AMS and the “Horton-Hears-a-Who” strategy for making a difference.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”


“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!

The time for all Whos who have blood that is red

To come to the aid of their country!” he said.

“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!

So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

(with a tip of the hat to Dr. Gina M. Eosco of ERG, who in various presentations has helped us all see so much of the world through the lens of Dr. Seuss)

I get asked a lot why AMS “doesn’t do more advocacy,” with particular reference to e-mail-writing campaigns, for example. Have to confess I’m not a big fan. First off, Congressional staffers are almost unanimous in expressing disdain for form letters, even when they come in relatively large numbers. (The NGO’s that do this? Many are doing no more than helping their members “feel involved.”)

And the AMS doesn’t bring to bear relatively large numbers. Let’s compare ourselves to AARP. We have 13,000 members around the world. Not bad! But AARP has something like one million members – in Virginia. We have unrestricted net assets order of $10M. Again, not bad.[1] But AARP has assets totaling something more like $3B.

So guess which NGO is in favor of seeing who can yell the loudest, and thus sling its weight around?

Who yells the loudest? That’s where Horton and the Who’s come in. A smidgen of the plot: Horton the Elephant, who, while splashing in a pool, hears a small speck of dust talking to him. Horton surmises that a small person lives on the speck and places it on a clover, vowing to protect it. He later discovers that the speck is actually a tiny planet, home to a community called Whoville, where microscopic creatures called Whos live. The Mayor of Whoville asks Horton to protect them from harm, which Horton happily agrees to, proclaiming throughout the book that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

You remember (or can guess) what happens next. Preserving a people so tiny in Horton’s world is a daunting task. Horton’s contemporaries find his behavior crazy. They refuse to believe his narrative, and taunt and vex him repeatedly, finally putting the Who’s in great jeopardy. It’s vital that Horton’s companions hear what Horton’s been hearing all along. The Who’s shout in unison, but still can’t be heard. Just when all seems lost, the mayor finds one shirker, JoJo, who hasn’t been making noise. When JoJo adds his voice to the chorus, they reach the needed threshold; the other jungle animals hear them and help Horton bring matters to a happy conclusion.

Okay, Bill, please tell us there’s a point to this.

Sure! The AMS is most effective when it takes the time needed to construct a single statement that has the weight of Council deliberation and full membership input behind it, such as the statement on freedom of scientific expression, just renewed at the AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle this past week.

The AMS also has great effect when it partners up with the Hortons of the world. Two examples:

The first is our membership in the American Institute of Physics – a coalition of physical-science societies, representing 120,000 members. This membership now brings the AIP monthly journal Physics Today to our mailboxes (a kind of Bulletin of the AMS on the big screen, but featuring articles from our members, such as “How to Deal with Climate Change,” published by Paul Higgins in October of 2014). But it also means that we can contribute to, and benefit from, more policy-focused AIP activities, including but not limited to a suite of publications available under the label FYI. An excerpt from a recent e-mail from AIP CEO Robert Brown describes the newest FYI product, FYI This Week:

At this time in our nation’s history, it is more important than ever for scientists to galvanize support for continued federal funding of science and to promote well-informed science policy. Developments in the coming weeks and months will be critical. We can help keep your membership informed through FYI, a science policy news service from AIP.

The sign-up is free, and it is an easy way for interested parties to stay on top of what is happening within the Trump administration and in Congress. Today, the FYI team launched a new product, FYI This Week. Click here for the first edition. Each edition will include a look at the week ahead and a review of the week just passed. It will also list upcoming events, opportunities to get engaged, and links to articles from other publications.

If you’re interested in staying abreast of events and actions in the turbulent Washington scene, especially as they impact Earth observations, science, and science-based services, FYI merits your attention and support.

The second? The AMS joined AAAS and numerous other signatories in responding to the ill-considered January 27, 2017 White House Executive Order on visas and immigration. The letter lays out in clear crisp terms how scientific progress depends on openness, transparency, and the free flow of ideas and people, and these principles have helped the United States attract and richly benefit from international scientific talent.

It points out that the Executive Order will discourage many of the best and brightest international students, scholars, engineers and scientists from studying and working, attending academic and scientific conferences, or seeking to build new businesses in the United States. Implementation of this policy will compromise the United States’ ability to attract international scientific talent and maintain scientific and economic leadership.

151 institutional signatories? Memberships totaling in the millions?

A great deal of extra effort on the part of Keith Seitter, the AMS Executive Director, AMS staff and volunteer leadership, but leveraging our impact.

In these and other clever ways the AMS Who’s can be heard. And the community of Ed Lorenz’ butterfly should certainly understand the importance of JoJo. Each of us matters.


[1] A brief infomercial: you can improve that AMS balance sheet by donating to the AMS Centennial campaign just getting underway. Information will soon be up on the AMS website.

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