Raise Your Voice for Science

by Sarah Benish and Rafael Loureiro
Academic institutions are often highly regarded in terms of ground-breaking research, but less commonly for their science-related political engagement. As two scientists in academia, we feel that it is not only our duty to be engaged in scientific political matters but also feel compelled to share our enthusiasm about science policy with our students and peers. We should all have a common goal to communicate science to policymakers, allowing better, science-informed decisions.
Through the Voices for Science program at AGU, we gathered at a two-day workshop in April 2018 with ~25 other scientists to focus on a common goal—how to be influencers in our fields about better communication of science to the general public and policy makers. We were given the opportunity to learn about the latest science policy initiatives and build on our own communication skills, such as practicing requesting that our representatives do something specific, like supporting or opposing a bill or joining  a certain caucus (also known as “the ask”). The next day, we actively put these skills in use by meeting with congressional representatives on the Hill.
Since so many of us in the sciences are gathered this week at the AGU conference in Washington, D.C., we hope, by sharing our individual experiences in participating in this year-long program, you may be inspired to engage science policy in your own way, at your own institutions.
Sarah:
I am a fourth-year Ph.D. student in atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland. I study air pollution production and transport in the North China Plain and have interests in science policy, communication, and research. Originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association, I became interested in becoming a scientist after earning my private pilot’s license.
Before Voices for Science, I had never interacted with my elected representatives before. My first experience was when I met with six legislators on the Hill with AGU. I enjoyed telling my story, explaining my research, and discussing the importance of consistent science funding in the congressional budget. Meeting with decision makers as a group was particularly useful at the beginning, especially when bringing up the “ask,” but by the end of the day, I felt confident enough to help lead the conversation to issues that were important to me.
Since meeting with my representatives, I have been regularly communicating with them. For example, when a new study linking air quality and diabetes was released in July, I forwarded the article to my representative who expressed concern about air quality legislation hurting the economy. Additionally, I sent my blog posts about my life as an #actuallivingscientist to my legislators to tell my story in how I became interested in science. I thanked my senator for supporting the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act and asked my other senator to co-sponsor the act. However, one of my favorite interactions so far was when my senator’s office called to thank me for sending an op-ed I published in my local newspaper about air quality and health.
AGU and the Voices for Science program has provided me with support throughout this remarkable experience. I realized that many students, like me, had never contacted their congresspeople before and wanted to fill that need. So in September, I hosted a congressional letter writing breakfast at the student union at the University of Maryland. Over free breakfast, students wrote letters about science funding in FY19 to their elected representatives and were given resources and letter writing templates. In total, 40 letters to 8 different states were written including Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
I was really excited to see University of Maryland undergraduate and graduate students participate in this event since many had never written their representative before. Students wrote about how basic science impacts their daily lives as well as about important data sources influential in their research. Since the event, participants have told me their representatives contacted them to further discuss science funding. That these letters have started such a conversation is a success to me.
Rafael:
I am a space botanist and currently hold two positions, one as a scientist at Blue Marble Space Institute of Science and an assistant professor at Winston-Salem State University. Quite honestly, I never knew what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that I wanted to make a difference and liked dinosaurs, so biology was the most obvious route. I never knew that dinosaurs would become a distant hobby and that the “making a difference” part would be such a pivotal part of my daily activities.
Through my teaching and research I am able to not only touch lives but also mold minds: minds avidly in search for new, exciting information about life here on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the universe. Minds that are constantly seeking to share knowledge with anyone willing to listen (and let me tell you – they are out there by the buckets full).
Voices for Science allowed me to get better at communicating my science, to tailor my speech to different audiences, from K-12 students to politicians. I have learned that they all want to listen, but it is up to you to take the first step.
Many of my initiatives involved students and my departmental peers. The greatest challenge was to show them that sharing your science with any audience willing listen to you involves adaptation and dialog. Adaptation means tailoring our speech and not try to bury people with data, charts, and super cool statistics that are completely irrelevant to them. Instead, we tell them how our science impacts they daily or future lives. Dialog means learning how to listen to what they have to say, to what it is important to them, and how can we make it important to us.
Policymakers are no different. They want to hear from you, even when your point of view, your research, or that particular budget point that you are asking for him or her to vote for goes against their agenda. The receptiveness so far has been uncanny, especially when students are involved. Students can be a great outlet for many of your professors in academia to use to communicate your science or the importance of science to your representative, your students. Young, passionate minds are among the best tools I have seen for engaging people in science policy initiatives.
Why not serve as a mentor in a Science Policy club? Organize debates between students on matters of budgeting for science. Invite local representatives to tour your institution and have students show them their passion for the science that they are developing (and most of their work is funded by agencies jeopardized by budget cuts). This is one of those opportunities for a handshake and a picture with students and your representative near that cool, very expensive NSF funded microscope—a picture you can resend when an important vote is about to come up.
With all that being said, the most important lesson I have learned from Voices for Science is that anyone can do science policy engagement. Against facts there is little room for debate, but in order to make those facts available we (scientist/students) need to be out there, sharing our science and asking everybody – how can we change this situation together?
 
