Good Enough for Ethics

At his blog, Living on the Real World, AMS Associate Executive Director William Hooke makes a compelling prediction for the next four years: Ethics will matter more than ever.
He’s not talking about politicians, necessarily. He’s talking about our ethics, as members of the atmospheric sciences community. His reasoning? Our capabilities in making predictions are getting that good:

In this high-stakes environment where the products and services we provide are the basis for action, ethics matter. When can and should a NWS field forecaster begin to act when numerical guidance appears to diverge from on-the-ground reality? What observations, products and services should be considered public goods? What can and should be privatized? What’s at stake with warn-on-forecast? To list these few examples doesn’t do justice to the dozens of ethical dimensions to the daily work of everyone in every corner of today’s Earth observations, science, and services community.

At the AMS Annual Meeting on Sunday, Tom Ackerman (meteorologist/climatologist) and Steve Gardiner (philosopher/ethicist) of the University of Washington will moderate a panel session on ethics (1:30 to 3:30 p.m.; Room 613).
Gardiner is the author of the book, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, in which he describes the way this environmental hazard combines many of the classic types of ethical dilemmas found separately in other threats to civil society. The challenges include incomplete knowledge and the uneven distribution of exposures to risk, incentives for action, and burdens of cost—across geography as well as economic classes and generations.
To get a taste of the discussions this week, try this lecture in which Gardiner shows how 200 years ago Jane Austen anticipated the perfect storm of ethical challenges of climate change.

Then follow up Sunday’s sessions by attending “Shades of Gray: Panel Discussion on Ethics, Law, and Uncertainty in the Weather, Water, and Climate Community,” on Wednesday (8:30 a.m., Room 613):

Though our Enterprise is indeed motivated by altruistic interests, ethical gray zones emerge. How confident are we in that climate model, and what should we disclose? Should we attempt to create a forecast beyond 7-14 days? What is the proper balance between providing information and urging action? The presentation of scientific uncertainty can be fraught with misinterpretation and resistance, particularly from non-scientists.


The Good Meteorologist: CCM Forum Wednesday

Are you good at what you do? Of course, you are…but are you good in what you do?
All professions ultimately uphold specific ethical standards–guidelines for being good in a moral sense. In some cases these are established by laws enacted in the interest of the public that relies on these professionals. Meteorology may not be as heavily regulated as some professions, but it still is subject to laws and government regulation, especially to the extent that researchers spend government dollars, or professionals engage in business or work for governmental agencies.
Oddly enough, however, obeying the standards of a profession are not always equivalent to simply behaving well in the usual sense of being good. Our lives in private or personal matters are governed by a different code of conduct than our lives as professionals. Or so insist ethics experts. According to Albert Flores, Philosophy Professor at California State Univ.–Fullerton,

to suppose that there must be absolute consistency between private and public actions does violence to the very point of drawing the distinction in the first place.

Flores cites, for example, the difference the lengths to which a lawyer must go, ethically, to defend a client and the way the same lawyer would behave in disputes in private life. And it is ok for a police officer to deceive a suspect under investigation but not ok to employ deception in dealing with friends.  It’s also ok in private life to promise to do something that you don’t yet know how to do, but not ok as a scientific consultant to portray yourself as capable of things you aren’t yet competent in doing. As a result of contradictions like this, you can’t count on your well-ingrained sense of right and wrong to guide you through every ethical dilemma as a meteorologist, whether in private practice, in government, or in academia. And because laws and codes are involved, you may not even realize what sort of decision could get you in legal trouble as a professional. There’s a lot to know.
To help you navigate the rights and wrongs of meteorology, the CCM Forum at this Annual Meeting is devoting its Wednesday discussions to professional ethics. At 10:30 a.m. (Room 245) Bernard Meisner CCM “will review some of the most common situations faced by NWS consulting meteorologists” in his presentation, “Ethical Practice for National Weather Service Consulting Meteorologists
At 1:30 p.m., Jerry Hill, CCM, will moderate a panel discussion of “Contemporary Ethics Problems Facing Meteorology Community.” Among the panelists will be Univ. of New Mexico Regents Professor Law, Marsha Baum, who is a scholar of the intersection of meteorology and the legal system, and is the featured speaker at the CCM Town Hall (12:15-1:15 p.m., Room 239). Prof. Baum teaches a course on “Weather in U.S. Law and Society” and has titled her keynote speech, “Is It Law or is it Ethics.”