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“It’s startling to know there are individuals on the brink of adulthood who have spent their entire lives in a climate that, largely due to human activity, is vastly different from the one their parents experienced growing up.” – RACHEL LICKER, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group, after learning that last year was one of the warmest on record. (New York Times quote of the day, Friday, January 18, 2018.


These days, most of us get our news from trusted sources, and the New York Times is of course at the top of many lists. But in the 21st century, on-line is the preferred means of access. As a result, I might perhaps buy at most 3-4 print editions of the New York Times a year. Can’t ever remember looking at the third page… or ever, ever looking at the quote of the day. But I did all three of those things this particular morning – and happened across today’s entry, this from one of the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium alums, from our 2012 group.

2014 Colloquium participants

What are the odds?

And what a great statement! Take the time to parse it; let it sink in. Dr. Licker introduces the climate change topic as science, but couches it in terms of human agency and impact. Her words reach out to all generations, remind us of our individual responsibility and role, yet in a compelling but non-pejorative way[1]. Whether this was a carefully crafted, rehearsed statement she’s used many times, not just with the reporter, or whether the words came to her in an inspired instant, this is definitely quote-of-the-day stuff. We’re all better off for having heard it.

And speaking of the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, perhaps this is the year you should participate. Are you an early- to mid-career scientist? Do you aspire to do great science, but also take your science a step further? Effectively engage in the policy process and the public conversation about the implications of science and how science adds to the world’s store of coping strategies?

Numerous groups and organizations stand ready to give you quick half-day instruction on messaging to policymakers and various publics as a manipulative technique, maybe take you for a brief round of Congressional visits.

The AMS Summer Policy Colloquium takes a different approach. We put you and some 30-40 of your peers in a setting where you meet for a ten day-and-night experience with scientists who have embedded themselves for years in the policy process – who are working as staffers on the Hill, or serving as members of Congress, or leading federal agencies at the policy level. They’ll invest in you, help you understand before you seek to be understood, put you on the path to building the personal and professional relationships that are the most effective foundation in the policy process. Your peers will be scientists like Rachel (who came as a graduate student), or university faculty, or engineers from aerospace companies, or government scientists, weather forecasters, geologists, hydrologists, climatologists, and more. You’ll join a network of over 600 scientists who have taken this step as a means for being more effective in their job, or as a step for following in the footsteps of Colloquium speakers: working at NGO’s like UCS, or on the Hill, or in government agencies. Interested in something a bit more unusual? Some have worked in an embassy here in DC, or at Brookings, or gone on to found the Capital Weather Gang; to take jobs as emergency managers, at the National Academies of Science, in state-level environmental protection agencies; to start their own firms, or work abroad. You’ll meet special people like Rachel, and they’ll meet special people like you.

Get the idea? Find it energizing? Want to join us June 3-12, 2018 here in Washington, DC? Now is the time to sign up. Look for more detail, including how to register, and possibilities for financial support on the Colloquium page of the AMS website. We’re still coming up to speed on some of the 2018 details, so if you don’t find the answer to a question, or want some clarification, reach out to me at hooke@ametsoc.org. Want to do a bit more checking first? Work through the list of our prior participants to find someone you know; then reach out to them for a critical review.


[1]Those who know Rachel from her Colloquium experience, or subsequent work at the U.S. State Department, or now at UCS, would confirm that this is who she is, this is vintage Rachel: positive, thoughtful, useful.

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Novim’s latest study: Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs.

“The boundary between science and policy is only one of several boundaries that hinder the linking of scientific and technical information to decision making. Managing boundaries between disciplines, across scales of geography and jurisdiction, and between different forms of knowledge is also often critical to transferring information…

information requires three (not mutually exclusive) attributes – salience, credibility, and legitimacy [emphasis added] – and that what makes boundary crossing difficult is that actors on different sides of a boundary perceive and value salience, credibility, and legitimacy differently.”David Cash et al.


For decades, social scientists (as exemplified by Bill Clark and his collaborators at Harvard and across the world, in papers such as that cited above) have helped us understand the difference between assessments that offer a foundation you can build on – and studies that are something less. It all boils down to this:

  • Are the studies salient? Do they address subjects that matter?
  • Are the studies credible? Do they hold up under scrutiny?
  • Are the studies legitimate? Do those who have views and who will be impacted have a say? Were all views given serious attention?

Novim logo

Novim released a study today that meets these guidelines and merits your attention – first and foremost because of the topic – our national ability to meet future needs for food, water and energy, build resilience to hazards, and protect the environment. Second, because it’s authored by Jack Fellows, David Blockstein, Tamara Dickinson, Michael Holland, Kei Koizumi, Kathie L. Olsen, Robert M. Simon, and Joel Widder. What a group! More than a little gravitas here. Individually and collectively they provide a deep and expertise spanning this topic. Third, as you’ll be able to judge for yourself, the document has been rigorously limited to matters of fact.

You may not have heard of Novim. Fact is, it should be a household word. They introduce themselves this way (their website provides richer detail): At a time when truth is under fire, Novim brings the best minds in the scientific community together to tackle controversial issues with hard science.

And they’ve been at it for ten years. Take this latest study, Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs. It provides two things. First, a detailed analysis of cuts that have been proposed in the 2018 federal budget – cuts that aggregate to some $2B, representing a 20% reduction in 2017 federal outlays. Second, an enumeration of the implications of such cuts in five respects, namely reductions in:

  • investment and capacity – reduced US prospects for innovation, economic growth, and safety
  • observations and modeling – breaks in the continuity and integrity of vital data sets
  • adaptation and assessments – a decline in food, water, energy development and use, and resiliency with respect to hazards
  • workforce – reductions in the needed researchers, resource managers, and decision makers
  • international commitments – a reduced US ability to meet legal and international obligations.

Again, these are matters for sober reflection – but not for disputation.

Where do you and I come in? The Novim study is a foundation. It’s societal benefit will be determined largely by how the rest of us build on it. It lays out facts (or more precisely possibilities, since at this writing the 2018 budget numbers are still in play, and since the 2019 budget proposals to be released shortly will build on this starting point) and their implications.