If you are passionate about science and thinking about contacting your representatives about it, we encourage you to go for it! Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have a goal. Before starting, know what you want to communicate to your elected officials. Have a clear message and a well-defined “ask.” For more information, visit AGU and AMS websites.
  2. Know your limits. Stay within your area of expertise or knowledge. Do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you know someone who does know, offer to connect your representative with that person.
  3. Encourage students. Part of our job as educators and researchers is to challenge each other’s ideas and open the door to new opportunities. Students who are already interested in science policy will partake in opportunities, but others need encouragement (sometimes, just free food) to commit to participating.
  4. Seek support from professional societies, like AMS. Did you know that AMS hosts a summer policy colloquium? How about the involvement AMS has briefing Capitol Hill? There are also events during the 99th Annual AMS meeting, including town halls with Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Science, Jim Bridenstine, administrator of NASA, and Bob Riddaway, president of the European Meteorological Society.
  5. They want to hear from you. Share your science with your local representative, either by sending him/her your latest research paper with a short commentary in layman language or inviting them to come see your lab. Your representatives need to be aware of the cool science you are doing.

Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Flouts the Climate Risks

by Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director
President Trump’s speech announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement emphasizes his assessment of the domestic economic risks of making commitments to climate action. In doing so the President plainly ignores so many other components of the risk calculus that went into the treaty in the first place.
There are, of course, political risks, such as damaging our nation’s diplomatic prestige and relinquishing the benefits of leadership in global economic, environmental, or security matters. But from a scientific viewpoint, it is particularly troubling that the President’s claims cast aside the extensively studied domestic and global economic, health, and ecological risks of inaction on climate change.
President Trump put it quite bluntly: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
The science emphatically tells us that it is not fine if we can’t. The American Meteorological Society Statement on Climate Change warns that it is “imperative that society respond to a changing climate.” National policies are not enough — the Statement clearly endorses international action to ensure adaptation to, and mitigation of, the ongoing, predominately human-caused change in climate.
In his speech, the President made a clear promise “… to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth … to have the cleanest air … to have the cleanest water.” AMS members have worked long and hard to enable such conditions both in our country and throughout the world. We are ready to provide the scientific expertise the nation will need to realize these goals. AMS members are equally ready to provide the scientific foundation for this nation to thrive as a leader in renewable energy technology and production, as well as to prepare for, respond to, and recover from nature’s most dangerous storms, floods, droughts, and other hazards.
Environmental aspirations, however, that call on some essential scientific capabilities but ignore others are inevitably misguided. AMS members have been instrumental in producing the sound body of scientific evidence that helps characterize the risks of unchecked climate change. The range of possibilities for future climate—built upon study after study—led the AMS Statement to conclude, “Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”
This is the science-based risk calculus upon which our nation’s climate change policy should be based. It is a far more realistic, informative, and actionable perspective than the narrow accounting the President provided in the Rose Garden. It is the science that the President abandoned in his deeply troubling decision.

