Some Take-Home Messages from Seattle

by Peggy Lemone, AMS Past-President
Unpacking from my trip to Seattle, I mulled over the many ideas about communicating weather and climate gleaned from planning, the formal program, smaller meetings, and hallway and dinner conversations.  Below is but a partial list:  I would be interested in hearing what others think.
The first idea originated well before the meeting, when Raj Pandya, Steve Ackerman, and I were brainstorming about the Presidential Forum.  After we settled on a panel discussion on communicating with the public, we decided that we needed to include weather as well as climate to provide synergy between the two, to provide a fresh twist, and to transcend the negativity sometimes associated with communicating about climate.
What I saw at the meeting suggested that was the right thing to do.  Talking about “climate” alone has too often divided Americans, while talking about weather sets us at ease, and experiencing a severe storm or blizzard unites us.  Besides, it is not clear to me at least where one draws the line between weather and climate.  I suspect, as we learn more, we will be talking more and more about the changes that are taking place from year to year using terms that we didn’t even know thirty years ago – like El Nino and La Nina, Arctic Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and so on.  “Climate change” discussion will be richer with the inclusion of these phenomena.
Communication about polarizing subjects requires trust, which can emerge from long-term engagement.  As we learned from the Presidential Forum, people in the media not only bring us weather forecasts but also educate us about these new weather phenomena and new types of data like Doppler radar reflectivity.  People turn to their weather broadcaster for information not only about weather but also science.  Many weather broadcasters, like Tom Skilling, solicit questions from the public.  We feel more comfortable hearing difficult messages from these people, because we have a long relationship with them.  (However, as one of the panelists, Claire Martin noted, the media could do a much better job).
The importance of trust was reinforced in a small meeting on data-stewardship issues.  A colleague looked at us and said – “I see you all have wedding rings.  Anyone who has been married a long time realizes there will be disagreements, but you can handle them if you remember what you have in common.”  One of the newspaper advice columns said exactly the same thing.  If you have something difficult to talk about, start by reminding yourself about shared values before diving in.  If it gets too hard, then go back to those shared values before trying again.  A similar approach might work with other relatives and friends:  allowing a dialog that includes common values rather than giving a lecture on the science.
Ralph Cicerone’s talk on Thursday reminded us of two more important points related to developing trust.  First, we should work to the best of our ability to earn our trust as a scientific profession.  This means working hard to keep the peer review process robust, not only by selecting good editors and reviewers, but also by ensuring that data used in publications are available to check conclusions.
And secondly, we need to make ourselves available to help the public understand our science (and science in general) better.   Part of this is by making ourselves available to the local TV weather broadcasters, as suggested in Monday’s presidential Forum, and making ourselves available in other ways, such as giving talks to schools , civic groups, museums, and participating in scouting groups, etc. Cicerone quoted statistics that suggested that people respected scientists, but few actually knew any scientist, save perhaps their physician.  Building familiarity will allow better communication.
A third idea comes from a comment heard in the meeting of the Committee on Climate-Change Communication.  Amidst our struggling to figure out how to do this, someone said that we shouldn’t think of people as being only in two camps – to use polite terms1 – the “convinced” and the “unconvinced,” but rather we should allow people to have a spectrum of positions.  To illustrate the “either-you’re-with-us-or-against-us” attitude, a colleague at lunch complained that the “convinced” group pigeonholed him in the “denier” slot (o.k., this is a polarizing term, but this is a quote reflecting his feelings), simply because he wasn’t convinced about claims of a relationship of stronger tropical cyclones to a warmer climate.  About a year ago, I exchanged emails with a well-known colleague who in the press was described as an ally by those who deny climate change simply because of some rather benign – and useful – comments on a blog.  Upon being contacted, this person told me she was fully convinced of the importance of greenhouse gases in warming the planet.
Other conversations reinforced what we already know:  that there are those out there who don’t want to have a conversation, but simply want to attack.  This rarely happens with weather, but it certainly happens with climate.   To reflect on Cicerone’s comments again, we needn’t “pander” to them but we do need to maintain our scientific integrity and to be approachable to those desiring a conversation rather than an argument.
Looking back on this essay, I realize that all the points are closely related:  that we will do better about communicating about difficult topics if we develop familiarity and trust.  We can perhaps do this by having a conversation that allows common ideas and values to emerge.   But the chances for such a conversation increases when – either through common experience or shared values – we obtain a degree of familiarity and trust.
[1These terms were proposed by Anderegg, W. R. L., J. W. Prall, J. Harold, S. H. Schneider, 2010: Expert credibility in climate change.  CMOS Bulletin SCMO, 38, 179–183.  Thanks to Keith Seitter for pointing this out.]