Our U.S. democracy comprises 320 million individual stakeholders, as well as myriad institutions – governments at state and local levels, small business and major national and multinational corporations, universities, and thousands of NGO’s – whose prospects are all dependent directly or indirectly on the level, balance and extent of these environmental and climate R&D investments. The outcomes of these budget proposals affect all of us differently, even to the extent of creating a few winners among the losers. Many of us, and the institutions where we work, lack the wherewithal to assemble Novim’s comprehensive picture. But when we can see it laid out before us, we are better positioned to know the impacts on us our goals, and the needs and hopes of those we serve. Novim has made it possible for us to hold a healthy national conversation on how to move forward – even to express vigorous disagreement and debate – but to do so while grounded in fact, as opposed to seeing who can yell the loudest.

It’s now time for all of us to do our part.

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Reflections on Martin Luther King Day.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Martin Luther King[1]

It is perhaps the most telling measure of a man or woman that the mere mention of their name prompts all of us to pause and to ponder life’s meaning and our place in the universe.

Martin Luther King was such a man.

Here are four quotes, provided to help you structure your contemplation this time around.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

A good starting point. Living on the Real World asserts to be reality-based. Many people have questioned this; including some in the (micro) audience who showed up at the AMS Publications booth at this past week’s AMS Annual Meeting for readings and discussion with book authors (thanks, Ken and Sarah Jane!), faulting the book for being optimistic. But optimism and pessimism refer to moods unsubstantiated by facts, data, experience, etc. The right word is hopeful a confident evidence-based expectation that goodness is on the way.

You and I can face the world and the future with hope rooted in realism. Something to ponder.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Faith? Numerical Weather Prediction? They share this in common. The essence of weather forecasting is this iterative, moment-by-moment approach, taking a step, then reanalyzing, then taking another step… Who knew?

Reason for reflection.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Meteorologists are thinking a great deal about the future of the field. Mr. King points us to the right mentality: embracing the change, shaping change, making that change positive, versus flinching from it.

Time to embrace that mindset.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

 Our significance in life stems less from what we achieve than from whom we help.

Good news! You and I share that daily opportunity for greatness. Meteorologists – whether government, or private-sector, or academic – are in the business of serving, and improving that service, each and every day.

So today, reflect on all this – take the effort to appreciate and own those characteristics and aspirations you share with Dr. King. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. Then dive back in. Keep up your good works of saving lives and property, building resilience, tapping nature’s bounty of food, water, and energy, and protecting the environment. Give thanks for those who’ve encouraged you and helped you reach this good place in life. Pay it forward! Give encouragement to those around you.

And in this way enjoy the day, and honor Dr. King’s memory[2].


[1] With thanks to Jon Gordon, who compiled these quotes (and a number of others) on his blog.

[2] You can find other LOTRW posts on Martin Luther King here.

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Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space

A recent GOES-16 image

“This beast is best felt. Shake, rattle, and roll. We are thrown left and right against our straps in spasmodic little jerks. It is steering like crazy, like a nervous lady driving a wide car down a narrow alley, and I just hope it knows where it’s going, because for the first ten seconds we are perilously close to that umbilical tower.”

— Michael Collins, Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, NASA SP-350, 1975

“The vehicle explodes, literally explodes, off the pad. The simulator shakes you a little bit, but the actual liftoff shakes your entire body and soul.”

— Mike McCulley, Space Shuttle: The First 20 Years, 2002.

Friday, January 5, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a new report: Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space.


Those of us of a certain age vividly remember the Apollo space program. Every several months from 1968-1972 astronauts would venture into space. They achieved many milestones over the period, the most memorable being the lunar landings. Memories of launch failures and tragedies were still raw. The launches were televised live and the world would hold its collective breath for a few suspenseful minutes that would then extend over the next few days. The fiery final moments of reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere would generate another spasm of concern and then everyone could exhale.

Until the next launch.

These days, space exploration has reached a level of maturity. Telescopic investigations have progressively achieved greater resolution and staying power, and harnessed new bands of the electromagnetic wave spectrum to probe the very boundaries of the universe. Unmanned probes continue to provide new detail about the planets and other components of our solar system. Humans are poised to take another run at the moon and possibly Mars.

Still, after all these years, it remains true, as Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) once said to start a hearing, “…The planet that has to matter the most to us is the one we live on. You would think that would go without saying. And we are woefully ignorant of the way this planet works, of the functioning of the land, the oceans, and the atmosphere and how they interact. It is great if Earth science can contribute to exploration and greater still if exploration of other planets could teach us more about the planet Earth…”

The need and the urgency articulated by Congressman Boehlert has motivated the Decadal Surveys of Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS). These are conducted by expert committees organized by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine every 10 years to provide guidance for NASA and other science agencies on the top priorities in space and earth science disciplines. The Surveys help the United States maintain a disciplined emphasis on space observations to gain the knowledge needed to: tend the Earth’s food, energy, and water resources, so they’ll support a total human population numbering 9B; build resilience to natural hazards; and at the same time slow or turn around the worrying degradation of Earth’s habitats, landscapes, biomes, water, and air.

The first Survey, published in 2007, by all accounts accomplished its job. But the challenge, complexity, cost, and contentiousness of managing the planet have grown since then. To provide useful and compelling guidance out to 2027, the second Survey would need to be comprehensive, detailed, address not just national and even global needs, but also budgets, schedules, and feasibility, and accomplish all this in a convincing manner. Among those tracking the Survey’s progress, it has been clear for some years that the quality and heft of this report would matter as much as any multi-billion-dollar launch of a satellite or probe. The suspense has matched that spirit from the Apollo launches. Tension has slowly been mounting: would the Second Decadal Survey prove a worthy successor to the first?

