The AMS Annual Meeting: Always a Need to Hear the Unheard

January 6, 2019 · 0 comments

You’ve been here before. Those previous AMS Annual Meetings, for example, right here in Phoenix. You probably have some good memories of those. But this is not the sense of déjà vu we’re talking about.

Meteorologists, and indeed scientists of many disciplines, bridge the road from societal impacts to societal progress. As a result, you’ve been in this place before: “place” in the sense of what you study, what you say, and what you accomplish. It is all predicated on the premise that the most important people in the room are the people who are not, actually, in the room. The people who flee hurricanes and tsunamis, who dig out from snow and put out wildfires, whose coral reefs are blanching—they are notably absent from conference rooms and auditoriums as well as from laboratories, classrooms, and forecast offices. Yet in the places the work of these atmospheric and related sciences goes on, these unheard voices are the pleas that are being answered.

Science is a process of voices participating in discussions across many divides. Published papers in AMS journals spread ideas from many corners of the globe, just as our Annual Meeting brings together people and their findings from across borders.

As with international borders, so too with generational borders. Discussions in Phoenix this year originate from people who were once among us, but whose voices are now silenced. You can be sure that, as much as it hurts to lose a pioneering scientist such as, say, Doug Lilly, who died this past year, his voice is still very much in the room here due to all his students and all the people influenced by his work. In fact, anyone who takes advantage of opportunities to mentor other scientists is ensuring her voice will be in many rooms she’s never entered. This is the power of a collective enterprise such as AMS.

While answering the unheard is a specialty for this community, now we are about to get even better at it. First, we greatly miss our colleagues and friends from the Federal government who unfortunately must miss this AMS Annual Meeting. The opportunities of the week are reserved for the vast majority who made it to Phoenix as planned. But remember that we are used to speaking as best we can for voices of the missing. The voice we raise, and the waves we make, will undoubtedly be all the stronger if those who aren’t here are not forgotten.

But second, and ultimately more significantly, we will get better at including the voice of the unheard–by including them in the room. One of the great strengths of AMS president Roger Wakimoto’s theme this week is directly related to this chronic condition of sciences so intimately tied to societal need: “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive.”

That last of three “I’s” is telling. Inclusiveness promotes many voices by giving people a seat at the table. No longer can AMS represent every voice by assuming that the few can speak for the many. Inclusiveness is a theme of this meeting, of this year in AMS initiatives, and a pillar of AMS Centennial activities moving forward. For example, this year’s Inez Fung Symposium includes a panel on Tuesday on “Fostering Diverse Perspectives in Climate Science.”

This year’s meeting will be a success, all the more because you’re accustomed to acting like a typical meteorologist, listening to the people who can’t be, or haven’t typically been, in the room.