Policy Before and After the Presidential Transition

By Paul Higgins, AMS Policy Program Director
Presidential transitions are a time of uncertainty, change, and opportunity. For the AMS Policy Program, and for the entire AMS community, the transition from President Obama to President Trump offers a chance to reflect on our role in the broader society and to reevaluate how we might engage that broader society most constructively.
Our role is to advance science. For us, that means increasing both the potential for scientific discovery (i.e., through research and observations) and for the beneficial use of scientific understanding by the broader society (i.e., through the application of science and informed societal decision-making).
The AMS Policy Program uses three primary approaches to advance science: 1) we develop capacity within the scientific community for effective and constructive engagement with the broader society, 2) we inform policymakers directly of established scientific understanding and the latest policy-relevant research, and 3) we help expand the knowledge base needed for incorporating scientific understanding into the policy process through research, analysis, and studies.
Since the election, AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter and I have been active in reaching out to Congress and the transition teams. We’ve had discussions with staffers from both parties, including those who serve on the Senate Commerce and Appropriations Committees and the House Budget, Science, and Appropriation Committees. The meetings gave us the chance to distribute the AMS priorities statement and to provide background information on Earth observations, science, and services. The discussions have been going very well and they’ve helped to reinforce the value of our information-based, nonpartisan approach to policy engagement. Staff from both sides of the aisle express their appreciation for our approach and their high regard for our input.
Over the next several months, we will continue to consider ways that we can build on our core approaches to advance science most effectively. Our activities will almost certainly emphasize six basic strategies:

  1. To develop, communicate, and advance a positive vision for Earth observations, science, and services (OSS)
  2. To engage constructively with administration officials, the agencies, and congressional staff from both parties to encourage scientific advancement
  3. To praise, thank, and congratulate those who make positive contributions to Earth observations, science, and services
  4. To identify, characterize, and work to resolve efforts that may be counterproductive to scientific advancement
  5. To empower the scientific community to engage effectively and constructively with the policy process
  6. To improve our communication with (and outreach to) AMS members, other scientists, policymakers, members of the media, and the public with respect to the advancement of Earth observations, science, and services.

For now, we are focused on opportunities to work with Congress and the new administration to advance science and its beneficial use. We strongly believe the most effective approach to policy engagement starts with first building solid relationships, particularly with those with whom we differ. Building relationships depends on respect and understanding—recognizing that those who see it differently can still be high-minded people who are working toward their vision of a stronger country and a better world. In my experience, the vast majority of policymakers in Washington, D.C., have good intentions.
We understand why many are concerned about the potential for the misuse or abuse of science. We hope the need to protect scientists and science (e.g., from attacks or from misrepresentation and misuse) will not be necessary, but AMS has been strong on that in the past and is prepared for it again whenever necessary.
Now is an important time to engage constructively with the policy process. We can advance science most effectively with strong positive messages about the role of science in society. After all, our science helps efforts to meet basic human needs including food, shelter, energy, health, and safety. We need not be shy in seeking strong positive outcomes for our community or for the broader society that we serve. The policy process is complex, however, often more so than outsiders (including scientists) recognize. When we can balance humility about what we don’t understand about the policy process with confidence in what our science can provide to society, our efforts to engage will be more well received and that will lead to better outcomes.
Policy choices have the greatest chance to benefit society when grounded in the best available knowledge and understanding. Through our activities, the AMS Policy Program advances societal decision-making with respect to weather, water, and climate. This helps policymakers recognize and manage Earth system risks, and take advantage of emerging opportunities our science makes possible.

