AMS Council Speaks Out on Federal Government Shutdown

At its meeting this morning in Phoenix, the AMS Council has released the following statement on the Federal government’s ongoing shutdown:
Those of us who study and predict the atmosphere are familiar with the impacts of uncertainty. Americans rely on weather forecasts, and they trust them to be reliable. Lives and livelihoods are saved or lost based on the timeliness and accuracy of a single weather warning.
Unfortunately, the current U.S. government shutdown—and the associated uncertainty—is now beginning to seriously set back efforts to better understand and forecast our environment and protect the nation’s health and prosperity. National Weather Service forecasters who work without pay during a shutdown, like their peers in other essential government services, experience mounting financial and emotional stress. Years of research are jeopardized when federal scientists cannot collect uninterrupted data. When government researchers no longer maintain collaborations with their peers in academia and industry, our nation, and each and every citizen, loses out.
The uncertain length of a shutdown adds to its costly and corrosive effects. Like a chain reaction, the impacts of a government shutdown ripple far beyond those who are furloughed and can impede development of new scientific technologies that are vital to our nation. Many non-government contract employees are already on forced time off without pay, and experiencing severe financial and personal hardship; we may lose the benefit of their knowledge and capabilities as a result.
Within days, the current shutdown may become the nation’s longest on record. Virtually all other nations have mechanisms to keep partisan disagreements from closing major segments of their governments for days or weeks. Without such a backstop, every shutdown means that the U.S. loses more ground to overseas competitors, as other nations take the lead in scientific leadership.
Our nation cannot afford to undermine its scientific enterprise for the sake of policy disagreement. The AMS urges our elected officials to come together and restore normal federal government operations as soon as possible, and we strongly suggest that partisan differences of opinion be given the time and attention they deserve without the unintended consequences of holding scientific research and related activities hostage.

The AMS Annual Meeting: Always a Need to Hear the Unheard

You’ve been here before. Those previous AMS Annual Meetings, for example, right here in Phoenix. You probably have some good memories of those. But this is not the sense of déjà vu we’re talking about.
Meteorologists, and indeed scientists of many disciplines, bridge the road from societal impacts to societal progress. As a result, you’ve been in this place before: “place” in the sense of what you study, what you say, and what you accomplish. It is all predicated on the premise that the most important people in the room are the people who are not, actually, in the room. The people who flee hurricanes and tsunamis, who dig out from snow and put out wildfires, whose coral reefs are blanching—they are notably absent from conference rooms and auditoriums as well as from laboratories, classrooms, and forecast offices. Yet in the places the work of these atmospheric and related sciences goes on, these unheard voices are the pleas that are being answered.
Science is a process of voices participating in discussions across many divides. Published papers in AMS journals spread ideas from many corners of the globe, just as our Annual Meeting brings together people and their findings from across borders.
As with international borders, so too with generational borders. Discussions in Phoenix this year originate from people who were once among us, but whose voices are now silenced. You can be sure that, as much as it hurts to lose a pioneering scientist such as, say, Doug Lilly, who died this past year, his voice is still very much in the room here due to all his students and all the people influenced by his work. In fact, anyone who takes advantage of opportunities to mentor other scientists is ensuring her voice will be in many rooms she’s never entered. This is the power of a collective enterprise such as AMS.
While answering the unheard is a specialty for this community, now we are about to get even better at it. First, we greatly miss our colleagues and friends from the Federal government who unfortunately must miss this AMS Annual Meeting. The opportunities of the week are reserved for the vast majority who made it to Phoenix as planned. But remember that we are used to speaking as best we can for voices of the missing. The voice we raise, and the waves we make, will undoubtedly be all the stronger if those who aren’t here are not forgotten.
But second, and ultimately more significantly, we will get better at including the voice of the unheard–by including them in the room. One of the great strengths of AMS president Roger Wakimoto’s theme this week is directly related to this chronic condition of sciences so intimately tied to societal need: “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive.”
That last of three “I’s” is telling. Inclusiveness promotes many voices by giving people a seat at the table. No longer can AMS represent every voice by assuming that the few can speak for the many. Inclusiveness is a theme of this meeting, of this year in AMS initiatives, and a pillar of AMS Centennial activities moving forward. For example, this year’s Inez Fung Symposium includes a panel on Tuesday on “Fostering Diverse Perspectives in Climate Science.”
This year’s meeting will be a success, all the more because you’re accustomed to acting like a typical meteorologist, listening to the people who can’t be, or haven’t typically been, in the room.