Think the AMS doesn’t speak with one voice?

Then check out this remarkable visual created by Dr. Joanna Boehnert (a visiting fellow at CIRES) and posted on her Ecolabs blog:


Here’s how Dr. Boehnert describes the graphic: The poster illustrates relationships between prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication. These include: science institutions, media organizations, think tanks, government departments, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and individuals – along with some of the more significant funders. Actors are situated within four discursive realms: climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization (often neoliberalism); and social movements (climate justice). These four discourses are mapped on a framework wherein actors are colour-coded according to where they are situated. In this first version the colour, the size of the circles and their positions are all speculative. Subsequent versions will use different methods for plotting the actors and linking the nodes.

Looking for the AMS? It’s the (rather small, and focused) dark grey circle just a tad above dead center in the “climate science” discursive realm. Her website’s original visual provides a magnifying cursor that will help you explore.

Those inside the AMS 13,000+ member community might say, “Wait a minute! I know my fellow AMS members, and they’re scattered all over the diagram, from Naomi Klein to Jim Hansen to Sarah Palin to Al Gore (all represented as dots on the figure).” But Jodi Boehnert’s diagram captures much of how the outside world sees our institution; and that external, much-broader and more diverse public sees us as more narrow-spectrum than we might see ourselves.

The graphic is thought-provoking and merits reflection and study. You’ll find other great visuals on communication of climate and environmental issues on her blog. Their creator tells us these depictions are works in progress; you might want to give her some feedback and encouragement.

Dr. Boehnert is early career. The forecast? We can expect great things from her in the years ahead.

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In memory of James Garner, why not consider a Maverick approach to DC-advocacy?


  1. 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.


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Off to a good start… The Weather Channel and its host Marshall Shepherd launched their new Sunday noontime series, WXGeeks, yesterday, amidst a fair amount of fanfare, generating considerable media interest (see, e.g., the Eric Holthaus piece in Slate).

The show lived up to the high expectations! It moved along at a good pace, and was able to remain both substantive and conversational – no mean feat in today’s media, which is necessarily fairly scripted. Viewers hoping to get a feel for issues related to storm chasing – the science stakes, the personal risks, and the thrill offered by that combination – were not disappointed. Chuck Doswell was a great choice for a guest to unpack these issues. Hosts and guest also nicely opened up a discussion of the challenge implicit in folding responsibility into the science-risk-thrill mix. What’s more, they found time to discuss the “science” behind proposals to build 300-m-high walls across vast stretches of the central United States to reduce tornado risk, identify a WXGeek-of-the-week (might have that title wrong!), and maintain weather-on-the-eights.

A forecast: what’s going to keep this programming interesting over the long haul (months/years) will be the breadth of host Marshall Shepherd’s scientific interests and expertise, his personal and professional integrity, and his positive energy and enthusiasm. Many of us were raised from childhood with sci-fi/adventure storybook heroes such as Tom Swift. In whatever he turned his hand to, young Tom Swift prospered.  Marshall Shepherd is as close as we come in real life to such a person. In this WXGeeks context, he seemed totally at ease, as if he’d been in the role for months.

Next week: guest Jason Samenow and a look at social media.

An issue to be (re?)visited sometime down the road… As shows such as WXGeeks mature, they have opportunity every year or so to revisit topics of universal appeal such as storm chasing, and dig deeper with respect to some of the particulars. Consider, for example, the issue of responsibility. On air, this was largely framed as a matter of reducing risky behavior and thereby maintaining meteorology’s good name. Storm chasers, if not careful, can themselves create a need for emergency response.

But lurking behind this concern is a larger one; storm chasers, particularly in large numbers, can interfere with emergency response in support of the larger public. So far, this concern is largely anecdotal (e.g., thoughts from this weather-ready Oklahoma cab driver-cum- emergency responder back in December of 2011), but it’s likely to grow with time. Science is one thing, but there’s something unsettling about tourists high-fiving each other at a tornado sighting while people nearby are losing their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods. In an interdependent society, there may be a limit to allowing such traffic to clog roads in ways that interfere, however slightly, with emergency responders on call. Youtube video (this clip, or something like it, was shown on air yesterday) gives a feel for the numbers of people who can be storm-chasing near a big event, in this case the El Reno tornado.