AMS Community Priorities for the New Administration

By Fred Carr, AMS President
Now that the election is over, a furious amount of activity has ensued on who will be in the new administration and what policies they will pursue. AMS members are particularly concerned about future science funding levels, environmental policies, observational and research infrastructure, STEM education, and who the new leaders will be in agencies that oversee aspects of the weather, water, and climate (WWC) enterprise. To provide guidance to those involved in the transition period, the AMS created a policy statement titled “Weather, Water, and Climate Priorities” that is located here.
I would like to summarize a few vital aspects of this document here. The fundamental premise is that “Economic and social prosperity belong to a society that understands and effectively responds to Earth’s changing weather, water, and climate conditions.” There is no doubt that many changes are occurring in the Earth’s physical and biological ecosystems (atmospheric and oceanic warming, Arctic and glacial ice losses, sea level rise, land use, drought and flooding intensities, etc.), most of them resulting from human activities. They are affecting our quality of life and large portions of our economy, and will worsen with time. These changes cannot be ignored, and national investment and leadership are needed.
The AMS policy statement provides recommendations on how to address these challenges, which require holistic, bipartisan, and coordinated strategies to accomplish. Some of them are:

  • The nation must invest in educating the next generation of scientists.
  • Both basic and applied research in the geophysical and environmental sciences must increase.
  • Observational infrastructure should increase across the WWC enterprise.
  • The U.S. should lead the world in high-performance computing.
  • Effective outreach to the public and decision-makers is needed to develop a scientifically literate citizenry and data-driven, science-based policies.
  • Partnerships among the academic, public, and private sectors are needed to develop successful policies and actions.
  • Outstanding individuals are needed to provide effective leadership of WWC-related agencies, advisory groups, and industries; they must be well-qualified, visionary, and diverse.

These recommendations make sense across the political spectrum, and I encourage readers to do what they can to bring them to the attention of the new administration.

Protecting Scientific Use of the Spectrum

by Ya’el Seid-Green, AMS Policy Program
There has been much talk recently about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceedings to sell the radio frequencies of 1675-1680 MHz, currently used for GOES data transmission, on the open market. A comment period on the proposal closes June 21st. More information can be found here.
The radio spectrum is a limited resource of great value both within and beyond our scientific community. The weather, water, and climate community uses radio spectrum to conduct scientific research, collect observations, and transmit data that contribute to oceanic, atmospheric, and hydrologic research, models, products, and services. Spectrum is also used to support mobile broadband networks, a sector with enormous growth potential and value for the United States economy.
The scientific community uses the radio spectrum in three distinct ways:

  • Passive remote sensing: Measuring the natural radio emissions of the environment and space (receiver only). Example: GPM Microwave Imager on the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Core Spacecraft
  • Active remote sensing: Emitting radio waves and measuring the return emissions (transmitter and receiver). Example: Cloud Profiling Radar on CloudSat
  • Data transmission: Transmitting data from satellites and ground-observation stations. Example: GOES VARiable (GVAR) service on the GOES system satellites

Observations are made using ground-based, airborne, and space-based platforms to determine wind profiles, rainfall estimates, wave heights, and ocean current direction, among others. Further information on active and passive sensing instruments is available here: https://earthdata.nasa.gov/user-resources/remote-sensors.
With the advent and rapid growth of mobile commercial technologies, interference on and competition for the radio spectrum has increased. The signals of commercial terrestrial users of spectrum are often much stronger than the signals being measured or transmitted by the weather, water, and climate communities. This can cause radio frequency interference (RFI) that degrades or entirely destroys the data being collected and transmitted for scientific and operational uses.
In addition, there is pressure for federal agencies to relocate off certain spectrum bands to free up additional space for commercial users. In 2010, President Obama set a target of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services. (See also, the Report to the President: Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth, available here.) The potential benefits to the U.S. economy from freeing up spectrum for commercial use are considerable. Mobile broadband is a rapidly growing segment of the economy, and in 2015 the FCC auctioned off the frequencies of 1695-1710, 1755-1780, and 2155-2180 MHz (collectively the “AWS-3” bands) for mobile telecommunication use for a combined $44.9 billion.
There are several challenges in understanding spectrum allocation policy. First, several different agencies are responsible for allocating and regulating spectrum: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), within the U.N., allocates spectrum internationally; the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) manages Federal use of the spectrum; and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages non-Federal use of the spectrum. This bifurcated regulatory system can make decision-making and management of spectrum use challenging.
Second, given the diverse and complex sources of data that go into weather, water, and climate products, it is often hard for end users to understand how radio spectrum management issues may impact the products and services they rely on for creating value-added products or for making management decisions (see the joint letter sent to the FCC by the AMS and National Weather Association). Finally, it is often difficult to determine the value of scientific and operational uses of the spectrum. Because of this valuation problem, there is concern that earth science uses of the spectrum are not being taken fully into account in spectrum management decisions (see the National Research Council report, A Strategy for Active Remote Sensing Amid Increased Demand for Radio Spectrum).
Although the FCC proceedings regarding 1675-1780 MHz have received the most attention in our community recently, issues around spectrum allocation and management are only going in grow in scope and frequency as pressure on the spectrum increases. An AMS Ad Hoc Committee is working to update the AMS Statement on radio frequency allocations, and there are several bills under consideration in Congress that focus on spectrum management concerns. As a community, we must be prepared to communicate the importance of spectrum for earth observations, science, and services, and the resulting societal applications. We need to be actively engaged in exploring management strategies, policy options, and technology innovations that will allow the nation and the world to gain the maximum benefit from our use of the radio spectrum.
 

