A Summer Spent Studying Disagreements

November 14, 2011 · 1 comment

Washington State University just published a profile of Rodrigo Gonzalez, a graduate student in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (LAR) who spent his summer interning for the AMS Policy Program:
“It’s not in my character to be in a lab doing research and publishing articles that are only useful for other scientists,” Gonzalez said. “I want to see the broader impacts. I like to see that what I do has an impact on the development of society.”…
Gonzalez has been long interested in politics. He studied environmental engineering in Mexico City as an undergraduate and participated in modeling studies of air pollution in that city.
During his summer in D.C., Gonzalez worked for the American Meteorological Society’s policy program, which helps congressional staffers develop science-based policy. It also connects scientists and policy makers. The idea is to help each other and give each other information, Gonzalez said.
There often has been a gap between scientists and policy makers, he said: “It’s very hard to communicate science to make effective policy.” The AMS policy program tries to cover that gap.
In 2009, the program made policy recommendations based on the professional and scientific expertise and perspectives of the AMS about a climate change legislative proposal. The legislation passed in the House of Representatives but never made it through the Senate to become law.
Part of Gonzalez’s work was interviewing the different actors on this legislation as well as experts and advocates surrounding the proposal. What were the electoral implications of the proposal? Why did it pass the House and not the Senate? Who and what gives momentum to the legislation?
“It is not necessarily the science or engineering that gives legislation its momentum,” he said….
Trying to get science into the public policy discussion can be frustrating, Gonzalez said. But it was more frustrating before he became involved.
“Now I understand how it works and what is involved,” he said. “It’s natural and necessary for humans to disagree. The source of policy making is disagreement. As frustrating as that can be, there is no better way.”
Gonzalez is working to complete a Ph.D. in air quality modeling. Since returning from his summer internship, he is pursuing his final year in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in engineering sciences.
He would like to travel and eventually return to Mexico to help his country with its air pollution problems. Spending the summer in D.C….helped [Gonzalez] learn how to better communicate the science that he studies.
“It’s a different world away from the lab,” he said. “This has really made me a better professional.”
For the full article, by Tina Hilding, click here.