Fast-forward in your mind to a future in which most cars are Google cars or some equivalent; that is, robotic/computer controlled. Will these cars, which presumably will not simply incorporate the positions and actions of the nearest few cars but also build larger situational awareness of traffic and weather conditions into their decision making, allow you to chase tornadoes? In such a future, regulation and licensing of tornado-chasing will almost surely follow and grow increasingly stringent. (And, for that matter, what options the car designs and the law will allow owner-operators with respect to evacuation in the face of a tornado threat is equally problematic.)

As these hypotheticals become reality, we can anticipate that WXGeeks (and perhaps imitators) will be there.

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Flocking behavior: implications for communicating with one voice

How important is it for meteorologists to “communicate with one voice?” What does that phrase mean in the context of our community? And if communicating with one voice is desirable, how might we go about it? A July 17 LOTRW post opened up that discussion, by suggesting that the idea of a single voice might be slightly relaxed. Instead of insisting on a foghorn monotone, the meteorological community might aim for something analogous to so-called ensemble forecasting or the harmony implicit in music with multiple instruments and voices.


Before proceeding further, here’s an additional analogy supporting the same idea: the swarming behavior of insects, schools of fish, and birds. Few sights are more beautiful. Those attempting to model swarming behavior on computers have found they can simulate the observed behavior by requiring that the individuals in the flock or swarm operate on three simple rules:

Separation – avoid crowding neighbors (short range repulsion)

Alignment – steer towards average heading of neighbors

Cohesion – steer towards average position of neighbors (long range attraction)

Perhaps something similar goes on when members of a group try to develop a collective voice:

Separation. Birds in flight want to avoid mid-air collisions. In the same way, members of any community continue to maintain a certain degree of individuality. Companies, universities, and public-sector agencies at every level of government all have a branding or identity that they want to protect within any form of collective voice. Each has a distinctive character/niche/special edge that is the basis for its value proposition, its raison d’etre, relative to others in its sector, and relative to the community writ large. Some government agencies are regulatory; others more research oriented. Some aerospace companies would prefer to sell hardware; others might prefer to sell data and/or information. University departments and schools showcase different strengths tied to location or historical precedent. Uniformity has its limits.

Alignment. Just as birds in flocks match speeds and flight direction locally, members of a community find themselves propelled by external circumstances and internal motivations in roughly the same direction. They share common interests and joint goals. In the case of meteorology, for example, we want to better serve a weather-sensitive public (safety in the face of hazards for society as a whole, and segment-by-segment help for agribusiness, energy, transportation, and water resource management sectors). Toward that end we share common need for public and/or government support for meteorological observations, science, and other infrastructure. We also need K-12 schooling that provides both a general ability among the population to use meteorological information, and an educational foundation for the smaller group wishing to pursue meteorology and its applications as a profession. We’ll find ourselves naturally giving voice to these common concerns.

Cohesion. In flocks, no single bird ever remains in charge; instead all are flying in a general way that maintains the flock. Outliers risk being picked off by predators or court other problems. In the same way, individual meteorologists, firms, agencies, and universities find it in their best interests to be aware of what others in the community are thinking, saying, deciding, and doing. As a rule, they don’t stray too far from that set of central set of ideals that comprise the discipline. This behavior is not imposed from some top-down command and control. The members of the group, whether bird or meteorologist, are largely self-policing. It’s to their advantage to be viewed as team players (as well as competitors, in that marvelous ambiguity of natural selection) unless the incentives for breaking rank are compelling.

This latter qualifier matters. Innovation happens. It just doesn’t lead to isolation so much as a new direction for the entire community (flock)… and a change in the community voice reflecting that new reality.

To an outside viewer, a flock of birds has a clear identity. It’s clear who’s out and who’s in. That’s not so obvious with the meteorologists, or any other professional group. Meteorologists and their institutions belong to multiple, diverse communities. This shows in their goals, their thought processes, and their communication.