As of this past Friday, the answer is in:


There’s 700+ pages of material here; anybody claiming to have read the report in the 48 hours since its release with the care it deserves would be lying. But other signs make it clear that the Survey provides the needed guidance. That starts with the framework/architecture of the report. Here’s just the merest hint:

  1. Commit to sustained science and applications;
  2. Embrace innovative methodologies for integrated science/applications;
  3. Amplify the cross-benefit of science and applications;
  4. Leverage external resources and partnerships;
  5. Institutionalize programmatic agility and balance;
  6. Exploit external trends in technology and user needs;
  7. Expand use of competition; and
  8. Pursue ambitious science, despite constraint.

Most importantly, the body of the report delivers in putting flesh on the bones of this framework: the context of rapid societal and global change. The emphasis on the scientific questions to be addressed and resolved. The balance between advance of science and application for societal benefit, not just nationally but globally. The push for innovation. The stress on institutions and building capacity. It’s all there, and more.

And the exposition! The clarity and crispness of the language! The articulation of a vision organically connected to the detail, not just patched on! The leaders of this study, Waleed Abdalati and Bill Gail, would be the first to tell you that substantive content of the report and the beauty of the language are the product of dozens of panelists and contributors and NAS staff and reviewers, and they’d be right. But both Waleed and Bill are not just first-rank scientists, but the closest thing to poet laureates in our field. To listen to either or both, to read their work, is to come away not just educated but inspired. (Bill Gail’s Climate Conundrums: What the Climate Debate Reveals about Us is a case in point.) Nowhere has that been more true than in this report.

Thank Bill and Waleed, and their collaborators, and the NAS, as soon as you get the chance. Come to their Town Hall presentation at the AMS Annual Meeting (Wednesday 12:15, Ballroom G, Conference Center). Download the report or get a hardcopy. Make this one of your handbooks for navigating the next ten years.

And, if you’re early career, spend every day positioning yourself to help prepare the third Survey. The world will come looking for you starting about 2025.

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More good news to start 2018: 2017 was the safest year on record for air travel.

Continuing the good-news theme of recent LOTRW posts, the flight safety story lit up yesterday’s internet. This report, from Fortune’s website, gives the flavor:  Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year, according to a Dutch consulting firm and an aviation safety group that tracks crashes, making 2017 the safest year on record for commercial air travel.

Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 and the Aviation Safety Network both reported Monday there were no commercial passenger jet fatalities in 2017. “2017 was the safest year for aviation ever,” said Adrian Young of To70.

To70 estimated that the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights is 0.06 per million flights, or one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.

The Aviation Safety Network also reported there were no commercial passenger jet deaths in 2017, but 10 fatal airliner accidents resulting in 44 fatalities onboard and 35 persons on the ground, including cargo planes and commercial passenger turbo prop aircraft.

That figure includes 12 people killed on Dec. 31 when a Nature Air Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft crashed minutes after takeoff into a mountainous area off the beach town of Punta Islita, Costa Rica.

In comparison, there were 16 accidents and 303 deaths in 2016 among airliners.

The deadliest incident last year occurred in January when a Turkish cargo jet smashed into a village in Kyrgyzstan as it tried to land at a nearby airport in dense fog, killing 35 on the ground and all four onboard.

The Aviation Safety Network said 2017 was “the safest year ever, both by the number of fatal accidents as well as in terms of fatalities.”

Over the last two decades aviation deaths around the world have been steadily falling. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

Other reports included further background from Mr. Young, along more cautionary lines. This from The Independent:

…“It is unlikely that this historic low will be maintained; in part, these very positive figures rest on good fortune. Nevertheless, the safety level that civil aviation has achieved is remarkable”.

He cautioned: “The risks to civil aviation remain high as shown by the seriousness of some of the non-fatal accidents.” They included, he said, “the spectacular loss of the inlet fan and cowling of an engine on an Air France A380” over Greenland in September.

“That the aeroplane continued to operate safely to a diversion airport and was then flown home for repair on three engines says a lot about the robustness of the aeroplane.”

The report warns that electronic devices in checked-in bags pose a growing potential danger: “The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in electronics creates a fire risk on board aeroplanes as such batteries are difficult to extinguish if they catch fire.

“Airlines worldwide are training their crews to fight any fires in the cabin; the challenge is keeping such batteries out of passenger luggage.”

As noted before in LOTRW (most recently here[1]) this aviation mindset – continuing vigilance, constantly learning from experience, laser-focused on relentless reduction of all causes and forms of risk, never yielding to complacency, is responsible for the result.

The key starting point? Shoulder responsibility for accidents – even (especially!) those that might be shrugged off as “natural” or “acts of God” (aircraft icing, hail, turbulence, downbursts, etc.). Identify and articulate the business case: “people will fly only if they know it’s safe.” For half a century, all parties – the airframe manufacturers, airlines, the FAA and others not just in the United States but worldwide – have bought in. Yesterday’s good news is the end result.

A closing reflection:

The world doesn’t enjoy similar good news when it comes to so-called “natural hazards.” As this past hurricane season has shown, the losses are headed in the opposite direction.

But the good news is we can do better and we know how! The path to better numbers (reduced fatalities, property damage, and business disruption) is roughly the same as for aviation. That includes the same starting point – accepting that “natural hazard losses” in reality reflect societal ways of doing business – and then developing the business case for disaster reduction. As it happens, John Plodinec blogged on this earlier today. Worth pondering.

Building community-level resilience to natural hazards? If you’re reading this blog you’ve likely already been making a direct or indirect contribution over recent years. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back! And please incorporate a bit more of the same into your New Year’s resolutions for 2018.

[1] additional LOTRW posts on the subject can be accessed here.

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Some “good news” from the AMS – on diversity and inclusion – to start off 2018.

If the world could stand a bit less in the way of scolding, per the topic of recent LOTRW posts, then it won’t do to leave a vacuum. What’s needed is a spotlight shining on the positive out there. In that spirit, here’s some good news from the American Meteorological Society – with respect to diversity and inclusion.

Some background: It turns out good news comes in many different levels. Let’s start with two – and maybe touch on a third.