Letting Scientists Benefit Us All

Lately you may have noticed that AMS has garnered media attention by standing up for NOAA scientists who are the focus of Congressional scrutiny. This scrutiny was initiated after the scientists re-analyzed global surface temperatures with newly corrected data and found that the warming trend of the second half of the 20th century has been continuing unabated since 1998 instead of experiencing what sometimes has been portrayed as a warming “hiatus.”
AMS doesn’t step casually into political arenas. As a non-profit scientific and professional society, we remain solidly grounded in the world of science. We help expand knowledge and understanding through research and, as our mission states, we work to ensure that scientific advances benefit society. We engage the policy process to help inform decision making and to help ensure that policy choices take full advantage of scientific understanding.
This case is slightly different, however, because the scientific process itself is at risk. When the scientific process is disregarded or, worse yet, possibly derailed, a political issue can become an AMS issue.
The scientific process that AMS and other like-minded institutions have championed over the centuries is about taking careful observations, conducting controlled experiments, separating personal opinions and beliefs from evidence, and, perhaps most critically, exposing scientific conclusions to rigorous and repeated testing over time by independent experts. These repeated cycles of distribution and “trial by fire” happen most notably at meetings, in peer-review, and in publication.
Crucially, the process systematically removes as much as possible of our human tendency to see what we want to see and puts the burden of proof on reproducible steps. It is a disciplined, particular way of finding truths, no matter how elusive, while rendering biases, opinions, and motivations as irrelevant as possible.
This systematic approach to separating fact from opinion occasionally goes astray, of course, but its iterative nature means that science is continually self-correcting and improving; better data and understanding ultimately replace older thinking. Science encourages people to question and challenge thinking, certainty, and accuracy—but it requires they focus exclusively on what they can detect and measure and reason.
Even though all the data, logic, and methodologies are publicly available, the paper rejecting the global warming hiatus inspired Congressional requests for additional email and discussions. Asking for these correspondences—especially from scientists themselves—can easily weigh down the ingenious process by which science has continually advanced. And so AMS made public statements in favor of letting science freely work its wonders. It’s not the first time AMS has done so, and it probably won’t be the last.
We owe much of modern prosperity to an unencumbered scientific process, and it continues to provide some of the most profound and dramatic advancements in the world. This includes medicine, biology, chemistry, computing, agriculture, engineering, physics, astronomy, and, of course, meteorology, hydrology, oceanography, and climatology. Every one of us benefits every single day from what scientists have learned, shared, and provided.
And that’s yet another reason why occasionally AMS must speak out—because of our mission “for the benefit of society.” The point is not just to protect science but also to protect the benefits that knowledge can provide to all of us, no matter what we think of the results. In this, our scientific society actually has much in common with the politicians and policy makers in Washington, D.C.
AMS stands behind the scientific process and will defend that process when necessary, but our goal is to work with policy makers to promote having the best knowledge and understanding used in making policy choices.