That draws us back to the first feature of cohesion. No single bird is in charge. To draw an analogy, the function of a professional society such as the AMS may be less to serve as a voice for that community and more as a way (one of several) to identify that group… and provide a venue for discussion and debate. When we see birds flock, we also hear their cries. While it’s clear as they call or sing out that they belong to the same species, these voices aren’t necessarily reflecting unanimity. Their actions are speaking louder than their words.

The same is probably true for meteorologists who aspire to speak in one voice.

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Grandmother of the Year.

Here’s how you get nominated for Grandmother of the Year, in my book. On Thursday, a sunny, uncharacteristically cool and dry summer’s day in DC (reflecting, we’re told, at least by some, the magic of the “polar vortex”), you don’t just take the grandsons to the zoo, or the swimming pool, or the Mall, or out for burgers and milkshakes. Too ordinary. Too ho-hum. Instead, you head them out to (drumroll, wait for it…) the Fairfax County landfill down in Lorton, Virginia.


There you have them meet a guide for the two-hour tour you’ve arranged specifically for them.


The boys see where waste of different types is captured: “white goods,”

discarded automobile tires,
IMG_20140717_105416_001construction debris (in hundred-foot-high hills)
IMG_20140718_140141and bagged waste, each headed for a different fate (and different still from recyclables, which are taken to other sites).

The boys visit the Fairfax County energy-from-waste facility where automated, remotely-controlled robots claw whole loads of trash from an unending line of trucks, feeding an incinerator with an insatiable appetite (3000 tons every 24 hours).


Some background:

The I-95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility, operating as Covanta Fairfax, Inc., began commercial operation in June 1990. It is Covanta’s largest facility, processing more than 3,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste for a population of more than 900,000 in the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Fairfax County, Virginia. The facility sells over 80 megawatts of renewable energy to Dominion Virginia Power Company, enough energy to meet the needs of over 80,000 homes. It is the first Covanta facility to have a non-ferrous metal recovery system.

The boys see where millions of pounds of ash from the incinerator are dumped daily and capped with a very-low-density polyethylene (VLDPE) liner.


Meanwhile, over the two hours, the guide recounts the history,


going back to the time that the landfill and the Lorton prison co-existed on the site, where methane buildup began to permeate the correctional facility until December 3, 1984 when someone lit a match triggering an explosion. A repeat event occurred on December 6, three days later, killing one inmate and injuring another.

If you’re Grammy, you follow that by going with the boys out to the surrounding landfills… grass-covered mounds more than 150-feet high (and extending down another 60 feet) dating back to the 1960’s and 1970’s, where enough methane is being captured to meet the electrical-power requirements of another 6000 families (the February 2006 issue of GeoTimes provides a nice discussion of this). And you take a picture:


showing the three of you, and catching sight of one of the pipes drawing out the methane from the field, with the incinerator/power generation facility in the background, which you e-mail to the old man.

THAT’s what I’m talking about! An LOTRW moment: resource needs (20% of the power needed for homes in Fairfax County) and environmental protection (700-fold reduction in waste volume and 7-fold reduction in waste weight) accomplished simultaneously. Public education: a younger generation gaining a bit better feel for the scale and complexity of the waste disposal issue. Against a backdrop of manmade and natural extreme events, such as the explosions and the disruption occasioned by heavy rainfalls such as the three inches of rain on the site that preceded our recent drop in temperature.

My wife… definitely grandmother of the year.

And those two boys, smiling for the entire two hours and not just for the photo? Candidates for grandsons of the year… despite stiff competition from the two in Colorado.


A shout-out to Fairfax County and to Wayne Blake-Hedges, environmental specialist/engineering there, for their good work over the years, and for guiding everyone around and taking the fullest measure of a teachable moment.

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Speak with one voice? Or vive la différence?

The meteorological community occasionally wrings its hands at “our failure to speak with one voice.”

It would really be interesting to hear your (likely differing) voices on this topic! In hopes of stimulating such a discussion, here’s a perspective to focus minds, or (should you prefer a grittier metaphor) to serve as a target. Please join the discussion/post a comment.