Good news – Level 1.

My Christmas presents this year included a gift I’ve also gotten in some years past: a small box of chocolates – chocolate-covered cherries to be precise. My absolute favorites! There were only twelve in the box. Some years I’ve limited myself to one per day, in an effort to extend the experience. But this year I binged; the chocolate-covered cherries were consumed several days ago.

(Oh, Bill, that’s so wonderful. We’re all so very happy for you, Bill.)

See what I mean? Certain kinds of good news become something much less – almost the antithesis – in the retelling and the hearing. In this case, the positive is only for one person, and only for a moment. To bother sharing reveals a high degree of self-absorption. It provides little or no hope to any hearer, nor does it add pop to that hearer’s step. In a sense, it’s consumed, much like those chocolates; it’s not shareable or self-multiplying. (As recounted in the earlier post, Taylor Swift thanking her fans for a good 2017 – she was thanking her fans, that’s different – still ran afoul of this kind of reaction.)

That brings us to

Good news – Level 2.

The good news from close to home – continuing efforts at the American Meteorological Society to support diversity and inclusion – is of the second, more important type.

Here’s the AMS diversity statement: The American Meteorological Society (AMS) is committed to, and benefits from the full and equitable participation of a diverse community in its membership, in its activities, and in the audiences that it serves. The advancement of the AMS mission is dependent on its ability to have a professional membership that is fully representative of societal demographics. The Society, therefore, embraces diversity through the inclusion of individuals across age, gender, race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, physical ability, marital status, sexual orientation, body shape or size, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, and other facets of social diversity.

Unlike Level 1, this good news is good news for every hearer. The message tells you and me: you’ll be welcome here. You’ll fit in. Your contributions will be valued. The AMS isn’t just some unfeeling professional society where relationships are transactional, nothing more – it’s a true community. What’s more, we-they is less of a thing here than elsewhere. You’re not being invited to some exclusive club. We’re a science and service organization, and our inclusion extends across the myriad domestic and international publics we serve. It would be possible to wax further on all this, but you get the idea.

Some might be inclined to downplay the significance of such AMS efforts, on several grounds: (1) everyone’s trying to sound inclusive these days; (2) here at the AMS we don’t seem to be making much progress; and even if we were, (3) this is a small piece of a much larger, deeper societal problem, and much of that larger society seems to be tending in the other direction.

But to think that way would be wrongheaded. With respect to the first objection, the AMS isn’t just jumping on a bandwagon. We have been at this a long time – as long as any living AMS member can recall. Embrace of diversity and inclusion have been abiding AMS values since its founding. Upon examination, these aspirations reflect the inherent nature of our science and services. Weather, water, and climate services require a degree of cooperation, teamwork, respect – the participation of all – across a wide range of disciplines and peoples. This is unique in the sciences.

What’s more, it’s not as if every group or institution or nation is trying to move in this direction. Certain elements are working hard to enhance exclusion in our society. For example: some (thankfully a minority) of political and religious leaders, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Some seeking to end internet neutrality. Isolationists on all continents calling for walls, physical or legal, at international borders. And so on. Inclusion and diversity are hardly universal goals.

That brings us to the second objection – that, if anything, the fact that “we’ve been at this a long time” argues that our AMS progress is slow. True enough. Women, ethic minorities, and other minority groups do indeed remain under-represented across the Society. But the metrics, though primitive, do show signs of improvement, especially with respect to early-career entrants to the field. And participation by under-represented groups across AMS’ extensive volunteer structure shows them to be active and involved. Such indicators hint that the makeup of the AMS may start to look quite different over coming years.

Part of this latter objection also raises the question, “if this is good news, what’s truly new?” Well, it turns out there are several things:

  • An AMS Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, under the leadership of Susan Avery.
  • A Diversity-and-Inclusion page on the AMS Website
  • An AMS President, Roger Wakimoto, who has made inclusion a priority for his tenure, and who is framing the 2019 AMS Annual Meeting around “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive [emphasis added](III).”
  • Launch of the AMS Early Career Leadership Academy. (From the AMS website ) With support provided by IBM, the American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Early Career Leadership Academy (ECLA) aims to build and sustain a diverse network of early career leaders in weather, water, and climate science. ECLA will bring together a select group of early career individuals, in particular, women and underrepresented minorities, for an immersion experience in leadership, such as creative problem-solving; conflict resolution; building trust and enhancing communication skills. We seek early career individuals from a wide range of professions, interests, perspectives, cultures, and experiences. (Important Note!!! To be eligible for the first ECLA, April 26-27, 2018, you must apply by January 19. See the webpage for details)

Which brings us to the third objection: that even as the AMS and the weather, water, and climate community become more inclusive, such steps remain small relative to the size of the problem, as laid out by Deanna Hence in her LOTRW guest post. She reminds us that the abuse so prevalent a part of the experience of underrepresented groups, whether the LGBT community, or Puerto Ricans struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, or America’s urban poor or women in general, can hardly be addressed by the AMS efforts bulletized above.

All of this is true enough! But these are the elements within AMS influence. And through these and follow-on efforts, AMS will “be the change we want to see in the world.” In analogy with Lorenz’ butterfly, flapping its diminutive wings but setting into motion tomorrow’s hurricane, we can contribute to that larger, beneficent change.

Good news – Level 3?

Feel free to stop here if you want. We could end on this note.

However, to do so, to stop now, is to leave hanging a serious difficulty. Nothing so far has suggested that exclusion versus inclusion is anything more than a personal preference. And at this point in the discussion there’s no reason to think that the one is better than the other. It would follow that those preferring either view can either keep their preference to themselves or fight for it. What’s more, such fighting would be exhausting and, more importantly, polarizing – favoring, even fostering we-they divisions and therefore exclusion. At best, for those favoring inclusion, the outcome would perpetually be in doubt.