Federal Funding for Research in Weather, Water, and Climate

by Paul Higgins, AMS Policy Program Director
In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut funding for Earth system science and services. One bill cuts roughly 5% each from NASA’s Earth Sciences and the total NOAA budget. That same bill also cuts more than 16% from the total funding for NSF’s Geoscience and Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorates. In a separate bill, the House voted to cut more than 9% from Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (though the name can be misleading to some, BER houses the research most relevant to our community).
Both bills passed with support from nearly all House Republicans and opposition from nearly all House Democrats. So the cuts suggest that House Republicans do not think as favorably of the Earth sciences as the AMS community might like.
To become law, the Senate and the President would need to sign off on these cuts. That doesn’t appear likely at this time but the paths to agreement for any funding bill—which must be approved every year—are far too complicated to predict. The good news is that Republicans in the Senate (and Democrats in both chambers) appear more predisposed to fund weather, water, and climate research and the President pushed for increases in weather and climate research through his budget proposal earlier this year. The bad news is that the House, Senate, and President must all ultimately agree on funding decisions and even a compromise does not look like good news for our community.
Two contributing factors to the House funding bills are particularly noteworthy. First, the funding for Earth sciences is at least partially reflective of the differing views on how best to deal with the larger budget situation.
The Federal budget consists of two types of spending: 1) mandatory programs (e.g., Medicare and social security), and 2) discretionary programs. Discretionary spending is often further divided into defense and non-defense spending. Much of the funding for science (e.g., NSF, NASA, NOAA, DoE, and USGS) is in the non-defense discretionary (NDD) category.
The President’s proposed budget for NDD spending in FY 2016 of $526 billion exceeds by $33 billion the proposals created by Republican leadership in the House and Senate of $493 billion. Note, however, that even the President’s proposed budget remains roughly $15 billion (2.8 percent) below FY 2010 levels (assuming a rate of inflation of 1.7% per year). So the Federal budget for research (along with everything else) is under pressure even under the President’s higher numbers.
Some of this ties back to the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which made direct cuts to discretionary spending (e.g., funding for science) along with even deeper spending cuts through “sequestration”—automatic across-the-board cuts to both defense and NDD that took hold because Congress failed to agree to a more comprehensive deficit reduction plan (which would have involved a combination of tax increases and more targeted spending cuts). The sequestration cut to NDD is an additional reduction of about six percent.
This overarching budget situation (or conflict) is both a justification for cutting programs and politically expedient cover for those who want to make funding cuts for other reasons, which brings us to the second factor.
The second contributing factor to the House funding bills is the President’s aggressive efforts at climate change risk management. These efforts, which have increased over the last year or so, appear to have angered some, particularly in the House. That anger seems to be being expressed in funding decisions for all of the Earth sciences. At first look, that may not seem to make sense because climate science is a tiny fraction of the Earth sciences and climate change risk management is only tangentially related to climate science. However, the Earth sciences are somewhat easier politically and procedurally for members of congress to focus on than climate science would be alone.
No matter the cause, our community has a strong interest in helping Congress better understand the value of the Earth sciences to the nation and the world. AMS sent a letter to all members of Congress to raise awareness of our contribution (http://ametsoc.org/sss/letters_geosciences_support_may_2015.pdf) but similar efforts from individual scientists throughout the country will likely be needed if policy makers are to view the Earth sciences in a more favorable light.
Strong positive messages, such as those in the AMS letter, are most likely to convey effectively the importance of our science and services to the nation.
Weather and climate information helps society manage risks and realize opportunities associated with existing weather patterns and changes to the climate system (natural and human caused). The services that result can include weather forecasts and warnings, flood and drought prediction and monitoring, natural hazard preparedness and response, public health monitoring, disease prevention and control, assessment and management of fire risk, and decision support for water resources, agriculture, transportation, and other key economic sectors.
Thoughtful engagement with the policy process has the potential to help shift the focus in Congress to the critical role the Earth sciences play in advancing the national agenda. That would help secure the support and resources that our community needs to make critical information and services available.

