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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