A Sustainable Investment in Sustainability

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director, from the AMS project, Living on the Real World
Early in the AMS annual meeting this past week, I happened to run into Tim Killeen, the NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences. He barely said hello before asking me, “Bill, have you heard about SEES?”
I hesitated, and we both agreed I’d flunked his test. “SEES,” he went on, “stands for Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability.” He added, “This investment area spans all the NSF directorates, and will amount to about ten percent of our budget. It ought to be the topic of conversation here at the Annual Meeting, and yet there’s virtually nothing about it anywhere in the conferences and the sessions.”
!!!! Ten percent of NSF’s annual budget – some $7B/year – is real money.
Thankfully, Tim graciously went on to let AMS and me off the hook. “We could have done more to publicize this at the NSF,” he said. “But please let people know about the dear colleague letter which is still on our NSF website.”
The letter merits careful reading in its entirety, but here’s an excerpt:
“The SEES Portfolio will support research and education projects that span all eleven NSF Directorates and Offices, including:

  • research at the energy-environment-society nexus
  • novel energy production, harvesting, storage, transmission, and distribution technologies, and their intelligent control that minimizes environmental impact and corresponding adoption, socioeconomic, and policy issues
  • innovative computational science and engineering methods and systems for monitoring, understanding and optimizing life-cycle energy costs and carbon footprints of natural, social and built systems (including IT systems themselves)
  • data analysis, modeling, simulation, visualization, and intelligent decision-making facilitated by advanced computation to understand impacts of climate change and to analyze mitigation strategies
  • study of societal factors such as vulnerability and resilience, and sensitivity to regional change
  • short and long term research enabled by a new generation of experimental and observational networks
  • support for interdisciplinary education/learning science research, development, and professional capacity-building related to sustainability science and engineering
  • creation of research and education partnerships around forefront developments in sustainability science and engineering, both nationally and internationally
  • development of the workforce required to understand the complexities of environmental, energy, and societal sustainability
  • engaging the public to understand issues in sustainability and energy
  • development of the cyberinfrastructure and research instrumentation needed to enable sustainability science and engineering
  • support of the physical, cyber, and human infrastructure necessary to achieve SEES goals”

Probably you’d agree that it would be harder to prove that your work, whatever it is, doesn’t fit under this umbrella, than that it does. And that said, it’s quite probable that many of you have already responded to requests-for-proposals under these auspices. [In fact, that may well be true of the American Meteorological Society also; in my conversation with Tim, I just wasn’t quite quick enough to connect the dots.…]
We can make a forecast. This articulation of a sustainability investment area won’t prove to be a one-off. More likely, it signals the start, or next step, in a series, doesn’t it? Increasingly, as society grows more concerned about the Earth as resource, victim, and threat, we’re going to see further calls for research proposals in these areas and along these lines. We can and should thank Tim and other NSF leadership for their vision here.

At Least It's a Start: Coordinating Federal Climate and Health Programs

by Skyler Goldman, Florida Institute of Technology, Student Correspondent
The Interagency Crosscutting Group on Climate Change and Human Health (CCHHG) is the US Global Change Research Program’s effort to focus and coordinate wide-ranging, climate-relevant federal efforts in environmental health. As I learned during the Town Hall Meeting on Monday, 24 January, CCHHG is trying to prepare the public for climate change by aiming “to build communities that are healthy and resilient to climate change impacts.” The purpose of the meeting, however, was to determine what AMS Annual Meeting attendees thought were important topics for CCHHG to address.
Interestingly enough, the first suggestion came from a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who said that “funding does not allow for [this kind of] interdisciplinary work.” The rest of the audience seemed to agree. It seems that there is either money available for climatology work, or money available for health work. Put the two together, however, and little funding is available.
John Balbus of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was quick to say that interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the first goals of the CCHHG, and hopefully funding will come soon as a result of the group’s work.
Another attendee wondered if the CCHHG can achieve its goals. “Existence of this group is reason to be hopeful,” Juli Trtanj, the coordinator of NOAA’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative, said. “We now have an opportunity to be forward-looking, [but there’s] a lot of work to be done to make it happen.”
The simple creation of the CCHHG doesn’t seem like a lot of reason to be hopeful in bridging the gap between climate changes and the public, yet it is a start—maybe even a start along a path to potentially making a big difference. Perhaps the larger goal of creating those healthy and resilient communities can one day be realized.
“If we don’t do a better job of bringing the topic to the public,” Trtanj added, “we’re never going to get there. We’ll be here ten years from now going through the same thing.”