From Florida, A Reminder About Freedom of Expression

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting published allegations this week that the terms “climate change” and “global warming” were banned from state government communications in Florida, including state-agency sponsored research studies and educational programs. The Washington Post followed with claims, for example, that a researcher was required by state officials to strike such words before submitting for publication a manuscript about a epidemiological study.
No evidence of a written policy or rule has been reported, and state officials have denied any policy of the sort. Meanwhile, the media are hunting through Florida websites trying to find state documents produced during the administration of Gov. Rick Scott with contents that would contradict the charges of an unwritten policy, imperfectly enforced.
The controversy is one in a string of recent events reminding us how much scientists rely on their freedom of expression. Most often the problem has been the freedom of government scientists to speak about their work with the public. Lately this has caused a media blizzard in Canada.
Science ethicists may argue one way or another about where the limits of public expression are for government scientists when they contradict policy goals. And certainly—as well seen most obviously in the Cold War—such goals can include national security concerns. But the AMS stance on the filtering or tampering of science for nonscientific purposes is quite clear in the Statement on Freedom of Expression:

The ability of scientists to present their findings to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public without censorship, intimidation, or political interference is imperative.

Freedom of expression is essential to scientific progress. Open debate is a necessary part of science and takes place largely through the publication of credible studies vetted in peer review. Publication is thus founded on the need for freedom of expression, and it is in turn a manifestation of freedom of expression.
One might think the job of journals is to screen out unwanted science, but it’s quite the opposite. Papers are published not because they are validated as “right” so much as they are considered “worthy” of further scientific consideration. In addition, the publication process itself—which AMS knows well in its 11 scientific journals—is not just for authors to report and interpret their work. It relies on free discussion. The peer review process usually allows reviewers maximum protection of anonymity to preserve the ability to speak freely about the manuscripts being scrutinized. The papers that pass review are then the starting point for documenting objections, alternative interpretations, and confirmation, among other expressions that only matter if made accessible to other scientists through peer reviewed journals.
The AMS Statement recognizes that such freedom implies responsibility:

It is incumbent upon scientists to communicate their findings in ways that portray their results and the results of others, objectively, professionally, and without sensationalizing or politicizing the associated impacts.

Scientists are not the only ones to treasure such freedoms, of course. Society benefits from the progress of science every day. This only happens when scientists freely, promptly, and prolifically report what they find—and that means exactly what they find, not what they are told to find. The alternative is to compromise the pursuit of truth and the very foundations of our health and prosperity.
We all become victims when science is not shared and cannot flourish. The fact that climate change has deep social, economic, and political implications today means it is even more important to recognize that with increasing value of climate change science comes the increasing temptation for policy makers to co-opt and alter that science. As the AMS Statement warns, the principles of free expression “matter most—and at the same time are most vulnerable to violation—precisely when science has its greatest bearing on society.”
 

