World Water Day: An Integrated Appreciation

Wow! It’s World Water Day, as observed by the United Nations. Pretty much everything AMS is about has to do with water—from raindrops to atmospheric rivers to thunderstorms and hurricanes on to ocean currents and groundwater.
Which is why this concluding paragraph from the AMS Policy Program’s recently released study, “Toward an Integrated Approach to Water,” hit home and hits hard for us.

Water is simultaneously a resource and a threat. It is centrally important to every aspect of socioeconomic wellbeing and water becomes a hazard when there is too much, too little, or if the quality is poor. The ever-changing, increasingly human influenced water regime is characterized by localized, uncontrolled, intermittent, and sometimes huge flows of water (fresh and salt) across coastal zones, urban and rural areas, transportation infrastructure, agricultural resources, and through waterways. Earth observations and science provide critical environmental intelligence that help us determine when there is too much water, too little, or of the wrong quality. Services help us manage risks and realize opportunities that environmental intelligence makes possible. Decision-making with respect to water, as with all societal choices, has the greatest chance to benefit people when grounded in the best available knowledge & understanding.

Uncontrolled..intermittent…huge…too much…too little…An unflinching assessment from Paul Higgins, Yael Seid-Green, Andy Miller, and Annalise Blum. Read the whole report here and take in the full flow of interrelated issues that we, as an AMS community, must grasp in knowing and dealing with Earth’s ways.

AMS Summer Policy Colloquium–An Investment in Your Future

One of the special, life-shaping mid-career experiences AMS offers is the  Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C. The AMS Policy Program is accepting registrations now for the 2016 Colloquium, held 5-14 June; don’t delay, because the slots fill up well in advance. Grad students (and faculty from minority-serving institutions) can apply for NSF support to attend. The deadline for those funding applications is 31 March.
Here we share the first-hand impressions of a graduate student who attended last year’s colloquium.
by Alice Alpert, MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 
My favorite moment was adding the “poison pill” amendment to the amended HR2380 to ensure that the opposing party could not vote yes on it. I doubt that real senators laugh as much as we did. “We” were the participants of the 2015 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium – scientists and federal agency employees studying weather, water, and climate. Every year, AMS hosts this 10-day intensive program designed to give attendees an intensive introduction to the policy process.
Over the 10 days, we learned about and engaged with science policy through talks by current practitioners and hands-on activities. Each day focused on a different topic, including an introduction to science policy; practical perspectives from executive, legislative, diplomatic, private, and nonprofit sectors; science communication; and executive leadership. Speakers from throughout the federal government and beyond described their personal career paths, discussed how they practice science policy, and dispensed nuggets of advice. Woven throughout the event were practical simulations, including a role-playing activity of the legislative process in which we amended a bill and negotiated for a final vote. In the end my senator’s poison pill was misguided, but the lesson was not lost.
There are many aspects contributing to the great success of the policy colloquium that together create an immersive and exhilarating learning environment. Instrumental to the experience is the leadership of the AMS staff, Bill Hooke, Ya’el Seid-Green, and Paul Higgins. They meticulously but flexibly plan the event, reach out to high-level public servants, listen carefully to feedback, and most of all show a profound respect for the participants.
Another key ingredient is the invited speakers from high levels of government. They provide concrete examples of what science policy is and what it means both in day-to-day activities and in larger abstract goals. From my own perspective, embarking upon a career in science policy from a PhD is difficult because there is no one specific path to take, and indeed it is hard to see any from within academia. The speakers in the SPC program, from a former Congressman to senior White House advisors to agency heads, provide examples of specific roles and make a future in science policy much clearer. They often started out with similar paths to those of the participants, and in many cases are actually colloquium alumni who launched a career from this program. Their words were inspiring and will remain with me in the years to come.
The last ingredient is the participants themselves, coming at a range of career stages from academia, federal agencies, and the private sector. Our range of backgrounds and experiences meant we could provide each other valuable perspectives. Many of us in academia feel like we do not quite fit in, and we are our own greatest resource in connecting with each other to create a pool of support. It was exhilarating to meet the people who I am sure will become my colleagues.
This program is an incredible investment both for the future of policy for science and science for policy. It develops the links to strengthen financial support for the work of the scientific community as well as enhances our ability to produce science that serves society.
Personally, I have planned to enter science policy since before I started my doctoral studies. I have been involved in student policy groups, participated in congressional visit days, done oh-so-many informational interviews, taken relevant classes, and researched policy fellowships. But all that did not illuminate the world of science policy in the way the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium did. I found role models, and discovered in myself a voice that I had never heard before. I return to my PhD research energized and eagerly anticipating a future in science policy.