Raj: "I think we learned something, Steve!"

Raj Pandya and Steve Ackerman, co-chairs of the AMS Annual Meeting this week in Seattle, wrapped up their show with Episodes 4 and 5, now up on YouTube. Raj and Steve took their production team and throngs of groupies into the Exhibit Hall in search of tips on communicating from those master communicators, the people who represent the products meteorologists invent and use:

The next day our intrepid co-chairs finally had a moment to themselves and opportunity to get to know a little bit about each other’s day jobs via the standard professional communique-in-a-nutshell…the elevator talk:

Making the Public Aware of the Science

by Skyler Goldman, Florida Institute of Technology, Student Contributor
I sometimes feel like the whole purpose—or at least the effective application—of meteorology depends on being able to communicate to people who are not as knowledgeable in our subject.  And yet the difficulty of this task is overwhelming. This was acknowledged from the outset at the Presidential Forum on Monday.
“We don’t serve you, the scientists, very well, and I want to change that,” Claire Martin, the chief meteorologist of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said of the communication between scientists and the public.  It’s an important statement, and one that seemed to be agreed upon by the rest of the panel.
“Scientists live and die by how their work is represented,” Tom Skilling of WGN Chicago said, adding that if they are not represented well, then they have no interest in communicating with the broadcast meteorologists and other meteorologists who communicate with the general public.  It’s an issue facing our entire field, especially with important climate change topics knocking on the door.
It’s a simple concept: if the scientists who are doing the work of studying our changing climate are not getting the credit they deserve nor getting their entire story out there accurately, then they could lose interest in dealing with those responsible for communicating the science.  In a society of three-minute weather broadcasts and one-page weather reports, it’s a delicate balance between telling the whole story and leaving something out.  Someone—either scientists or journalists—is not going to get their way.  So how does our field get around it?
An audience member threw out an interesting point.  If the public is paying for the research, then shouldn’t they be able to read the work in a language they understand?  This scientist cited a paper he wrote in “regular” English as opposed to “scientific” English, and said that it was instantly rejected by the editor for sounding too “unintelligent.” This scientist suggested that journals publish two versions of every paper, one for the scientific community and one for the general public.
The idea is somewhat revolutionary, and it was denounced by another scientist who claimed that he wasn’t sure that the public would even “care about his work.”  Why go through the trouble?
But shouldn’t the public get to decide what they care about?  I think those of us in the sciences tend to overlook just how intelligent the public can be.  Making more scientific work available to the public in plain language would increase awareness.  Then, of course, the public would need to have access to such articles.  Unless you’re in college or working in the field, you’re probably not even aware that these journal articles exist, let alone have a subscription.  It’s not like you can browse meteorology journals at Barnes and Noble or Borders.  Access to science should not be limited by a caste system based on wealth or education.  It should be available to all so the public can make their own decisions. Perhaps the public would be better prepared for weather and climate if they could form their own opinions.
Tom Skilling said that we as meteorologists “haven’t done a good job of preparing the public [for climate change].”  Martin Storksdieck added that we “have done a poor job of telling not only what we can do, but what we can’t.”  Perhaps the scientists wouldn’t be misrepresented if the general public could read their work.  Maybe we don’t have to re-write articles as the one scientist suggested, but it would be a start.  Sure it requires more work, but whoever said communicating was easy?

Broadcast Meteorology Award Winner Conveys Serious Science, Serious Fun

Bryan Busby, chief meteorologist for KMBC-TV in Kansas City, is the 2011 recipient of The AMS Award for Broadcast Meteorology. Busby received his award Wednesday evening at the 91st AMS Awards Banquet, held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
Established in 1975, the AMS award for Broadcast Meteorology recognizes a broadcast meteorologist for sustained long-term contributions to the community through the broadcast media, or for outstanding work during a specific weather event. Busby , who is the number one-rated meteorologist in the Kansas City metro area, was selected as this year’s winner for outstanding weather communication, mentorship, and sustained dedication to the public, and for service to the AMS broadcast community.
Busby has been a fixture on TV in Kansas City for 26 years. The Front Page caught up with him to learn about how he connects to the community and delivers weather information and forecasts that viewers can easily understand and use. “Not everyone goes through dynamic meteorology, therefore the only way to relate to them is to give them an analogy or another term that they can relate to, and hopefully through that there’s some tacit education—they don’t know that they’re learning while just listening. That’s the key.”
During the interview, which you can view below, he relays tales of the fun the station has with him on-air each Ground Hog’s Day, as well as a touching moment where he tells about visiting a nursing home and talking with an elderly viewer who is a big fan: “I said, it must get lonely, since she outlived her husband, and all the grandkids moved away and all the kids moved away. And she said, ‘No, no. My friends visit me every day … you’re one of them.’ And it just hit me like a ton of bricks.” He says for someone to take away something meaningful from the very brief time he’s on and then feel comfortable enough to say something like that to him “still just blows me away.”