An Invitation to the AMS Washington Forum

By Shawn Miller, Chair, AMS Board on Enterprise Economic Development
Fellow stakeholders in the weather, water, and climate enterprise, as chair of the AMS Board on Enterprise Economic Development (BEED), I would like to invite you to participate in the 2015 AMS Washington Forum, April 21-23 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Building, 1200 New York Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.
Organized by the AMS BEED, the purpose of the annual AMS Washington Forum is to provide an opportunity for members of the weather, water, and climate community to meet with senior federal agency officials, congressional staff, and other community members to hear about the status of current programs, learn about new initiatives, discuss issues of interest to our community, identify business opportunities, and speak out about data and other needs.
The 2015 AMS Washington Forum will focus on end users of weather, water, and climate data, returning to the theme of past years’ User Forum events conducted by the AMS. As the enterprise evolves and adapts to changes in budgets and cost-sharing paradigms, heightened attention to the needs of its end users is key to success for all stakeholders. Particular attention must be given to key areas of industry, such as health and the various modes of transportation. The 2015 forum will promote dialogue between the enterprise and its end users toward that end. Several special topics are planned for interactive panel discussions, including an overarching theme session; hospital preparedness in the wake of extreme weather and climate events; weather data needs relating to rail, trucking, and marine transportation; and water resources and related user needs. The forum will also feature speakers on the topics of national/international water rights issues, the intersection between legal and science issues, and commercial weather satellites. Complementary to the session topics on specific user needs, senior leaders from agencies including NOAA, NASA, and other enterprise stakeholders will look ahead and provide updates on current programs and provide insights on new science initiatives and directions. We will also invite leaders from the Office of Management & Budget and the Office of Science & Technology Policy, and from Congress, who will discuss the latest weather-, water- and climate-related programs and legislative initiatives to better serve the American people.
Seating is limited for this exciting event, so preregistration is strongly recommended. Please watch the AMS_PSL list for announcements, or send an e-mail to Gary Rasmussen (grasmussen@ametsoc.org) to be added to the announcement list. Thank you for your time and attention, and I hope to see you in Washington this April!

A Question for the Experts

There have been many thoughtful questions raised throughout this weekend’s AMS Student Conference, but one question posed at the communications breakout session on Saturday proved particularly challenging for the panelists. A student asked, “How do you educate the public that doesn’t have access to television or social media? How do we educate the homeless about severe weather events?”
Here were the responses from the panelists:
Marshall Shepherd, Univ. of Georgia: I think you’re hitting on a key question. The homeless question…that’s tough. These are the people who aren’t watching, necessarily. That really involves grassroots efforts. TV stations can be involved in galvanizing and organizing. So, for example, I teach a class at the University of Georgia on urban climate, and one of the projects I ask students to do is look at tornado sirens in the Athens/Clark County region. One of the things we found was that the way the tornado sirens were distributed, there were significant parts of the population—particularly those who were underserved or lower income—who didn’t even have sirens where they lived.
So I think there’s a whole notion of increased social sciences and environmental justice and all types of issues that we all have to be aware of and address.  I don’t know the answer to that question you asked, and I think there’s an opportunity.
Ginger Zee, ABC News: I’ve done four stories on that same thing of the sirens, because there’s no federal law, state law, no county law in any state that says there has to be one. I grew up in Michigan and we had them in every single town. It’s amazing to me that there are places that don’t have them, especially in places that really need them but don’t. Requiring outdoor warning systems—I don’t know if that’s going to happen; it’s not going to be funded.
I think the community outreach part is probably your best bet. You guys remember in Virginia this year, there was a camp with a bunch of kids outdoors and a long line of storms on the ground for three hours. It’s amazing to me that they still didn’t have warning. That can’t go on.  There was one kid who died. That shouldn’t have happened, because once they got indoors they were safe inside. If that was a fire and they didn’t have a smoke alarms, we would not be having the same discussion. They would have been sued like crazy.
Weather has grown…our ability to forecast has grown and now the whole policy part of it has to catch up. I think that will take time.
Keli Pirtle, NOAA: The National Weather Service works with local emergency managers to help prepare communities through the Storm Ready program.  I would hope that a shelter, like a homeless shelter, would have a NOAA Weather Radio. That’s a hope more than a reality, I’m afraid.  We can encourage people—churches, nursing homes, schools—to have multiple ways to receive information, to have a plan. A homeless person on the street, they’re in touch with others. I would hope the network on the street would get them the information, but it’s certainly an area where we desperately need to improve.
Jorge Torres, KOB-TV: And I agree with that. At our station, we’re partners with the Red Cross, and with the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, which helps feed the hungry because New Mexico is, I believe, the number one state in the country for childhood hunger. So we do have outreach programs with the lower-income communities. But that’s not in the form of weather [information] mostly, it’s in the form of talking to them. I do think you bring up a good point that those who don’t watch us, can’t watch us. They’re the ones who deal with the elements much more—the homeless especially—than the rest of us because we have a roof over our head and they don’t.