But few of us – almost none – really believe that. Instead most of us think and act as if something in the fundamental nature of the universe favors inclusion over exclusion. That attitude seems less like conscious learning than something hardwired in our nature. Some would say there’s a contribution from evolutionary behavior. Tribalism contains a state of tension between inclusion and exclusion that in prehistory might have offered survival value.  But for the past 2000 years, inclusion’s been given a little push by a rumor, arising in the Middle East, about a third level of “good news.”

The people living back then and there knew exclusion and worse to be the order of the day. They endured stupefying levels of government oppression; abuse of women, religious and ethnic minorities; slavery, poverty, war, and terror. History had recorded little else, and offered no prospect of change.

But then something happened. A man appeared, announcing “good news.” He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and offered a message of inclusion – for women and children as well as men; for the hated, despised other – the Gentile, the Roman soldier and the tax collector – as well as the Jew. The establishment of the time, both Roman and Jewish, was less than thrilled. In other instances, they’d found execution to be effective in putting an end to such rebels and their messages; they tried this here. To their dismay, killing him didn’t put a stop to things; quite the opposite. Those on the scene reported his resurrection; this news and his message went viral, quickly spreading across the Mediterranean. Today, some 2B people, one-third of the world’s population, self-identify with that “good news;” abetted by the Internet, the viral spread appears to be continuing, with the most rapid growth occurring in China, Africa, and Latin America.

It might be argued that it’s this deeper, third level of “good news,” that gives all other levels of good news their juice. Reason for reflection – perhaps even encouragement – as we enter 2018.

And in the meantime, register for ECLA!

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At the risk of being the scold…

As a rule, with each LOTRW entry, I try to post a notice on Facebook, and tweet as well. This started as an effort to stay in touch with early-career colleagues using their social networks (of course many have long since migrated to newer media). Every so often, the FB post will prompt a long comment, which LOTRW readers then never get to see. The previous LOTRW post (on what meteorologists might stand to learn from Taylor Swift) triggered one such reaction from Deanna Hence, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Too thoughtful and substantive, too valuable a viewpoint, to let it simply slide by! Fortunately Dr. Hence has agreed to let me publish her perspective as a guest post. Here it is, unedited.


When we think about noise as scientists, we think about undesirable datapoints that need to be filtered out. There is no doubt that what is happening in our world is incredibly noisy, to the point that it hurts our ears.

I suggest a different interpretation of all of those data. Perhaps all of that noise is obscuring one type of desired signal, but also represents an incredibly important signal that must be understood, both to better interpret the originally desired signal, but also on its own merit. Think about the discovery of weather radar. Clouds were originally seen as undesired noise. Where would we be if folks had never expanded their mindset to see the opportunity there?

I think all that has been said is true, in terms of the fact that everyone needs to calm down a bit and seriously talk about the underlying problems our society has. But what that has to translate into is that conversation happening, and actions taken.

I say this because the benefits of many scientific advances have been enjoyed in very uneven ways. The consequences of inaction will be felt in uneven ways. And although the science has advanced dramatically, how that is translating into saving lives and livelihoods is also incredibly uneven.

Many groups are fighting to be part of the conversation, part of the solution making, so that they are not consistently left out from sharing in the benefits from those advancements. Yes, many of those solutions span beyond what the meteorology community can provide, but we are a key input into that decision-making, in everything from how flood and other hazard maps are drawn (which affects zoning, building codes, and insurance), what type of information goes into watches and warnings, emergency management planning, coastal management, etc.

In terms of the pursuit of science, many are frankly sick of the abuse. I disagree strongly with the notion that our female and/or minority scientists need to be “patient” about changing our scientific institutions so that we can pursue our science without being harassed or assaulted. That is like asking someone getting punched in the face to keep getting punched until the assaulter deals with their anger issues. I cannot understate the real psychological trauma these kinds of issues cause, as has been splashed all over the news. We have to seriously question what excellent science we are losing by not dealing with these problems.

So the question becomes what is the solution. Trust has to be earned. Real solutions are co-created by bringing everyone to the table. Real healing means accepting the criticism with grace and committing to change, and then following through. The result is a whole lot of discomfort on all sides, but what was happening before was that these issues were consistently ignored or otherwise not dealt with in meaningful and lasting ways. The longer people, and institutions, refuse to really change, the more strident those demands will become. That anger is not going to diminish until a real, honest, and lasting commitment is made.

Among other things, we need to make sure we are arguing about the same things. Let’s use climate change as an example. We push with the science of what will happen if we don’t do anything, the pushback is about economics and livelihoods. That is not having the same argument. How do we bring those things together?

One answer is bringing in expertise outside of our field who know more about the societal side of things than we do. So, again, bringing more people to the table as true partners. Maybe the professional societies of all of the professions that work in climate change, in some capacity or another, could work together to bring the physical, societal, and human impacts of these issues together. And we need to make sure *all* of the impacts, on *all* groups, are represented, understood, and dealt with in ways advantageous to all.


So much wisdom here to build on! Dr. Hence could use this as the point of departure for dozens of blogposts, or op-eds, or a larger work. Thank you, Deanna – and please continue to develop these and related ideas.

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What meteorologists might stand to learn from Taylor Swift.

This morning’s Washington Post ran an article on Taylor Swift and her 2017. Some excerpts.

Two weeks ago, on her 28th birthday, Taylor Swift posted a picture to Instagram that her guitarist took during a recent show at an arena in London. The photo shows Swift center stage, spotlight shining down as she plays her new music in front of thousands of fans.

 “I couldn’t have asked for a better year, all thanks to you,” Swift wrote in the caption…

  But Swift herself is constantly criticized for not taking a political stance, as she didn’t endorse a candidate in the presidential election. Many were disappointed that she simply tweeted about the Women’s March in January instead of attending, despite using feminism to fuel her brand over the years. The American Civil Liberties Union sent her a harsh letter after her legal team threatened to sue a blogger who wrote a convoluted post about Swift not publicly denouncing the white supremacists who continue to support her.

 So Swift’s “tone-deaf” Instagram was apparently the tipping point for some. The caption could have just been a few quick sentences that she fired off on her birthday — but Swift is nothing if not strategic…

…all of which, of course, brings to mind the parallel case of meteorology and meteorologists.

