- Southwestern U.S. an unbranded calf, cow, or steer, especially an unbranded calf that is separated from its mother.
2. a. a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates: a modern-dance maverick. Synonyms: nonconformist, individualist; free thinker; loner, lone wolf.
b. a person pursuing rebellious, even potentially disruptive, policies or ideas: You can’t muzzle a maverick. Synonyms: rebel, cowboy; loose cannon.
James Garner, a well-known and widely respected actor, died July 19 at the age of 86. He starred in many roles but got his big break in the role as Bret Maverick on the popular TV series by the same name. Some background, from Wikipedia, for younger readers who might not be familiar with this history:
“Maverick is an American Western television series with comedic overtones created by Roy Huggins. The show ran from September 22, 1957 to July 8, 1962 on ABC and stars James Garner as Bret Maverick, an adroitly articulate cardsharp. Eight episodes into the first season, he was joined by Jack Kelly as his brother Bart, and from that point on, Garner and Kelly alternated leads from week to week, sometimes teaming up for the occasional two-brother episode. The Mavericks were poker players from Texas who traveled all over the American Old West and on Mississippi riverboats, constantly getting into and out of life-threatening trouble of one sort or another, usually involving money, women, or both. They would typically find themselves weighing a financial windfall against a moral dilemma. More often than not, their consciences trumped their wallets since both Mavericks were intensely ethical.”
At the time the Maverick debuted, westerns were the most popular genre on television. Maverick stood in sharp contrast to most of the westerns of the time. In other TV series, gunplay was the preferred method of conflict resolution. Bret Maverick, and in time his brother Bart, were both as the “maverick” moniker implies, “loners… pursuing potentially disruptive ideas or policies.” Generally outnumbered and in the minority, they were reluctant gunfighters, preferring any and all other methods of reaching accommodation with their fellow man (and woman).
A bias favoring confrontation and conflict? That calls to mind politics in today’s Washington, on every subject from foreign policy to jobs to immigration to education. It’s not entirely dissimilar even for scientific disputes, and, closer to home, dustups over meteorological topics ranging from climate change to water resource management to air quality and more. Gunplay is not involved, but the atmosphere is just about that toxic. Meteorologists (who, historically as individuals or a class have not demonstrated any particular combat readiness) are constantly invited to enter the noisy fray.
An approach based on raised voices is unlikely to work well for meteorologists. The numbers tell the story. The American Meteorological Society can claim some 13,000 members; the American Geophysical Union, perhaps 60,000. Together both societies hold net assets totaling about $50M. By contrast, AARP membership is 1,000,000 – in the state of Virginia alone. Total membership is 37M million. And these senior-citizen members vote. AARP has $3B in the bank. Small wonder that when it comes to advocacy and lobbying, AARP and other similarly-large pressure groups favor contests to see who can yell the loudest.
The AMS and other scientific and professional societies might therefore do well to adopt the amiable, meaning-no-one-any-harm Maverick brothers approach. That doesn’t mean being a pushover. It doesn’t mean failure to act in self-preservation. But it does mean a posture of good will, and full use of intellect, not in an attempt to be sly, but rather to be conciliatory, and from that foundation build collaboration and partnership. And it does mean swearing off belligerence.
Professional societies following this approach may initially be seen as mavericks in the sense of the word’s western roots. But the original TV series quickly won over audiences by being different in this way. Turned out the audiences didn’t want unceasing gunplay; they wanted adult entertainment. And Maverick thus spawned a lot of imitators. Meteorological advocacy, played out this way, might prove similarly successful, and might become widely imitated… making for a better world.