the equivalency of matter and energy; then going from E=mc2 to nuclear power – and so on. The process is often thought of as purely technical, but there’s also a social component to uptake of new ways of doing things – and more jargon: bridgers; translators; boundary organizations.
R2O is generic. It challenges every field of endeavor and every application: What good are lasers? Now that we’ve mapped the human genome, what does that tell us about health and disease? We can now locate ourselves on the surface of the planet to within a meter or so. Is that valuable? The photoelectric effect? Curious… but can we apply it to our advantage? Fullerenes are interesting carbon structures – but might there be commercial applications of buckyballs and buckytubes in either electronics or nanotechnology?
Meteorology provides its own examples. Computers can perform trillions of computations per second. How might we harness that capability to predict weather numerically? We can measure infrared and microwave radiances from space. Can we use that to infer ground, water, and atmospheric temperatures? Can we accomplish that well enough to put data into those numerical weather models? And what about radars for aircraft detection? Perhaps if we made them even more sensitive, they’d detect rain or snow. Or clouds themselves. Or the wind field within clouds. We’ve improved the physical aspects of weather forecasts (such as the severity of storms, their onset, motion, and dissipation); how can we apply social science to characterize weather impacts and help individuals and communities take effective action?
But R2O is not only pervasive. It is difficult. Vexing. Time-consuming. It can offer huge payoffs, but it’s also expensive. And it’s risky. For every success, there may be dozens, even hundreds of failures, dead ends. It’s complex, and sometimes feels more like an artistic endeavor than the basic science it feeds on. The difference between what works and what doesn’t is poorly understood. The R2O terrain is so difficult that it’s been referred to as “crossing the Valley of Death.”
R2O matters. Simply put, it’s the key to realizing societal benefit from R&D. The International Council for Science (ICSU) has long argued that the greatest challenge facing 21st century science and technology is “the widening gap between advancing scientific knowledge and technology and society’s ability to capture and use them.” Without R2O the potential benefit from national investments in science is compromised. The world urgently needs scientific understanding of natural resources, natural hazards, and threats to the environment to be translated into action.
The survey has an important audience, and it will change behavior and outcomes. That starts with you. You’ll have access to the results, including others’ inputs, and they’ll have access to yours (without attribution, if you so desire). It will be impossible for you to participate in this survey without becoming more intentional yourself about the uptake and use of your work to make a better world. But it extends as well to national-level leadership. Congressional staffers and executive – branch policy officials are aware of this site and can draw ideas from it as they formulate legislation and allocate federal-agency resources on R2O, especially as it bears on forecast improvement, but not limited to that arena. The more thoughtful and detailed your participation, the greater will be your impact.
Diverse cases provide fuller opportunities for learning. R2O projects are much like snowflakes in that no two are identical. The efforts are not like laboratory experiments which allow stepwise dialing through different inputs and variables to divine generalizations. What’s needed, then, is a rich diversity of cases or narratives, a blend of success stories and failures, and ventures in between, that allow general principles to emerge. Look at the results to date and you’ll find citations to the Clean Air Act, development for weather information processing systems, dual-polarization radars, satellite instrument applications, and more. Add from your own unique personal experience and our community will grow that much wiser.
Your participation will shape future surveys. The AMS Policy Program, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Higgins, is not simply carrying out a one-off survey, but rather developing a platform for drawing on the full resources of our community to think through a range of complex, timely, and important issues. The survey website captures this aspiration:
… Through this site, the AMS Policy Program creates a platform for scientists to engage in the policy process by providing opportunities for them to share their subject matter expertise and inform decision making on important issues for the community. We have informed policymakers, including decision makers in the Executive and Legislative branches, about this site. They are aware of this site and can actively peruse it for a better understanding of the relevant and important community issues.
This site is open broadly to all members of the weather, water, and climate community. It creates a public forum for sharing experience and expertise in these specialty areas of the AMS. Periodically we will host surveys on policy relevant issues within these areas. Please visit this site regularly to participate in current surveys and view past survey results. We hope that you find this public forum as a useful resource for engagement and information!
So, please, participate in this survey. And along the way, help us improve the saliency and utility of the surveys to come. Let’s master this technique for adding to the store of human knowledge and making a safer, more sustainable world.
From a 2006 ICSU CSPR Assessment Panel report, Priority Area Assessment on Capacity Building in Science page 5.