For several years now, when the conversation has turned to climate change, we meteorologists have come across as scolds[1]. Arguably, this hasn’t worked that well for us. We’ve swayed few minds. The social science of it all says that sad outcome shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Turns out you and I (and all other mentally-healthy people) respond better to praise than criticism. Who knew?

2017: the year of the scold.

But 2017 has brought (good?) news. We meteorologists are no longer alone. Seems Gandhi was right in suggesting we “be the change you want to see in the world.” (Perhaps as he foresaw?), seems the entire world has come our way.

As in, today, we are all scolds. Start with over 320 million Americans. Democrats have been scolds since the 2016 election. Republicans have scolded in return. Women have spoken up. (Right on! See below.) Under-represented groups, including immigrants legal and otherwise, have taken to the streets. Corporate CEO’s and others have turned to op-eds on the editorial pages with the same mindset. The president – the leader of the free world – can add the title of “Scolder-in-Chief.” Many of his Cabinet leaders follow suit. Former presidents of both parties (realizing they’d missed an opportunity during their respective White House stints?) have joined in the general scolding.

And finally, not just meteorologists but all scientists have become scolds.

The scolding hasn’t been confined to the United States. It’s also pervasive across the rest of the Americas. Reproach and rebuke are rampant as well across Europe – country-by-country – and in the EU. The Middle East has once again become the Fertile Crescent – of admonishment, this time around. China has thus far limited the scolding – by using the pressure-cooker approach – that is, keeping a lid on it. But it’s only a matter of time until the lid blows there as well.

One bit – sobering, but very important to embrace – is that all this scolding is justified. Women’s scolding? Definitely overdue. Can’t emphasize this enough. Women have borne unconscionable abuse and unfairness in too many ways throughout history. Time to speak out. African Americans can make a similar strong case. The case may weaken a bit as you go through the list (CEO’s and scientists? Not so much to complain about, relatively speaking), but there’s at least a kernel of truth to all the accusations and blame, extending even to all the counterarguments. None of us is perfect – far from it[2].

Signal versus the noise.

But how are we liking the result? The noise of criticism is deafening, to the point it’s hard to hear oneself think. And each criticism we launch today may feel good momentarily but seems to spawn two new reasons to be appalled tomorrow.

We struggle with this as individuals – how can we not stand up against the evil in the world? How can we fail to push back? Those around us constantly urge us to take sides, join in the melee, choose “we” versus “them,” define our “we” in terms of “not-them” and so on. Even the humblest of us share Taylor Swift’s dilemma.

We also struggle as institutions. Close to home, the American Meteorological Society, much like Taylor Swift, takes a lot of flak for our reluctance to join in the fighting. We take flak from other science and professional societies. Why aren’t we co-signing this or that letter of complaint? The cause is so obviously just! We take flak from some of our own members. Why aren’t we more actively and comprehensively pushing back against every budget cut, every agency downsizing, every advisory group lost?

The answer lies not just in the lack of human and financial resources to play whack-a-mole at the necessary speed and scale. Fact is, there are better uses for those resources, which it turns out, are inadequate even to pursue the large number of positive opportunities out there. And in history, the direction of positive opportunity – a better world – is the signal. The criticism is the noise. If we don’t like today’s state of the world, the way out, the way forward, is as Gandhi advised, to be the change we want to see, not decry the current reality we hate.

And we meteorologists can contribute so much to build that “more just, verdant, and peaceful world” that the MacArthur Foundation speaks about and that all foundations, and for that matter, faiths, governments, and peoples seek. We advance science through journals and face-to-face meetings. (The next one is coming up fast, on January 7-11, 2018 in Austin, TX.) We provide venues for public-, private- and academic sectors, both nationally and internationally, to dialog, build trust, and by those means accelerate the translation of scientific advance into societal benefit. Through improved climatologies, climate outlooks, and weather forecasts, we lay the foundation for a future world that is safer in the face of hazard risks, more sustainable in its food, water, and energy development and use, and a better steward of habitats, biome, and the environment. We provide resources for school systems and teachers to incorporate Earth science in their K-12 STEM education. By seeking to learn as much from Congress and the public as to teach them, by taking as a given that our diverse perspectives are united around these common better-world goals, we have cultivated a mutual respect that allows us to be non-partisan and keep communication open with all sides.

We can focus on that narrative… and sooner or later the larger world will come along.

In her own way, Taylor Swift seems to have figured all this out in her entertainment universe. She makes commentary, but not through tweets so much as through substance – through the lyrics of her music. Many examples to choose from, but here’s one: Mean – speaking out against bullying. You can find the lyrics here; watch a video here. Perhaps not your favorite, but you get the idea.

So we can learn from Taylor Swift’s example that it’s okay to dial back the scolding. Fact is, we could probably learn a few things from her about marketing more broadly…


[1] For two additional links, you might go back and take a second look at the LOTRW entry from October 24, 2015, or this from July 15, 2014.

[2] The idea behind ideas such as “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” and “Let he who is without guilt cast the first stone.”

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U.S. social fabric – torn, frayed, unraveled by 2017’s hurricanes. But how badly?

Social fabric? Quite a bit of texture in what people mean by the term:

social fabric: The composite demographics of a defined area, which consists of its ethnic composition, wealth, education level, employment rate and regional values.businessdictionary.com

social fabric: … a metaphor for how well the community members interact amongst themselves. If you consider all the individual members as threads, the “social fabric” is made by having those members interact, thus weaving the threads together. The tighter the weave (the more frequently and positively the members interact with each other), the stronger the fabric is; the looser the weave, the weaker the fabric, and the more likely to tear (have conflicts that pit one group against another), fray (lose members), develop loose threads (criminals), and otherwise suffer. – from the English Language Learners website.