Budget Squeeze Spurs U.S. Weather Collaboration

by George Leopold, AMS Policy Program
The watchword for future federal weather efforts will be collaboration.
Budget sequestration has so far limited the options for program managers seeking ways to fund new observation platforms ranging from expensive satellites to ships and unmanned aircraft carrying weather sensors. For the U.S. military, which has taken the brunt of across-the-board spending cuts, a new weather satellite like the Defense Weather Follow-On System means fewer ships and planes.
The zero-sum budget process faced by federal agencies means that “if you want something, you have to give up something else,” says Robbie Hood, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems program. “Our job is to look at all these new technologies” and identify the best option.
The Navy also is looking at unmanned aircraft along with new ship-based sensors as ways to monitor the lower atmosphere. The Navy’s weather requirements appear to mesh well with those of civilian agencies like NOAA.
The military services and civilian agencies such as NOAA are again attempting to share weather observation data as a way to stretch scarce dollars. Weather observing needs continue to dovetail across stakeholders as collaboration heats up among the services, civilian agencies and other entities. For example, the Army needs satellite data on conditions like soil moisture content when planning ground operations.
One area ripe for closer cooperation is ocean observations, an obvious focus for the Navy and a growing segment of weather observations for storm trackers and climate modelers. Leveraging emerging platforms like drones, unmanned boats and ship-based sensors could help fill part of the anticipated gap in satellite coverage of the Earth’s oceans. For the military, coverage gaps could result from either the failure of an Earth observation satellite, delays in launching the Defense Weather Follow-On System or the fact that U.S. weather satellites tend to target the coasts.
NOAA’s Hood said her office is working with other agencies to synch up new weather observation requirements. She noted that using unmanned aircraft for applications like monitoring Arctic sea ice, for example, is similar in many ways to military reconnaissance missions.
NOAA has purchased used Puma AE unmanned aircraft from the Army at bargain prices and will hand launch them from U.S. Coast Guard ships on test flights later this year. The unmanned aircraft have been used extensively by the Army to “see over the next hill.” The Puma AE has a 9.2-foot wingspan, weighs 13 pounds and can remain aloft for up to two hours.
Hood said monitoring Arctic sea ice using sensor platforms like the Puma is an ideal way to promote interagency collaboration given “our commonality of interests.” Continuing budget constraints mean unmanned aircraft outfitted with the appropriate weather sensors and navigation aids are the most cost-effective way to reach critical but remote areas like the Arctic, she added.
While NOAA is investing in Pumas, NASA’s weather drone fleet includes two high-flying, long-endurance Global Hawks purchased from the Air Force.  (NASA operates the unmanned aircraft and NOAA provides most of the sensor payloads.) Meanwhile, the Energy Department is working on new weather sensor systems that could be flown on drones operated by other agencies.
The acquisition strategy of civilian agencies like NOAA and NASA also seeks to leverage the U.S. military’s long experience flying unmanned aircraft. Not only are used drones cheaper, they require less testing. Hence, NOAA and NASA drones will help monitor melting Arctic sea ice this summer as part of the Marginal Ice Zone Observations and Process Experiment. The experiment focuses on targeted observations to gain a better understanding of local conditions like sea surface temperature and salinity during summer melts.
The Navy and NOAA could also collaborate on tracking ocean surface vector winds, Hood said. “There a lot of small, joint efforts designed to keep things moving” despite tight budgets, she added.
The tough U.S. job market, especially for returning veterans, might also be addressed if interagency collaboration expands. Hood said civilian agencies looking for drone operators could recruit veterans with experience flying Global Hawks in combat.

State of the Union Address Sets Stage for Senate Climate Hearing Today

If, last night, you made it through the usual State of the Union appeals to bipartisanship, tax reform, health care, job creation, deficit control, and industrial revitalization–then you heard President Obama’s unusually blunt promise to take action on climate change.
And all you had to do was wait through the rest of the night before Congress started working on its response. The Senate Committee on Environment and Infrastructure, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, has already lined up a session on the “Latest Climate Science” for this morning, at 10 a.m. EST. The blue-ribbon panel of invited experts providing testimony includes AMS President J. Marshall Shepherd and you can follow the live webcast of the hearing at the committee’s website.
The hearing originally looked like a relatively routine overview of science following the release of the newly drafted National Climate Assessment, but now it is charged by the President’s new resolve to begin dealing with climate change, with or without Congressional input. His position was staked out in a few sentences hunkered down amidst a flurry of points about energy efficiency and independence:

[O]ver the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.
But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.
If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct..I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

The threat of unilateral Executive action set off a storm of commentary (e.g., Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2) and is sure to put the Senate in a very different frame of mind for today’s hearing. As for the science of climate change and its impacts–the focus of the hearing–this morning’s line-up of guests undoubtedly will have plenty to say about the latest findings. For example, Prof. Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, and Dr. John Balbus, of the National Institutes of Health, are among the lead authors of the 2013 National Climate Assessment (available for comment). Meanwhile, Dr. Shepherd has been speaking out frequently on both the impacts of climate change on society and on the scientific approach to evaluating the effects of climate change on extreme events, and of course he is part of the AMS Executive Council that updated the Society’s information statement on climate change in 2012.

Policy Symposium Keynote to Focus on Tree-Climate Connnections

by Caitlin Buzzas, AMS Policy Program
The keynote speaker for the 8th Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic research at the AMS Annual Meeting in January will be author and journalist Jim Robbins. The Montana-based science writer for the New York Times just wrote a book on the connection between trees, forests and our atmosphere, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.
Robbins’ talk for our meeting (Monday,7 January, 11 a.m., Room 19a) is going to span many different aspects of our annual meeting including public health, climate, and weather. The topic, “The Few Things We Know and the Many Things We Don’t about the Role of Trees and Forests on a Warmer Planet,” could be of interest to just about every topic the symposiums cover.
If you want a preview, check out his TED talk on YouTube, where Robbins’ commitment to the science of trees in climate is explained:

They say that everyone must have a child, write a book and plant a tree before they die. But for the writer and freelance journalist of the New York Times, Jim Robbins, if we just do the last part, we’d already be off to a great start. The author of “The man who planted trees” tells how he became a rooted defender when he observed the devastation of the old growth pine trees on his property in Colorado because of climate change. For him, science still hasn’t studied deep enough about these beings that filer air, stop floods, recover desert areas, purify water, block UV rays and are the basis of medicines as well as decorate the view. Much beyond shade and fresh water.

The 2013 AMS Annual Meeting actually goes a long ways toward fulfilling Robbins’ vision of discovering more about trees in our climate, with dozens of related presentations. At Monday’s poster session (2:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3), for example, Juliane Fry is presenting lab findings that may eventually refine regional climate mitigation policies that rely on tree plantings to produce cooling secondary aerosols. Also, as victims of fire disasters, forests feature prominently in the Weather Impacts of 2012 sessions (Tuesday, 8 January, Ballroom E). Similarly, on Wednesday (2:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3) Anthony Bedel will present a poster on the connection between changing climate and increasing potential for forest fires in the the Southeast, due to thriving fire fuels.
Young scientists are also following this line of work: Sunday’s Student Conference posters (5:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3) include a presentation by Zeyuan Chen of Stony Brook on understanding airflow in a cherry grove to better help orchard managers save their trees from bark beetles. Another student, Meredith Dahlstrom of Metropolitan State University in Colorado, presents in the same session on interannual and decadal climate mechanisms related to fluctuations in the prodigious capacities for carbon storage in the Brazilian rainforests.

A Summer Spent Studying Disagreements

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.

Dealing With a Challenging Science Policy Environment

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director. Adapted from posts (here, herehere, and here) on the AMS Project,
Living on the Real World, discussing this week’s AMS workshop in Washington, D.C.

