Is Science Messy Enough for You?

Brooks Garner, broadcast meteorologist with WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina, shares on his blog some interesting impressions from the climate variability and change sessions at the recent AMS meeting in Atlanta. He notes that the process of science we witnessed at the AMS meeting doesn’t fit the pace of the contemporary mindset:

In a culture characterized by the hunger for “instant gratification” (“IG”) in everything from consumerism to relationships, naturally science is struggling through the same tide….

He witnesses some contentious arguments, glaring discrecpancies in interpretations, and clashing priorities that fueled some occasionally tense sessions in Atlanta, like a science “reality show.” Even amid this scientific culture of constant debate and disagreement and incremental progress in understanding, Garner can see that experts overwhelmingly agree that warming is happening and we can’t ignore the consequences. He can also see why the public is not always convinced

[I]nstant gratification will never occur on the topic of global warming. Science will never agree completely in its effects or a solution. But one thing I can guarantee you: the research will never stop, the debate will never cool, and the naysayer’s will never rest. If they did, it would no longer be ‘science’, but instead ‘belief’.

Then he adds a piece of good advice:

Do you “believe” in global warming? I hope not. I hope that everyone would stop “believing” and instead spend that energy learning as much as possible about the subject.

This attitude is the antithesis of instant gratifcation; one striking aspect of Garner’s viewpoint is how similar it is to another blogger-scientist who posted not long after the East Anglia e-mails made the news.
Thomas Zurbuchen is Associate Dean at the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering of the University of Michigan. In a posting titled, “Messy Science,” Zurbuchen wrote that the scientists’ e-mails didn’t tell him anything new about climate change, but the huge number of comments about the e-mails he’d received were disturbing.

I am left with a deep sense that most people don’t understand science, or its pursuit. Doing science is more like orienteering, and less like a 100 meter dash. Doing science is messy!

“Most people” includes science grad students, Zurbuchen says.  A lot of grad students expect quick success–or at least steady success with every project. They don’t realize that a lot of ideas and hard work are flushed away by competing evidence.

To most budding scientists, this leads to a major crisis. Now, they have to decide whether they want to be a scientist! As they go forward, they notice that science is about search, and struggles. It is about false starts, about failed projects. It’s not about victory [laps]….

The East Anglia e-mails, he said, showed how frustrated scientists can  become, which leads to all sorts of behavior, including lashing out at the peer review system. While an instant gratification culture may not be able to embrace scientists’ oft-fallible responses to a rock-solid, rock-slow process, Zurbuchen, like Garner,  sees signs of the health of the enterprise despite the humanity of the participants:

Yes, science is not an orderly, straightforward path. It is littered with messy turns and twists. For me, that has been the only reason I have become a scientist. If it was predictable, everybody could be a successful scientist!


NPR reporter Jon Hamilton was in Atlanta for the AMS Annual Meeting, searching for the effects of the hacked climate scientists’ emails. He interviewed a number of people at the meeting, with the resulting segment (transcript and audio here) that aired on Morning Edition on Thursday.
The quoted scientists were: Kevin Goebbert, Valparaiso University; Dave Gutzler, University of New Mexico; Chris Folland, UK Met Office; Marcus Williams, Florida State University; and Bill Hooke, AMS Policy Program.

An Expanding Security Role for the Military

On Tuesday, the Introduction to Environmental Security and Climate Change presented by John Lanicci and James Ramsay of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University broadened the scope of national security issues to include extreme environmental events and climate anomalies, the destabilizing effects of these events, and the potential security implications.
In this clip, Lanicci discusses the accompanying chart from the U.S. Transportation Command.

Weather and Water at the Robert E. Horton Lecture

John Schaake of NOAA/NWS giving his presentation "Weather, WATER, Climate, and Society: New Demands on Science and Services" at the Robert E. Horton Lecture on Tuesday. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Attendees tune in at the Robert E. Horton Lecture, which was sponsored by the 24th Conference on Hydrology. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Schaake greets attendees at the lecture. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Dennis Lettenmaier speaking during the Q&A portion of Schaake's presentation. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

International Dinner Provides Global Flavor

Bill Hooke leads the informal presentation at the International Dinner held at the Omni Hotel Tuesday night. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Fred Branski enjoys the company at the International Dinner. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

John Zillman offers a few remarks at the International Dinner. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

"An Incredible Experience"

The AMS/UCAR Congressional Science Fellowship is a unique opportunity for scientists to become involved in the policy process on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, the current AMS fellow and two former fellows gathered to discuss some of their experiences and dispense advice to potential applicants.
The 2009-10 AMS Congressional Fellow is Jonah Steinbuck, who received his Ph.D. in environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology from Stanford University in 2009. Steinbuck describes his work as a fellow for Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) in the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming as an “incredible experience.”
Steinbuck noted that he chose working with Markey and the Select Committee for a number of reasons: 1) because of his interest in climate policy and his belief that the Select Committee gave him the best opportunity to pursue that interest, 2) because “Chairman Markey is one of the leaders in environmental and energy issues,” and 3) because of the Select Committee staff, which allows him to be “a sponge absorbing information” from “some of the best climate policy talent on Capitol Hill.”