But whatever your definition or measure, 2017 was hard on the Nation’s social fabric. Partisan differences on the Affordable Care Act and the new tax plan provided bookends on the year. In between we found time to decry and at the same time exacerbate rifts based on race, gender, country of origin, and much more. Every dimension of life from local to national invited polarization.

Far too many of those invitations were accepted! And finally, feeling the need to remove any lingering doubt, this month America once again made it clear to the rest of the world that we come first.

2017 was the year the warp and the weft of the world’s weave went to war.

Some argue that the politics of the year tattered, even tore the fabric; others make a good case that the year merely revealed pre-existing weaknesses that had rotted the fabric for many years. Both interpretations have merit. Examples of the latter abound. The ACA is itself a partisan product from eight years ago. Abuses at the intersection of gender and power go back decades (make that millennia). And so on.

Speaking of stresses to the social fabric, 2017 also saw natural hazards – most notably the fall’s hurricanes and wildfires – pile on. The season revealed myriad limits to national resiliency. Today we look at three:

At the community level. For decades if not centuries, Americans in county after county and state after state across the land have been feeling lucky and rolling the dice, cutting corners with respect to land use, building codes, flimsy infrastructure in a quest for short-term economic gains. 2017 has been one of those years where we paid the price. Over the past few months hundreds of billions of dollars in lost property and business disruption have literally gone down the drain or up in smoke. Dozens of lives were lost on the mainland; in Puerto Rico, the death toll may have approached 1000.

With more forethought, much of this loss could have been avoided. What’s more, on every geographic and social scale, the pain and suffering have been inflicted unequally. Those of us living in the north or inland have seen the news reports as a mere backdrop to our daily lives. Texans not living along the coast or in Houston proper are more aware but only slightly so. But for those living along the Texas coast, in the Houston area proper, anywhere on the entire length of the Florida peninsula, or on the Caribbean U.S. territories, the experience has proved a nightmare – an enduring one. A December 21 CNN report (worth the read) reminds us that “nearly 5 million Americans have registered for federal aid since Labor Day; more victims than Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and Superstorm Sandy combined.” According to Vox, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York estimates that Puerto Rico will lose up 470,335 residents by the end of 2019 — about 14 percent of the population.

These are just two of hundreds of posts on articles in news media on the wrenching scale, agonizingly slow pace, and inequities in recovery, throughout the areas affected. The contrasts extend almost to the individual level – house to house – to those living in the direct path of these hurricanes. Take Florida. Marketplace contrasts the situation between Marco Island and nearby Immokalee. (The contrast is typical, extending to Texas and the Caribbean as well.) On Marco Island, an affluent area south of Naples on the Gulf Coast, beachfront hotels and housing developments took the brunt of Hurricane Irma as the storm came ashore. Exterior damage to buildings, downed trees and yard flooding was extensive, said Dianna Dohm, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.

“But there were only a couple of homes on the island that had damage that would make the house uninhabitable,” Dohm said. “And I think that goes to our building codes, to everyone doing great preparation, having all our storm shutters.”

About 40 miles inland from Marco Island is Immokalee, Florida, population 25,000. It’s a mostly low-income immigrant community surrounded by tomato fields and citrus groves. The streets are lined with discount stores, packing plants and rundown trailer parks. “Immokalee is a community mostly made up of immigrant farmworkers from Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti,” said Julia Perkins, an organizer for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group. On a drive around town, Perkins pointed out a mobile home listing sharply to one side, part of its siding missing.

“This area is called ‘La Rata’ — ‘The Rat’ — and that’s one of the trailers that got blown off its foundations,” Perkins said. “This is almost all rental housing — trailer parks that were already in disrepair. A good bit of the housing in town was damaged by Irma, and there are lots of people who don’t have anywhere to live that is secure right now.” Some of the most severely damaged mobile homes were abandoned; many others had tarps covering roofs and windows, and were still occupied.

The demographic differences are reflected in the California wildfire experience. Most of the vineyards proper survived intact. A few owners saw valuable homes destroyed. But most of those losing their households were the area’s poorer workers, many of whom also lost their jobs. (Take your pick of articles documenting this.)

At FEMA. The season’s hurricanes and wildfires have also shown the limits to FEMA’s capacity. Earlier this month several hundred FEMA employees were informed that they might have to return much of the overtime compensation that they thought they’d been paid for working double-digit days for weeks at a stretch at the series of fire and storm disasters spanning the country.

In a CNN interview, Brock Long, FEMA administrator, joined other Americans in a plea for help. Some excerpts:

“I haven’t even been here for six months yet, and what I hope to do is inform Americans about how complex this mission is,” Long says. “I didn’t come up here to do status quo, I’m ready to change the face of emergency management.”…

…”I identify with [one survivor’s] frustrations. When you and your neighbors have lost everything you’ve worked for, it’s an incredibly tough situation,” Long says. “But you have to understand — we don’t have the houses. We don’t have tens of thousands of manufactured homes and travel trailers just stored somewhere ready to go.”

He explains how FEMA has to order, build, install and inspect each manufactured home at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000 before they go to a family for a temporary lease of 18 months. “And then when it’s done, I’m not allowed to reuse that trailer. I can’t refurbish it and reuse it. We have to dispose of it,” Long says and describes his desire to streamline the cumbersome inspection process while passing housing and reconstruction responsibilities down to states and counties…

While Brock Long preaches pre-storm planning and mitigation, he does not agree with the vast majority of climate scientists who predict the summer of ’17 is just a preview of a hotter planet with bigger, more frequent disasters. “A lot of this could be that the climate is changing,” he says. “But it also could be other things that are cyclical in nature.”

But he firmly believes that millions of Americans are destined to live through a future disaster. And he wants neighborhoods to prepare for them the way our grandparents prepared for war. “Americans are the true first responders,” he says. “We’ve gotta get back to the basics, and teach people tangible skills, not only how to do CPR and first aid but to shut off your house gas lines or water lines after a disaster. We’ve gotta get people to save money. They need their own rainy day account.”