Our community suddenly finds the larger host society fiscally constrained and bitterly divided politically. And this seems to be true not just for America but for much of the world. The sources of funding that have fueled the progress in Earth observations, science and services in recent decades are not drying up – but they are looking to be intermittent, unreliable. And reductions – perhaps deep cuts – may well lie ahead. Historic bipartisan support for our work is fraying a bit; here and there we experience criticism, some of it harsh.
We face a twofold challenge. The work we do has never been more urgent…but the underpinnings for that work are in jeopardy. And – this is sobering – it seems this conjunction may not be accidental. Instead, these twin trials are related; they stem from the same cause. A population of seven billion people, on its way to nine, is straining both the Earth’s resources and its own intrinsic innovative capacity. And all of us are getting nervous and snippy with one another. If we’re not careful, worse lies ahead.
Discussions this past week at the AMS workshop on Earth Observations, Science, and Services for the 21st Century showed two divergent approaches to this challenging societal context. What was striking, without going into the details, was the contrast between work underway to (1) augment networks of surface meteorological sensors and (2) to deploy sensors in space. Both have had their recent successes. Shortly we’ll enjoy a substantial augmentation of surface carbon dioxide measurements – far sooner than most people had thought possible. And the successful NPP launch clears a huge hurdle for the world of aerospace and remote sensing of the Earth from space.
The distinction lies in what happens next. Those working on the surface networks see each sensor as seeding further sensors. They make comments like “…put this out in one state, and pretty soon other communities in that state will want their own sensor, and over time the network will build…” They’re looking to probing above the surface, characterizing not just conditions adjacent to the ground, but throughout the depth of the boundary layer (think the inversion layer that traps pollutants, or the layer just beneath cloud formation).
The folks at the satellite end find themselves by contrast on autopilot settings that don’t look as if they’ll change significantly until around 2025. The JPSS missions that will succeed NPP are scheduled to follow a script that’s relatively cut-and-dried. In the meantime, everything else in the host society that wants these space-based Earth observations will be morphing constantly, rapidly – if anything, at an accelerating rate. And this rigidity brings costs.
A big key? Being able to change direction…to recognize, acknowledge, and correct mistakes. How to accomplish this? Still up in the air.

Policy Buzz: Senate Hearing Follows Tornado Outbreak

by Caitlin Buzzas, AMS Policy Program
On May 3, Dr. William Hooke, Director of the AMS Policy Program, testified before Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) and other members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He was joined by Bob Ryan, Senior Meteorologist at ABC7/WJLA-TV, Dr. Anne Kiremidjian of Stanford University and Dr. Clint Dawson of the University of Texas, together they discussed “America’s Natural Disaster Preparedness: Are Federal Investments Paying Off?”
As the hearing was convened in part as a response to the earthquake in Japan, Dr. Kiremidjian focused her testimony on earthquake and tsunami issues. Dr. Dawson discussed advances in storm surge modeling.
This hearing (full video here) took place soon after one of the worst weather disasters in the U.S. of the last century with tornadoes killing at least 327 in the South East. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this may have been the largest tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Although this disaster was horrific in terms of the many lives lost and the huge economic toll, the hearing gave our community the needed opportunity to highlight what we do and the importance of accurate weather forecasts and earth observation systems.
Dr. Hooke stated in his testimony that these systems and science play an especially important role in the United States:

Because of its size and location, the United States bears a unique degree of risk from natural hazards. We suffer as many winter storms as Russia or China, and as many hurricanes as China or Japan. Our coasts are exposed not just to storms but to earthquakes and tsunamis. Dust bowls and wildfire have shaped our history. And 70% of the world’s tornadoes, and some 90% of the truly damaging ones, occur on our soil.

Ryan emphasized in his testimony that amidst the many scientific improvements, the whole weather forecast process is a multisector enterprise that depends on the capabilities of, and cooperation with, Federal agencies.  The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is an example of that critical Federal capability. As Congress decides what to cut in the upcoming budget deliberations, programs such as the JPSS will have to get the recognition they deserve to keep functioning. The data and imagery obtained from JPSS will increase the timeliness and accuracy of public warnings and forecasts of climate and weather events, thus reducing the potential loss of life and property. This has a direct effect on the health and stability of our national economy. It is important, even in a time of economic hardship, to keep programs like JPSS fully functional for the long-term health of the country. Both Hooke and Ryan made this point. Said Ryan:

Some may argue that loss of polar orbiting data will not degrade our current weather/climate observing and forecasting skill . . . but, what if they are wrong! Polar and geostationary weather satellites are an integral and critical core element of providing very accurate weather forecasts and life saving planning and decision making for weather and other natural disasters from tornadoes and hurricanes to fires, drought, dangerous air quality and oil spills.

As Dr. Hooke highlighted in his testimony there are several other things that can be done to improve our current disaster preparedness:

  • Maintain our essential warnings system
  • Bring to bear not just meteorology and engineering, but also social science
  • Learn from experience
  • Build public-private partnerships
  • Explore No-Adverse Impact Policies for flood and other hazards
  • Track progress/keep score. (There’s more about this proposal on Dr. Hooke’s blog, Living on the Real World.)

The issues that our community deals with everyday, highlighted through a hearing of this kind, are not just important to the world of science and meteorology, but important to the health and stability of the American economy and public as a whole. I believe that Senator Rockefeller, Senator Nelson, Senator Boxer and others left the hearing with not only a greater understanding of our community and the important role that we play in the health of our country, but with a continued desire to highlight the importance of our work.