Jonah Steinbuck

Perhaps the highlight of Steinbuck’s fellowship thus far was his recent trip to the Copenhagen Summit, where he received a credential from the  State Department and was able to attend the talks. Steinbuck was particularly impressed with the dramatic conclusion when President Obama negotiated the final text of the agreement with other world leaders.
While the Select Committee awaits the final results of the conference, Steinbuck is also currently tracking EPA regulation of greenhouse gases while monitoring a number of bills proposed to block such regulation from stationary sources.
Past fellows Stephanie Herring and Michael Morgan also spoke about their Congressional Fellowship experiences. Herring, who like Steinbuck served under Congressman Markey in the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, is currently working on climate science and service issues as a climate policy analyst in the office of the Department of the Deputy Undersecretary at NOAA. During her time as a fellow, Herring worked on the original version of the legislation that eventually became the Clean Energy and Security Act (also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill). She called the fellowship an ideal transition into new pursuits and in this clip responded to a question on how her fellowship experience enhanced her Ph.D. studies.
Morgan, currently a professor at the University of Wisconsin, recalled his time in Senator Benjamin Cardin’s (D-MD) personal office with fondness, even though, as he explained here, it was the exact opposite of what he originally thought he was looking for in a fellowship experience. Morgan explained that one of the most important things he learned on Capitol Hill was that “science is not enough”–senators must consider all their legislative priorities and their constituents’ priorities and determine how science fits into that framework.
The speakers cited numerous characteristics that Congressional Fellowship applicants should have: analytic skills, interpersonal skills, awareness of federal policy, an understanding of the role and limits of science in federal policy, diplomacy and political acumen, a sense of ethics, and perhaps most importantly, a legitimate interest in policy that has been displayed in their academic career. They noted that the competition for the fellowship is considerable and that the scientific records of most applicants is outstanding.
Applications for the 2010-2011 fellowship are due by February 10.

We Told You There Would Be Cake. . .

. . . but we may have neglected to mention that it would be the coolest weather-related cake you’ve ever seen! The confectionary delight was a highlight of Monday’s AMS book launch party and celebrated the 2009 release of The AMS Weather Book by Jack Williams.

Jack Williams receives his ASLI's Choice Award from Maria Latyszewskyj , chair of the ASLI's Choice Award Committee

A few minutes later, in a special ceremony, the accolades for Jack continued when he received an honorable mention ASLI’s Choice Award in the “popular” category. The fifth annual ASLI’s Choice Awards ceremony will be held on Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. at Publisher’s Row in the Exhibit Hall.
Congratulations to Jack on the success of his book!

A World View at the International Forum

John Mungai, center, represented the East African Meteorological Society at the International Forum on Tuesday. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Attendees mingle at the International Forum. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Gerald Mills, of Ireland, presents information on the International Association for Urban Climate during the International Forum. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

Mohamed Mhita with the Tanzania Meteorological Agency takes advantage of the question-and-answer period during the International Forum. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

AMS Chapter of the Year Awarded

The AMS North Florida chapter was awarded Chapter of the Year at the local chapters breakfast Tuesday. (Jenni Girtman / Atlanta Event Photography for AMS)

K-12 Education at Home and Abroad

The rewards of teaching the Earth sciences at the K-12 level in the United States are great, but sometimes so are the frustrations. At Monday’s education forum, Sandra Henderson touched on some of these issues in a discussion of recent UCAR surveys of K-12 Earth science teachers.
UCAR, which  supports the professional development of science teachers through their “Windows to the Universe” website and other initiatives, generated almost 1,000 responses from National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) members and newsletter subscribers. While making note of one particularly positive development–that teachers now have reasonably good access to technology and utilize it regularly–Henderson also listed the top 10 concerns of science teachers and summarized the surveys’ findings.
So how can these concerns be addressed? American educators might look to their colleagues across the Pacific for a uniquely successful approach to environmental education. In another forum presentation, Michihiko Tonouchi of the Japan Meteorological Business Support Center in Tokyo described a program in Japanese public schools that teaches students about global warming and other environmental issues.

A teaching aid used in Japan's elementary environmental class. A popular technique is to compare the warming of the Earth to human illness. The text in this picture reads "The Earth has a fever!!".

Weather studies in Japan are now a compulsory subject for elementary school fifth-graders and those in their second year of junior-high school. In the program described by Tonouchi, approximately 100 broadcast meteorologists from the Weather Caster Network (WCN) and 300 engineers from Sharp share teaching responsibilities, with the broadcasters explaining basic scientific principles of global warming and the engineers discussing mitigation and adaptation strategies. Quizzes and hands-on experiments are an important part of the instruction. Along with global warming, alternative energy and recycling are also studied.
A website maintained in conjunction with the program provides a forum for student and teacher feedback, as well as activities, articles, and other resources.  Tonouchi noted that both students and teachers have enthusiastically embraced the program, and said that the program’s organizers would like to expand the project to the U.S. and other parts of Asia.