Concerns about reaching consensus are as old as meteorology itself, but have mounted as the topic of conversation has turned from meteorology per se to related issues of weather impacts on society, the contributions of science to policy, and the national policy for science (including but by no means limited to federal R&D budgets). Talk of a need for consensus has grown particularly poignant since the release of the NAS/NRC Fair Weather Report of 2003. The report, a singular milestone for our community, suggested, inter alia:

“Recommendation 3. The NWS and relevant academic, state, and private organizations should seek a neutral host, such as the American Meteorological Society, to provide a periodic dedicated venue for the weather enterprise as a whole to discuss issues related to the public-private partnership.”

Meteorologists and the AMS have taken that particular recommendation to heart. Just one example, but a singular one: ever since then, they’ve held an annual Summer Community Meeting . [A brief infomercial: This year’s meeting is scheduled for State College, Pennsylvania August 11-13. Every topic is on the table, and it’s not too late for you join in! Just click on the link to check out the agenda, register, and then you too can play a part.] The meetings have been valuable, and increasingly so over the years. Today they’re just the tip of the iceberg of a growing web of communication and collaboration that now goes on between meetings. The joint is jumping.

Note that the NAS/NRC stopped short of recommending that the meteorological community speak with a single voice. Even back then, they recognized the community was probably too diverse for that… that what we needed most was opportunity and means to discuss our differences internally. Community members hold divergent views on climate change; on risk communication; on journal purviews; on big-versus-small meetings and conferences; on whether the government should buy observing hardware or purchase data streams. We can find reason to hold spirited exchanges on virtually any topic.

That said, on many occasions and with respect to a number of subjects, it’s valuable and important to be able have a process for closing ranks (or conclude that such closure is either unnecessary or unattainable). This may be particularly true when we’re not dialoging among ourselves, but rather with the larger public. Consider questions such as the following: why are forecasts sometimes different from provider to provider? What are our priorities for observations? For research? For services? How can we foster public safety in the face of weather hazards? What do we need from STEM education? What do we know about geoengineering? When discussing these matters with close colleagues, it’s well and good to be exploratory, to surface conjecture, to identify and debate views, etc. As the discussion expands to take in a wider range of publics, those newcomers to the conversation may find these distinctions confusing or off-putting.

So the question is, how controlled should our message be? Where should it lie on a scale with the Tower of Babel (as depicted here by Pieter Breugel the Elder):


at one extreme


and a foghorn monotone at the other?

Here are two examples – one from the world of meteorology, and one from the world of music – that might stimulate thought:

Spaghetti charts. (LOTRW has blogged on this before). Weather forecasters construct such spaghetti charts or diagrams (aptly named) by juxtaposing different numerical forecasts… in this instance, for the track of hurricane Sandy back in October of 2012.

sandy spaghetti

The ensemble of such tracks may be derived from a single numerical weather prediction model by introducing a small bit of noise into the initial conditions or by compiling results from independent numerical models. The charts either look well-defined or present a hodge-podge depending upon the sensitivity of the forecast to the initial conditions or model assumptions. In the current figure, it’s easy to see a consensus that Sandy would turn inland somewhere around New Jersey, but several runs showed the hurricane moving instead out to sea.

By analogy, when people ask different members of our community about specific issues or topics, and encounter a range of responses, they can surmise there’s considerable uncertainty or difference of opinion. If instead they find the responses to be relatively similar, that suggests community consensus. Responses that are generally similar with the exception of a clear outlier or two don’t destroy the notion of consensus so much as they make a statement or offer insights about the people or institutions proffering the wildly different views. This picture suggests that our community might reasonably be relaxed when individual members exercising considerable variation in their views on just about any topic.

Harmony. Imagine trying to perform Handel’s Messiah in a single voice. Which would you choose? The bass part? Tenor? Alto? Soprano? The result would be the palest shadow of a magnificent piece of music. What matters as much as any single voice is the harmony of the whole – how it all fits together. When meteorologists offer diverse positions on any topic, but it’s evident to the hearers that the community is in general accord, or singing from the same score (substitute your own choice of metaphor here), then it’s easy and natural to grasp both the core essentials of the message and the nuance.

In conclusion, then, perhaps we ought to see communication – even communication of risk in the face of hazards, where the historic emphasis has been placed on strict discipline – as ensembles (spaghetti charts), or harmony-laced musical scores, rather than narrowly monotonic messages. By the way, with today’s ubiquitous social networking most publics are more accustomed to and comfortable with getting their messages in this mode. They/we live and function in an information soup… and it’s a wonderfully thick and nutritious information soup… versus the thin (information) gruel my generation was raised on.

The key ingredient to the information soup, the secret sauce, is harmony. When others hear our separate messages and experience harmony, they can accommodate a range of views. They’ll linger. They’ll pitch in. But if they look at our community and find discord, invective, backbiting, or condemnation, then they’ll look for an excuse to walk (or run) away.

Going back to that music analogy, jazz might be an even better example than classical music. Musicians have little more than a card reminding them they’re playing A Train, not Basin Street Blues. No two performances are ever the same. And if jazz is too complicated, let’s go back to something you likely remember from childhood, and I remember from parenting young children: Sesame Street’s High, Middle, Low.

Worth a listen… and like most Sesame Street wisdom, worth taking to heart, whether child or grownup. You might give it two minutes, let it take you back… :)


[Note: I hope – but sadly can’t promise! – to explore this topic further in subsequent posts. Next up would be a look at an example where the AMS does speak with one voice now: our statements.]

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Tim Palmer awarded the IOP 2014 Dirac Gold Medal.

The Institute of Physics has awarded Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford its 2014 Dirac Gold Medal for theoretical physics, for the development of probabilistic weather and climate prediction systems.”

tim palmer

Most LOTRW readers won’t be familiar with the Dirac Gold Medal. Here’s the background:

[IOP] Council, recognising that the Institute did not have an open award specifically for theoretical physics, decided in 1985 to introduce a new medal and prize to be named after P A M Dirac an Honorary Fellow, who had died the previous year. The first award was made in 1987. In 1992 Council decided that the Dirac medal and prize should become one of its Premier Awards and then from 2008 that it should be one of its Gold medals.

Terms The award shall be made annually for outstanding contributions to theoretical (including mathematical and computational) physics. The medal shall be silver gilt and shall be accompanied by a prize of £1000 and a certificate.

The fuller IOP citation for Professor Palmer’s award is crisp, and would lose some of its punch if shortened further; it’s therefore reprinted here in its entirety:

During the last three decades, Palmer has led in a revolution in the fields of weather and climate by establishing a physical basis for understanding nonlinear error growth in prediction models and for developing practical ways of estimating flow-dependent predictability. He has challenged old ideas and has changed the way that weather and climate are viewed both by the public, by associates in the same field, and by scientists in other disciplines.

Palmer’s work in weather and climate predictions is a beautiful blend of theoretical insight and practicality. Based on his insights into chaotic behaviour of fluids, he has created a system that gives the wealthy and the poorest of the poor throughout the world a determination of the probability of drought, flood, tropical cyclones or hydro-meteorological hazards in general. This probability has allowed them to determine their levels of risk and, if worthwhile, allows them to instigate mitigation. For example, Palmer’s probabilistic predictions have been used in Bangladesh where, for the first time, societies can anticipate slow-rise, long-lived floods. The savings for the mitigating actions in Bangladesh are of the order of annual incomes.

Normally, the societal benefits of ideas take a long time to permeate to the practical level. But Palmer, having practical applications in mind, has formed an almost immediate link between his theoretical insights and practical applications.

Very nice, on every level.

A closing note. For the most part, meteorology and related AMS disciplines are accurately described as applied sciences. We take results of mathematics, or the laws of physics, or chemistry, etc., as given. We apply what is known to our field. It’s only a tiny minority of our community, a few extraordinary individuals, who can tinker productively with the basic premises and fundamental physical understanding that underpins our work. As the IOP Dirac Gold Medal award attests, Professor Palmer[1] fits comfortably into that elite group.


[1] Professor Palmer is an AMS Fellow and winner of the Charney (1997) and Rossby (2010) Medals.


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All together now, WXGeeks: 1…2…3…view.

The Weather Channel announced today that beginning this Sunday, July 20, at noon EDT, it will begin a new weekly television broadcast series, WXGeeks. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

For scientists, policy makers, emergency managers and fans of meteorology, it’s hard to remember a time in the weather community as interesting or as complex as this one. Today, The Weather Channel®  is announcing “Weather Geeks” – a televised forum by and for the weather community. Whether it be mitigating against drought, chemtrails and HAARP; debating machines vs. humans in weather forecasting; or discussing the pros and cons of storm chasing — Weather Geeks will seek to tackle the issues that are top of mind in the weather community but rarely explored in depth on television.  

Weather Geeks will premiere on Sunday, July 20, at noon ET on The Weather Channel network and will air weekly in that time slot. The show will be hosted by Dr. Marshall Shepherd, past president of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric sciences program.


Marshall Shepherd had this to say:

“One of the greatest aspects of my involvement with AMS and our community as a whole is the opportunity to hear the best minds in our field discuss the most pressing issues in weather. Our vision is for Weather Geeks to be a weekly forum for those types of discussions, and I am looking forward to inviting scientists from across the weather community to be a part of the show.”

For its part, TWC management added:

“The opportunity to have Dr. Shepherd as a regular contributor and host made this an ideal opportunity to create a national platform for a discussion of weather issues. We recognize that we play a role in a much larger community and we felt an obligation to set aside air time for that community to come together and share ideas and expertise.”  

The highly-regarded, preternaturally thoughtful, and uniquely telegenic Marshall Shepherd, a former AMS President, teaming up with The Weather Channel? Sounds like must-see viewing for those interested in digging a little deeper into weather’s biggest stories.

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Just say “no” to condemnation

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous created and passed along the following graphic in reponse to the July 15 LOTRW post on Condemnation…HIV-style criticism. With my thanks, I’m posting it here:

simply commit

Says it all.

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Condemnation… HIV-type criticism

Judge not… – Jesus (Matthew 7:1a, NIV)

A tangle of threads from the latter part of last week provide the starting point for some reflections over the past weekend:

- Thursday the world was saddened by the re-emerging story of a 4-year-old Mississippi girl. She’d been HIV-positive when born but thought to have been cured by aggressive therapies during the first 18 months of her life. Recent blood tests reveal the virus has returned. Words can’t begin to capture the grief here.

- News media covered the developing story of House Republican plans to sue the president: we’re told the lawsuit will focus on the administration’s decision to postpone the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that large employers provide health insurance for their workers. An energized House is passing innovative legislation to make this suit possible. Members of the House are also blaming the president for the immigration crisis posed by a sudden influx of undocumented children at our southern border; for warfare in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza; and for more national ills.

- My pre-dawn reading Thursday chanced across some words on the damaging effects of criticism and condemnation.

- A DC-savvy colleague of many years shared later that day that he’d never seen the politics in Washington so polarized, divisive and toxic, and said that it was “going to get even worse before it gets better.”


First, the Mississippi tragedy. The disease’s return for the little girl stems from the nature of the human-immune-deficiency (HIV) virus, responsible for acquired-immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV has proven resistant to anti-retroviral therapies because it mutates rapidly in response to conventional treatments. Other viruses present less of a moving target to the body’s own immune system and to pharmaceuticals used to attack them. Please hold this thought.

Next, the impact of criticism and condemnation. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California (who also held visiting appointments at UCLA and the University of Colorado) had this to say in his 1997 book, The Divine Conspiracy: rediscovering our hidden life in God:

…what is it, exactly, that we do when we condemn someone? When we condemn another we really communicate that he or she is, in some deep and possibly irredeemable way, bad – bad as a whole, and to be rejected. In our eyes the condemned is among the discards of human life. He or she is not acceptable. We sentence that person to exclusion. Surely we can learn to live well and happily without doing that. [emphasis added]

Mr. Willard expounds on this and its implications for several pages, every last bit of which is worth the read. His bottom line? Condemnation and criticism have terrible effects on us mentally and spiritually, whether we’re on the receiving end or (even) dishing it out. Psychologically, it’s as if we’ve been hit by a virus.

Political analysts and historians remind us of what we know to be true from personal experience: the criticism virus has been infecting those of us in Washington, DC for a long time. The reality is that the disease is not confined inside the Beltway. And it’s not confined to politicians. It infects the commercial world. Scientists – yes, even scientists! – also carry it. We all suffer from the malady. And it’s congenital; like that young child from Mississippi, we’re born with it.

But the state of politics in today’s Washington (the remaining two bullets in the list above) suggests that the virus now epidemic across Washington is a new and especially dangerous strain. It’s more a condemnation virus than a criticism virus; for purposes here, following the practice of our medical brethren, let’s label it the C-2 virus versus C-1.

(With some oversimplification), past political criticism was more about ideas, about policies. It stemmed from political differences about the best ways and means to maintain common values and shared ends. Congressman from both parties left their families back in their home districts, and when in Washington shared dormitory rooms near the Capitol. They played golf together on weekends. They bonded and built inter-personal trust even as they disagreed on policy matters.

Today’s political debates cut far deeper. Social change has members of Congress living with their families (a good thing!), going back to their constituencies on weekends (also good) versus staying here with their Congressional brethren (a tradition that’ll be missed). Trust is in corresponding measure endangered. Compromise is on the wane; combat is on the rise. The combatants (no longer mere debaters) tell us that their opponents are not just wrong-footed; they’re evil. They’re lawbreakers, guilty of pre-meditated crimes and impeachable offenses. They tell us that legislation needs an overlay of litigation.

The C-2 virus has much in common with HIV; by comparison, it makes the C-1 virus look like the common cold or at worst, the flu. Like HIV, C-2 is dangerous in three ways:

Deadly. First of all, C-2 looks to be lethal. Those infected believe that opponents must never be allowed to look effective or be seen to be making progress on any issue, whether immigration, or foreign policy, or health care, or national security, critical infrastructure, or jobs, or education and innovation. Both parties no longer see their task as to work for accommodation and compromise to identify and implement the best middle paths to these issues. Instead they obsess with setting up the party in power for failure (whether that party controls the White House, or the Senate, or the House of Representatives, for in fact this malady is bi-partisan). For example, Senate obstructionists work to ensure that the ranks of executive and judicial branches remain perpetually hollowed out, without a full complement of duly-selected leaders at the top. If that means that the country makes no progress on any national priorities for the next two or four or even six years, then so be it. If that means sacrificing America’s place in the world – as a financial or military superpower, or more importantly as the keeper of certain widely admired values, or even a national neighbor who can be relied upon in time of global crisis rather than tied up in domestic gridlock, then that’s how it must be.

Mutating. The obsession with condemnation is sweeping, and swiftly hops from issue to issue as each comes to public focus. There’s little concern with consistency; leaders of every stripe are criticized for inaction and then, when they do act, are criticized for their action. If they fail to consult, they’re criticized for being unresponsive; if they consult, they’re criticized for waffling or being indecisive. Every national concern, every political issue, is aggressively studied – less with an eye toward how it might be solved, but more in the hopes that it will open a new avenue for condemnation.

Taxing the immune system. As a result, every celebrity, every corporate leader, every political leader in the public eye with a job to do and a reputation to protect has had to put an increasing amount of his/her resources into building an apparatus for damage control – in effect, building the political equivalent of an immune system. That damage control can’t be confined to print news, or broadcast or cable television, or the internet and its range of social media. It’s got to deal with all the criticism and condemnation, instantaneously, and over the long haul. Small wonder that presidential press secretaries and their counterparts in every other arena experience burnout and walk away.

We’re all into condemnation: you, me, everyone we know, all seven billion of us. We suffer from C-2, we’re carriers of C-2, and we infect others with it. [In the spirit of not adding any further condemnation, let me emphasize: I’m not criticizing this state of affairs; just saying.]

Like HIV (at the moment), there’s no cure for C-2. But like HIV, there is a coping strategy. HIV is held at bay worldwide not so much because of retrovirals but because medical communities and governments have communicated the risk and built awareness of risky behaviors: unprotected sex, sharing needles in drug use, and more: actions that are largely under our control.

In the case of C-2, all you and I have to do is simply commit to not condemning others. Easier said than done, but again, largely under our control. And worth the effort, because when and if we step aside from condemning others, then their condemnation of us loses its control over our lives and spirit. And if we lapse (and we will), no matter; we simply recommit to such tolerance and acceptance, and start anew.

Good news for the rest of the week.

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