State of the Union STEMwinder

by William Hooke, Director, AMS Policy Program, from the AMS project, Living on the Real World
Stemwinder? An old-fashioned mechanical watch needing winding. Now there’s a word that probably will disappear from the vocabulary in a few more years! tells us that it’s also old slang for “a rousing speech, especially a stirring political address.”
But STEM itself is an acronym that will be with us for a while. It refers to Science-, Technology-, Engineering-, and Mathematics education.
President Obama’s speech last night called all this to mind. Partisans found much in his talk to like. And one area of emphasis was STEM education. An excerpt:

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree.(Emphasis added). And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all fifty states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

There’s more to the president’s speech, but this gives the flavor. He is right to emphasize education. Most of us want to see American values maintained, advanced, and extended throughout the remainder of this century. If we were the most populous country in the world, perhaps we could tolerate a mediocre educational system and achieve such aims through sheer force of numbers. But given that we add up to no more than a few percent of the world’s people, we must ensure that our science and engineering are cutting edge. We must create and innovate. And for the world’s sake, the best of our accomplishments should contribute to sustainable development – new energy technologies; better understanding of Earth processes; greater use of renewable resources; knowing how to protect the environment and ecosystems.
Even were we the best in this arena there would be no cause for complacency. But lagging behind other countries with respect not just to STEM education but also attainment of college degrees? This is truly alarming. Such decline in educational standing is probably the most reliable leading indicator that future U.S. fortunes and U.S. standing in the world will decline in years ahead. A November post on Living on the Real World describes how an emphasis on Earth science in public education would help reverse this threat.
Here the American Meteorological Society can hold its head high. For decades Society staff (led initially by Ira Geer, and now by Jim Brey), and a vast and committed network of teacher-collaborators across the country have made Earth science accessible to American public-school students. This week at the Annual Meeting the 20th Symposium on Education was causing a lot of hallway buzz. Participants were finding the sessions especially lively and energizing. Are you one of their number? Are you working at one of the federal agencies – NSF, NOAA, NASA, the Navy, and others – who have supported this work? You should take special satisfaction in your contributions to world well-being.
Others of you should be pleased at this recognition for your efforts as well. James R. Mahoney (Chair), Martin Storksdieck (Director), and others standing up the new NAS/NRC Climate Change Education Roundtable should give yourselves a pat on the back. Are you working in the education programs of any of the federal agencies? Enjoy the moment. But in a sense, all of us in this community, as well as the media who cover our stories, are donating dollars, thought, and effort to this great cause. We should all feel good.
And then get back to the task at hand!

Science Policy: What Would the Founding Fathers Do?

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director. From the AMS project, Living on the Real World
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.”
– Mark Twain
When I was a graduate student in physics at The University of Chicago, the department had a weekly seminar. One year Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a faculty member, already a famous astrophysicist (he would go on to win the Nobel prize) and author of over 1000 publications, delivered a talk on his new theory of quasars. The next week’s speaker happened to be Tommy Gold, a Brit, a fellow of the Royal Society, and then on the faculty at Cornell. He laid out a competing theory. When Gold was done, Chandrasekhar was the first person to ask a question. Wearing his signature pinstripe suit and looking like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ, Chandrasekhar cut a dignified figure as he rose from his chair. “Surely you would agree…” he smoothly began…
Can’t remember exactly what he said next, but it was the equivalent of asking Gold whether he believed that 2+2=4. It was also the first step down a line of argument that would lead to Chandrasekhar’s theory. The room was packed, but you could have heard a pin drop. Gold looked at him for what seemed like forever; then finally said “No.”
Maybe for the more senior faculty this was just another day at the lab, but we students had never seen a scientist do that. Every person in the room knew the only right answer was “yes.” Most of us had also been present the week before. Chandrasekhar glowered, then silently took his seat. A serious chill set in the room. The Q&A went on for some time, but never fully recovered.
Tommy Gold knew that you couldn’t separate data and facts from considerations of the end. To defend his theory he was going to have to say “no” at some point, so he might as well do it early.
It was not science’s best day. But in that instant I took to heart – internalized in my gut, not just my head – that while science might be objective, the pursuit of science could be very political – and combative. As a result, the process of collecting and analyzing the data can’t really be separated from considerations of the end use.
I got to see this up close and personal from 1987-1993 . At that time I was the NOAA Deputy Chief Scientist. The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) Program, an interagency group, was administratively housed in NOAA under the leadership of the Chief Scientist. The same argument was playing out, but now

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