At the Congress. Congress too reached its limits, its breaking point. Throughout the tax bill slog, Congress reassured Americans and themselves they’d also be able to avoid a government shutdown, and provide the next, sorely-needed tranche of federal support for rebuilding from the hurricane and fire season. But in the end, although they kept the government running, they weren’t quite able to get the $80B disaster relief bill done before adjourning for the Christmas break.

Are Americans in it together? Is our social fabric – extending from the Congress across a great span of geography, ethnic composition, wealth, and incomes and values down to the community level – still whole?

Reality will provide the new data points on the social fabric, thread by thread, shortly after the turn of the year.

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Remedial Reading: an August 2017 Pew Charitable Trust report on the flooding threat to U.S. Public Schools

In mid-November, the AMS and its Policy Program ran a two-day workshop on the 2017 hurricane season and its implications for U.S. hazards policy. One of the collateral benefits of any such undertaking is that participants share prior work and the rest of us get to catch up on our remedial reading. Here’s a great example: it turns out that in August 2017, Pew Charitable Trust put out a report entitled Flooding Threatens Public Schools Across the Country: Infrastructure analysis evaluates county-level flood risk.

If you’re on top of things, you’ve probably been aware of this report all along. But if you’re like me, you missed it. A quick review…

The Report’s key findings:

  • The risk of school flooding is distributed widely across the United States. The Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River corridor, and southwestern Arizona have the highest composite flood risk scores.
  • Schools in both inland and coastal counties have high composite flood risk scores. Those in coastal counties with the highest composite flood risk scores are Monroe County, Florida; Hyde County, North Carolina; Cameron Parish, Louisiana; Poquoson City, Virginia; and Tyrrell County, North Carolina. The inland counties are Alexander County, Illinois; Maricopa County, Arizona; Crittenden and Mississippi counties in Arkansas; and Tunica County, Mississippi.
  • The 100 counties with the highest composite flood risk scores include 6,444 schools that serve nearly 4 million students.
  • 2,247 schools (out of 96,659 public schools) are located in areas subject to flooding that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any year. The South Atlantic region has the highest proportion of schools located in a flood zone.
  • Even when a school is not located in a flood zone, students who attend it often live within areas of flood risk. Of more than 5,000 schools, half or more of the ZIP code is located in a designated 1 percent annual chance flood zone.

And recommendations:

  • Modernize maps: Location is central to understanding and planning for flood risks. While FEMA flood maps do not portray all areas that could flood, they offer an important starting point for assessing risk and local decision-makers rely on the expertise of federal agencies for such information. FEMA must work with states and communities to ensure that they have up-to-date flood maps, and Congress should provide adequate funding for this purpose.
  • Leverage federal assistance: Federal agencies, including FEMA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers, should continue to provide local decision-makers with the technical know-how to help them better understand flood risks for their schools.
  • Develop pre-disaster plans for schools: The federal government requires communities and states that seek federal funding to proactively develop hazard mitigation plans. These should incorporate strategies for siting, upgrading, and managing facilities to reduce future risk. In addition, requirements for flood insurance should be enforced to protect federal investments.
  • Rebuild smarter with federal dollars: When communities leverage federal funds to rebuild or repair damaged infrastructure, these investments must account for future risk. Where feasible, they should consider relocating schools out of flood-prone areas.

What a welcome bit of analysis! The report (worth a careful read in its entirety) offers insightful analysis and clear, realistic recommendations that merit the broadest exposure and adoption by the thousands of school districts across the United States.

That’s all good news. But we know from related experience that compelling analysis, by itself, is not enough. To translate insight into the needed follow-through requires additional steps, and can’t be accomplished overnight. That reality raises a follow-on question: what might be done long-term, in a sustained way, to foster uptake of the report’s recommendations, school district by school district?

A broad range of options comes to mind. You undoubtedly have your own good ideas. (Please share!) In the meantime, here’s one: buttressing of K-12 public education should help. One candidate step along those lines? Where needed, add the earth sciences to mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology as a legally-mandated element of state-level public-school science curricula. Another? Create an environmental studies analog to social studies. The latter integrates study of the social sciences, humanities, and history. By analogy, environmental studies could blend study of the earth sciences with understanding of coupled natural-human systems. Such a juxtaposition would equip the next generation with the substantive content and critical thinking skills they’ll need throughout their adult lives to make decisions – with respect to natural resource issues including food, water, and energy; building resilience to hazards; and environmental protection.

A closing vignette. In the early 1980’s, well before any United Nations formulation of millennial or sustainable development goals, the world came tantalizingly close to adopting just such an approach. Back then, Frank Press, a seismologist who been a science adviser to four presidents and who was at the time the president of the National Academy of Sciences, set into motion a process of thought and planning that ultimately would establish a United Nations International Decade on Natural Disaster Reduction, which would run from 1990-1999. To shop this idea around the UN in the late 1980’s, Press first used an NAS report drafted as Confronting Natural Disasters: An International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and later modified as Reducing Disasters’ Toll: the United States Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction.

What’s not so well known is that these reports were actually Frank’s second try at developing a marketing document. He had earlier tasked a group under the leadership of Gilbert Fowler White (a towering figure not just in the United States but worldwide in this field) to produce a plan. White and his group came up with the goal of making every school and schoolchild worldwide safe in the face of natural hazards.

Sound familiar? The idea was magical! A simple articulation, easily grasped and remembered. Finite, focused. And beyond debate – who could quarrel with the idea of making schoolkids safe? But more importantly, on closer examination, the simple goal implied a wider challenge: building the resilience of the fuller communities where all those school children lived. How could kids be safe if their parents were at risk? If the roads home and to hospitals, etc. weren’t resilient with respect to earthquakes, flooding, and more? If other critical infrastructure was compromised by such hazards? The concept was brilliant.

Unfortunately, in the event, this formulation failed to win over Frank Press, who took the trouble to establish a second committee (and delay a couple of years) in order to go in another direction. The world’s peoples missed the opportunity to see where this step, so pregnant with emergent consequences, might have led.

Not too late to give it another try.

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