Remembering His Past, Diversity Award Winner Creates Opportunity for Others

J. Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric sciences and geography at the University of Georgia, is the 2011 recipient of The Charles E. Anderson Award. The AMS is honoring Dr. Shepherd for his outstanding and sustained contributions in promoting diversity in the atmospheric sciences through educational and outreach activities for students and scientists in multiple institutions.
The Front Page caught up with Shepherd to learn about some of his accomplishments as well as the institutions he partners with in building diversity. In the interview, which you can watch below, Shepherd also reveals his philosophy for taking on this challenge. He says that although his parents were educators, he remembers how it was growing up in a single-parent home that was far from traditional. The experience helped him shape his beliefs: “I know that there are others out there with similar backgrounds and I think it’s important to kind of convey the philosophy that, regardless of what your background and your circumstances are, if you set goals, you work hard, and maintain a certain value, philosophy, and morals, then I think you can go as far as you want to go.”

Shepherd will receive The Charles E. Anderson Award, which is in the form of an inscribed wooden book, Wednesday evening at the the AMS Awards Banquet (Washington State Convention Center halls 6A-B-C-D).

Jule G. Charney Award Winner Honored for Advancing Frontier in Mountain Meteorology

Ronald B. Smith, Damon Wells Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, is the 2011 recipient of the Jule G. Charney Award. The award is in the form of a medallion. The Jule G. Charney Award is granted to individuals in recognition of highly significant research or development achievement in the atmospheric or hydrologic sciences. The AMS is honoring Dr. Smith for his fundamental contributions to our understanding of the influence of mountains on the atmosphere through both theoretical advances and insightful observations.
The Front Page spoke with Smith to learn more about him and his award-winning research. In the interview, which you can view below, he says that while he has been able to answer “maybe a third of the outstanding questions” about mountain meteorology in his career, recent graduates interested in this field of research will find many more that they can take on to advance the science.

Smith will receive The Jule G. Charney Award at Wednesday evening’s Awards Banquet (Washington State Convention Center halls 6A-B-C-D).

NCAR Scientist to Receive Rossby Research Medal and AMS Service Award

Joe Klemp, senior scientist with NCAR, is the 2011 recipient of meteorology’s most prestigious award: The Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal. Additionally, Dr. Klemp is this year’s recipient of The Charles Franklin Brooks Award for outstanding contributions to advance AMS publications and education. He is an active member of the AMS Publications Commission, having served in the past as its commissioner.
The AMS awards the Rossby Research Medal to individuals on the basis of outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure or behavior of the atmosphere. Klemp is being honored for illuminating the dynamics of mountain waves and thunderstorms, and for his contributions to improvements in numerical techniques and community models.
The Front Page recently sat down with Klemp to learn more about him and his career-spanning research. In the interview, which you can view below, he explains how the offer of a post-doctoral research position at NCAR “really changed the whole direction of my career.”

Klemp will receive his medal and service award at the AMS Awards Banquet Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Washington State Convention Center, Hall 6A-B-C-D.

The Raj and Steve Show, Episodes 2 and 3

Your Conference Co-Chairs, Raj Pandya and Steve Ackerman, have been gleaning insights into the communication of weather and climate during the meeting. Episodes 2 and 3 of their continuing quest for Annual Meeting wisdom are available on the Ametsoc YouTube channel. In Episode 2, Steve (sensitively acknowledging Raj’s letdown of expectations for the Chicago Bears) talks about how science-driven information sometimes unintentionally creates high expectations for certainty when in fact uncertainty is a key to using such information wisely:

Then in Episode 3, Raj notes that scholars continue to puzzle over the communicative power of pictures, but have a firm grasp of the power of the word. Words, Raj points out, have the power to create pictures of their own, ultimately trumping numbers in their ability to motivate and convince an audience: