The answer, my friend, is Blowin’ in the wind.

Weather forecasting is inherently difficult; in the past, meteorologists used to be chastised (often gleefully so), when their forecasts went awry,[1] for their failure to “look out the window.”

Back in the day, the critics referred to the literal window’s literal view – which might reveal blowing snow, or wind or hail, or their opposite, a bright sunny sky – in contradiction to the forecast du jour. But today, meteorologists are expected to know what’s happening outside a metaphorical window. They asked not just to predict the atmosphere’s physical state, but its impact on society – on the evening commute, on the safety of flood-prone areas, on the integrity of built structures, on an agricultural crop, and more.

To provide their impact-based decision support in light of these broader, yet place-based needs – to make so-called actionable forecasts – meteorologists have discovered the need for additional input, this time not from physical scientists and technologists, but from social sciences. In particular, the current preoccupation extends beyond more detailed observations and enhanced numerical modeling to the science of (mass) risk communication.

So far, so good. But these days, there’s an extra level/degree of difficulty. To look out that virtual window is to see “stormy weather” – a world in tumult, a world in a season of challenge, dysfunction and conflict. Challenge? Endemic poverty and social injustice. Raging pandemics. Climate change. Dysfunction? Polarized governments, not just in the United States, but across the world. Governments that have forgotten or choose to ignore their legitimacy and purpose, as captured by the Declaration of Independence: to secure (unalienable) rights…instituted and deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Conflict? Mass shootings. Terrorism. Racism. War. Weather and climate forecasts are daily consulted for their possible bearing on any or all of conduct and outcomes of this social storm as well as for their more quotidian, “fair weather” purpose.

These challenges span the whole of human aspiration and the world’s agenda. What’s more, they share a common feature; they are wicked problems. That is, they offer little in the way of real solutions. Instead, they demand continuing coping strategies from a variety of sources. All, to one degree or another, are shaped by influenced by our generous, dangerous, fragile planet. We will never see the back of these issues. This combines to frustrate meteorologists, who know their services are of greatest value when providing incremental advice to, tweaking the actions of, otherwise equitable, functional societies. Equity and justice and the stability they can bring are nowhere to be found.

A society verging on chaos and riven by perceived and real injustice requires of meteorologists a deeper level of risk comm, one that touches on core values at individual and societal levels. To be salient and effective in meeting the needs of such a world requires help from the humanities and even the spiritual disciplines.

Where to look for such insights? Well, poetry is one field that comes to mind. Fact is, many nations, states, and other entities have established the institution of the poet laureate – a poet retained by the state to commemorate special occasions (or issues or circumstances their society faces, as seen through the lens of the artist).

Today’s meteorological community has no such formally-acknowledged position, but should it establish one, perhaps it would help to have a few criteria in mind when selecting an incumbent. For example, we might prefer a poet who used meteorological metaphor. To use the vernacular of the oenologist, that would the poetry’s“terroir.” All else being equal, we might favor a poet and poetry that had “notes of prediction“ – and it would be best if those predictions verified, held true, for substantial periods of time (just as wine of a good vintage improves with age). Finally, the poetry – just like the meteorological forecasts – needs to be useful, appealing to diverse audiences.

Speaking of notes, perhaps poetry set to music would be best. After all, if the poetry is to be relevant and real to today’s daunting times, it will necessarily hold both lament and warning. In the same breath, however, it can’t just foster despair; it should also embolden and encourage. Music has this magic.

Some may feel that these multiple requirements have left us with a null set. But here’s an existence theorem – a name demonstrating that the set contains at least one member:

Bob Dylan.

As proof of a sort, consider this song, whose origins go back to the spring and summer of 1962: Blowin’ in the wind.

In the title and throughout the text, brimming with weather metaphor. Offering both lament and warning. In many ways, as fresh on its 60th anniversay as it was at its genesis. And continuing to invite, even demand, wide, diverse interpretation. Whatever your background or personal preferences, you’ll find a resonant thought or two in the lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

As an exercise, if your schedule today permits, you might try reading through these verses a time or two. Then access the song either here or through your favorite app, and give it a listen. Or two or three. In background? Better than nothing. But for the fuller experience, perhaps pause what you’re doing. Take time to savor Mr. Dylan offers here. Listen, along with him, to the blowing wind. Ponder its answer.

See if it doesn’t help you put your present task, whatever you’re about, in perspective. See if it doesn’t make you a bit more strategic (and therefore more effective) in your efforts to make the world a bit safer in the face of weather hazards and a bit more adept at seizing weather’s benefits. Maybe, just maybe, this exercise may even make you a bit more hopeful throughout the rest of the day. (For extra credit, identify and put forth your own candidate for meteorology’s poet laureate, along with a sample of their oeuvre.)

Salud!


[1]a much rarer circumstance these days than when I entered the field more than half a century ago

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Science Convergence in an Inclusive and Diverse World

The previous LOTRW post noted a new, and welcome, Sigma Xi initiative. From the Sigma Xi website:

The Scientific Research Honor Society announces plans to hold the first International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE) November 3–6, 2022. The four-day conference will welcome scientists, engineers, students, artists, and supporters of science worldwide to participate in discussions and demonstrations of excellence in the research enterprise. Attendees will be invited to present, connect, and collaborate on diverse ideas through symposia, panels, workshops, and networking sessions. The hybrid event will be held in-person in Alexandria, Virginia, as well as online.

The theme for IFoRE ’22 is “Science Convergence in an Inclusive and Diverse World.”
[Emphasis added.] Attendees will take part in a variety of multi-track sessions that explore the strength of scientific research when diverse minds converge as well as ideas that conquer the challenges of increasing equity and inclusion in the research community.

Science convergence (alternatively convergence research) is certainly a popular notion these days. The National Science Foundation has been one of the leaders in this charge. They provide this description: Convergence research is a means of solving vexing research problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation.

Similarly, the current world attention to diversity and inclusion is also badly-needed and long overdue – and not just in the research community.

All this prompts a few initial thoughts:

On convergence. To draw from my own background, most geoscientists and Earth scientists are keenly aware that their work has always been multidisciplinary. To paraphrase the country singer Barbara Mandrell (with apologies): “geosciences were convergent when convergence wasn’t cool.” Taking meteorology as an example: the question what makes weather? has long been wedded to the forecast problem what will the weather do next? Improving the answer to both has required drawing from a mishmash of disciplines – mathematics, physics, chemistry, even a bit of biology (as for example, in examining the role of plant transpiration in moisture supply to the atmosphere over land surfaces). And all that is before we come to the questions of what makes the weather matter? and how might we better capture its opportunities and protect ourselves from its threats? These bring in the social sciences and more. The progress of meteorology has been tied less to the notion of convergence as an ideal than it has to the quick-and-dirty application of whatever scientific disciplines have been found to be useful or needed. These have all been incorporated into meteorology well before the idea of convergence became a thing. (Parenthetically, meteorologists have given priority to the problem to be solved at some expense of their reputation and standing among the pantheon of science disciplines. Good for meteorologists.)

That means that meteorology and other geosciences (and other fields, such as medicine or social science) might be viewed as more akin to engineering than to science. That’s reflected in the reality that meteorologists, hydrologists, et al., are more fully populated in the National Academy of Engineering than in the National Academy of Sciences. Convergence is a means to an end as well as an end in itself, as implied by the NSF text above. A challenge for Sigma Xi is to address and balance both.

On inclusion and diversity. Like convergence itself, these ideals are both a means to an end and a desirable end in themselves. The hopes and aspirations of eight billion people can be realized only to the extent that all share equitably in (1) opportunity to contribute to the progress of science and innovation, and (2) access to, and benefit from the results of that progress. Sigma Xi is right to give this emphasis.

As a step in this direction, what is Sigma Xi planning, or how might it plan to engage other scientific and professional societies in its initial and multi-year IFoRE efforts? And are those other societies (thinking personally of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union that have played so great a role in my own career as examples) taking corresponding steps to contribute? (Addressing my own community here) If not, we should be. Being intentional and strategic about such engagement now could greatly enrich and accelerate IFoRE impact.

On bench-level scientists as participants versus spectators. A reexamination of what makes research “excellent” in light of urgent societal needs as well as the progress of disciplines per se is certainly called for. Periodically hearing from a handful of high-profile speakers at annual conferences – giving their reflections a wider platform – will ennoble us all. But social scientists (and our parents) remind us we learn best by doing. That suggests explicit attention to a second question that could be raised in every science sphere, at multiple levels (individual, institutional, programmatic; local as well as national and global): how can this particular bit of science in this discipline or area of application or local place be made “more excellent?”

Such incremental improvement at the margins is the quotidian stuff of journal peer review, of exchange at professional meetings, of laboratory program reviews – an already (if imperfectly) diverse and inclusive set of activities across the sciences. These have as their aim more-excellent science and they are well underway. They have their established traditions shaped by trial-and-error experience. It’s part of the basic hygiene of science.

That said, it could all stand some improvement. Attention to ways and means to enhance these processes should accompany focus on the bigger picture. And it’s a path to fostering the desired diversity and inclusion, especially the inclusion of early-career scientists.

At such local levels, seeking to make science “more excellent” at the margins, and doing what scientists do best – experimenting, accompanied by early detection of success and failure, and sharing of those findings in both Sigma Xi and other science and professional societies? That would surely make for a better world – at the rapid pace matching the urgent needs emerging across today’s world. That, and nothing less, is what’s at stake with IFoRE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sigma Xi looks to refine and update concepts of science excellence. Bravo!

Alvin Weinberg 1915-2008

The new initiative comes at the right time – and from a welcome direction.

But few today may know or remember that half a century ago, Alvin Weinberg, then a Sigma Xi member, offered a personal perspective on the subject. Even today, his essay provides a useful starting point for further thought. Digging deeper…

The new Sigma Xi Initiative.

On March 7 of this year, Jamie Vernon, Executive Director and CEO of Sigma Xi, posted this on his Keyed In Blog:

Sigma Xi, the honor society for scientists and engineers, recognizes research excellence in all scientific disciplines and sectors of the research enterprise. The Society relies on its members worldwide to determine the qualifications for membership based on an individual’s scientific contributions. Generations of scientists and engineers have crossed this threshold of excellence to become members. However, the definition of scientific excellence has evolved in recent years. To bridge the divide between the scientific community and the expectations and needs of broader society, metrics associated with inclusivity, accessibility, and usability of science have emerged as critical factors in determining the value of scientific research. Later this year, researchers worldwide will have an opportunity to weigh in on these discussions at the inaugural International Forum on Research Excellence, powered by Sigma Xi.

Jamie Vernon’s fuller post contains links to additional material and is worth a thoughtful read in its entirety. The inaugural Sigma Xi forum is scheduled for November 3-6, with the in-person portion taking place here in the DC area. The high concentration of scientist-policy leaders here bodes well for such a launch. What’s more, Sigma Xi, by virtue of its mission, membership, and history, has much at stake, and much to bring to the table. And through its commitment to continuing the Forum Series at varying locations, Sigma Xi is positioning itself to play a uniquely valuable role going forward.  

Readers may be forgiven if they feel overwhelmed by the existing and rapidly growing literature on the topic. Such is the nature of the Information Age. That said, here’s yet another candidate for your attention.

Alvin Weinberg’s personal perspective.

Beginning on a personal note: over fifty years ago, I opened up my November-December issue of Sigma Xi’s journal, The American Scientist, to find an article by Alvin Weinberg entitled The Axiology of Science. A nuclear physicist, a leader of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory both during and after the Manhattan Project, a member of the President’s Science Advisory Commission under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and a DoE executive in several capacities in later years, Weinberg had an extraordinary career as a scientist and as a scientist administrator, at the highest levels of government and at a critical juncture in science and science policy in this country.

The JSTOR format in the link doesn’t lend itself to ready copying and pasting even small blocks of material, but to give you the flavor, here’s some (apologies, actually a bit of a laundry list) of what you’ll find there.

  • A definition of the axiology of science (including ethics and aesthetics, a theory of value)
  • A list of those who should care: practicing scientists, science administrators
  • Why axiology matters: for resource-allocation, setting academic curricula, etc.
  • A special problem of comparisons of value/merit across scientific fields
  • A catalog of implicit axiological attitudes toward science: pure is better than applied, general is better than particular, search is better than codification, paradigm-breaking is better than spectroscopy. (Weinberg doesn’t simply enumerate these, as I’ve done here; he dives into each in a bit of detail. And he doesn’t accept them uncritically, but identifies shortcomings)
  • Criteria for scientific choice: ripeness for exploitation, calibre of the practitioners (Weinberg sees these as distinct from those in the earlier category, relating more to resource-allocation aspect of decisions)
  • Fifty years ago, Weinberg was already arguing that the big picture assessments can’t be left to scientists alone, but must include the larger society. Accordingly, he identified three external-to-science criteria for making such decisions: technological merit, that is, the degree to which science advanced the possibilities of needed technologies; social merit, the degree to which science would meet a societal goal; and scientific merit, which he framed as the degree to which science “contributes to and illuminates neighboring fields.”
  • A wrap-up, including raising and discussion of several questions that Weinberg acknowledged were easier to pose than resolve
  • A plea for philosophers to weigh in.

To repeat, what’s provided here is to point you to Weinberg’s unfiltered, and complete thoughts. If you’re not already familiar with this piece, and if you care about the value, and values of science, you might want to read it. Maybe even reread it.

Several times.

Please do so. You’ll be struck by the crisp clarity of his writing. Savor his thought process. Admire his prescience – the extent to which the piece feels as on-point today as it did fifty years ago. But go further; note what seems dated (for example, lack of explicit attention to the inclusivity and accessibility of science). Visualize directions and opportunities for improvement. Going forward, commit to tracking the progress Sigma Xi will make. Or better yet, participate.

Shortly after I read (and reread) this paper in the early 1970’s, my government lab asked me to move from my bench-scientist post into a management role. My post-Weinberg brain helped me see that offer as an opportunity, instead of a mere distraction. Changed my life.

Sigma Xi’s new initiative promises to accomplish something similar in the minds of many early-career scientists and at that same time expand public engagement on the issues.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Supreme Court ponders EPA’s carbon dioxide authority.

Amid the current uproar over the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked Roe v. Wade scratchwork, it might be easy to lose sight of another ruling expected at the end of the Court’s 2021-2022 session – this on EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 emissions. The case, entitled simply West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, in fact pits attorneys-general from eighteen states and representatives from some major coal producers against the U.S. government and a similar array of backers – including several of the largest electric utilities, nearly 200 members of Congress, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others.

Go back to Monday, February 28th of this year. That day the plaintiffs made oral arguments that the 1970 Clean Air Act only allows the E.P.A. to regulate individual power plants, not the entire power sector.

The Times coverage from February highlighted two aspects of the case.

First:

At issue is a federal regulation that broadly governs emissions from power plants. But in a curious twist, the regulation actually never took effect and does not currently exist.

The legal wrangling began in 2015 when President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, his chief strategy to fight climate change. Citing its authority under the Clean Air Act, the Obama administration planned to require each state to lower carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector — primarily by replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and other clean sources. Electricity generation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, behind transportation.

But the Clean Power Plan was never implemented. After a barrage of lawsuits from Republican states and the coal industry, the Supreme Court put the program on hold. Once President Donald J. Trump took office, he instituted a new plan that was effectively the same as no regulation. But on the last full day of Mr. Trump’s presidency, a federal appeals court found that the Trump administration had “misconceived the law” and vacated the Trump plan. That cleared the way for the Biden administration to issue its own regulation, which it has yet to do.

It is highly unusual for the Supreme Court to take up a case that revolves around a hypothetical future regulation, legal experts said.

“Trying to figure out the contours of E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases when there’s no regulation being defended is just kind of a weird thing for the court to consider,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. “I was surprised when they took the case.”

Second, the ramifications of the case may extend well beyond the purview of the EPA and environmental issues per se. The Times coverage notes:

Conservatives have long argued that the executive branch routinely oversteps the authority granted by the Constitution in regulating all kinds of economic activity.

“This is really about a fundamental question of who decides the major issues of the day,” said Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia, speaking at an event in Washington earlier this month, ahead of his appearance before the Supreme Court on Monday. “Should it be unelected bureaucrats, or should it be the people’s representatives in Congress? That’s what this case is all about. It’s very straightforward.”…

…Legal experts on both sides said that they see it as the first of many cases that address the growing authority of federal agencies at a time when a gridlocked Congress has failed to pass new laws on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to gun control.

“Congress gets the fancy pins and nice offices because they’re supposed to legislate, but they don’t do it,” said Mr. Adler, the professor at Case Western Reserve University. “There has been a long trend of the executive branch trying to fill the gap left by Congress’s failure to act and each administration gets more aggressive on this than the previous one. And there’s this larger question of whether the courts should be OK with that.”

Presumably, despite the current distractions and upheaval, the Court remains hard at work on the internal deliberations that will lead to its ruling in West Virginia.

As the Times coverage emphasizes, it is understandably a bit unnerving to contemplate leaving decisions on such consequential, complex, value-laden issues as climate change in the hands of a relative few, no-matter how high minded, or carefully selected to be representative of the broader society. And these days our polarized society extends distrust to the institution of the Supreme Court itself. This morning’s Washington Post reports that environmental lawyers are apprehensive. They note that the Court’s apparent dismissive attitude towards precedent and conservatives’ general sense that government agencies tend to overreach together bode poorly for the climate change outcome. They sense that the Court may have short-term, opportunistic interest in using its current favorable makeup to make big changes now that will override any concerns that the Court will appear politicized. Environmental lawyers even express the fear that Massachusetts v. EPA, the 2007 case that established the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, might itself ultimately be overturned.

Sobering indeed. But perhaps readers caught Mr. Adler’s use of the word “courts” (plural). The April 23rd print edition of The Economist ran an article entitled Habeas Carbon that examined the increasingly important role of courts (domestic-US and worldwide), greatly accelerated by the Paris agreement of 2015. The article points out that the trend is likely to be sustained, for three reasons: numerous national commitments to the Paris agreement provide more targets for litigation; that early litigation has been successful; and increasing numbers of lawyers and activists, fed up with the slow pace of governmental response and street-level activism, are entering the legal fray. It’s encouraging to know that the climate change challenge is prompting multiple, diverse legal experiments, of every flavor. Early detection of success and failure in these experiments can accelerate the identification, refinement, and scale-up of effective legal- and policy-based approaches to the climate change question.

Further, these legal efforts are complemented by trends in another realm. Another article in that same print issue of The Economist points to a rise in activist-stockholder tweaking of corporate governance, at all levels, global, and small. For various reasons, corporate activism is growing more effective than it has been in the past. In response, corporate proxy battles are multiplying and at the same time increasingly focusing on “corporate purpose,” with environmental issues high on the agenda. Turns out as well, that for purely-business- as well as nobler reasons, private enterprise would like legal and policy clarity on environmental policies broadly. Within limits, corporations are more interested in long-term stability and clear-headed recognition of the need to decarbonize than they are about the policy particulars. That’s one reason many corporations are siding with the U.S. government in the West Virginia case.

The emergent properties of these trends are hard to discern, hard to control, and include negative as well as positive possible outcomes. But they also hold potential for rapid improvement. The world’s populations – all of us – are getting a great civics lesson. We’re debating issues that matter. Far better than obliviousness and ignorance. Far more reason for hope than despair, or even vexation.


 [WH1]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission weighs in on climate change.

For decades, Federal agencies – NOAA/DoC, DoE, DoI, EPA, NASA, NSF, and USDA among them – have been tasked with funding and conducting climate change research as well as developing associated technologies. The accumulated environmental intelligence has been used to guide US domestic policy formulation as well as US participation in the international IPCC process. Corporations, notably but by no means exclusively those in the energy sector, have been tracking (and in some cases contributing to) the scientific developments throughout the period, using the information to assess their climate-sensitive market positions and futures and adjust their strategic decisions and actions accordingly. In the process, businesses have varied in their enthusiasm for sharing such information with their stakeholders and their diligence in doing so.  

Transparency may not be simply left to corporate preference much longer. In 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is set to join the club of federal-agency actors. Its intent? To increase broadly the climate-risk information available to investors, and to level the playing field. In a statement dated March 21, SEC Chair Gary Gensler opened this way:

Today, the Commission is considering a proposal to mandate climate-risk disclosures by public companies. I am pleased to support today’s proposal because, if adopted, it would provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions and would provide consistent and clear reporting obligations for issuers. 

Over the generations, the SEC has stepped in when there’s significant need for the disclosure of information relevant to investors’ decisions. Our core bargain from the 1930s is that investors get to decide which risks to take, as long as public companies provide full and fair disclosure and are truthful in those disclosures. That principle applies equally to our environmental-related disclosures, which date back to the 1970s.

Today, investors representing literally tens of trillions of dollars support climate-related disclosures because they recognize that climate risks can pose significant financial risks to companies, and investors need reliable information about climate risks to make informed investment decisions. For example, investors with $130 trillion in assets under management have requested that companies disclose their climate risks.[1] Further, the 4,000-plus signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment—a group with a core goal of helping investors protect their portfolios from climate-related risks—manage more than $120 trillion as of July 2021.[2]

There’s more to this statement (which merits a thorough end-to-end read), and there’s a growing body of analysis on its significance, as corporations read the tea leaves. The fate of this SEC initiative is uncertain. Not all SEC commissioners are supportive or feel it necessary. And in the wider world, opinions also vary. For example, the Financial Times generally favors the idea, while the Wall Street Journal is skeptical.

Until now, investors have faced a frayed, thin patchwork quilt of information on which to base this aspect of their portfolio risk management. But the SEC has concluded that the climate-change stakes have been rising, and are now so high and so widespread across all economic sectors, that regulation is needed to protect the integrity of financial markets. They’ve concluded that in this area, as in so many others, openness is required to level the playing field for investors.   

All this has implications for the so-called Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, defined by the National Weather Service as follows: The Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, also known as the Weather Enterprise for short, is comprised of three main sectors that contribute to the science and application of weather and weather forecasting — academia, government, and America’s Weather and Climate Industry. Many firms will choose to develop their climate-risk business analyses in-house. But others will outsource the work to consulting firms. In either event, demand for professionals with the needed geosciences-business-financial expertise to carry out the required analyses will only grow.

Historical precedent from a half-century ago suggests how events might play out. The 1969  National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required a so-called environmental impact statement (EIS) accompany institutional or individual actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment”. An EIS describes environmental effects of a proposed action (whether negative or positive). Usually an EIS will also supply one or more alternatives to the proposed action. That Act and the 1970 establishment of EPA and NOAA by President Nixon transformed the private-sector weather and climate industry. Prior to that time, consulting meteorologists worked primarily as individuals or in small groups. But corporate need for help in the preparation of EISs led to the establishment and growth of large firms[1]. Private sector meteorology continues to grow until this day. It’s not hard to imagine that the greater complexity of assessing climate change risk to businesses and the higher dollar stakes would trigger a new growth spurt.

This poses opportunity and threat for current members of the Weather Enterprise. Companies will have to bulk up and restructure if they are to capture the new business. New startups can be expected to nimbly move in. At the other end of the spectrum, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others could decide the business opportunities have finally reached scale sufficient to be of interest. University departments will prosper to the extent they can educate and prepare early-career professionals for the new job opportunities. In many cases this will require that students master multiple disciplines and trans-disciplinary work, the harnessing of data analytics and artificial intelligence, and more. Information providers will be attempting closer, more sustained collaboration with information users. Domestic-business focus will give way to international reach. Professional societies will have to retool to keep pace with evolving member needs.

Whether or not this particular SEC initiative reaches fruition, the handwriting is on the wall. The stakes are existential. For all parties, under all scenarios, it’s time to think through the implications and act.


[1]Notably including Environmental Research&Technology, Inc., founded by James R. Mahoney in 1969. That firm was disestablished in the 1980’s but in its heyday employed some 700 workers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The U.S. Senate introduces a TORNADO Bill

[A tip of the hat to Taylor Cox, a meteorologist at KOCO in Oklahoma City, for bringing this legislation to my attention a few days ago. You can find her post here.] Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the Tornado Observation Research Notification and Deployment to Operations (TORNADO)[1] Act, “To improve the forecasting and understanding of tornadoes and other hazardous weather, and for other purposes.” Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined in.

An accompanying press release from the offices of Senators Grassley and Ernst added this: The TORNADO Act would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to update its methods for communicating alerts to residents in the surrounding areas… [The Act] seeks to simplify, update, and improve forecasting technology and infrastructure. The legislation would also require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to review technical infrastructure problems that have delayed life-saving alerts…

…After a tornado outbreak took seven lives earlier this month, the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed technical issues caused some delay in disseminating tornado warnings – including a maximum delay of seven minutes for a tornado warning issued for the storm near Winterset, Iowa. NWS has confirmed at least13 tornadoes touched down as this severe weather system swept across Iowa.

Senator Grassley was quoted as saying “When it comes to keeping Iowans safe from severe weather and tornadoes, every second counts. Our bill will ensure NOAA is taking necessary steps to streamline life-saving alert systems and keeping their communication equipment up-to-date. One life lost is one too many, and I continue praying for those who lost loved ones in the recent tornado outbreak in Iowa. We must act to minimize these tragedies moving forward.” Senator Ernst was quoted in a similar vein.

You can find the full text of the proposed bill here. Several features are striking.

The bill purports to stem from a problem, but in actuality focuses on an opportunity. As is often the case, those introducing the bill cite government performance failures (per press releases) that need fixing, but the bill’s substance is oriented more toward positive measures.

Specifically, the bill highlights communication and social science. For example, early in the text, Section 3 (b) (3) states: [A new or repurposed NOAA hazards communication] Office shall improve the form, content, and methods of hazardous weather and water event communications to more clearly inform action and increase the likelihood that the public takes such action to prevent the loss of life or property. These aspirations are consistent with recent NASEM calls (here, e.g.) for more community-wide (federal-agency, private-sector) attention to relevant social science.

The bill calls for the same balance when it comes to research and development. The framers want to see as much or more attention to improving risk communication as to improving the capabilities and use of technologies to monitor severe weather itself. That is testimony to the remarkable progress of the last decade or so in detection and short-range prediction of tornadoes but also an acknowledgment that that has not been matched by improved public safety.

The bill stresses development and use of social-data infrastructure. The Senators state: The Under Secretary [of Commerce] shall establish, maintain, and improve a central repository system for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for social, behavioral, risk, and economic data related to the communication of hazardous weather and water events.

This represents a big step forward. Infrastructure for storing, accessing, and working with quality-controlled geophysical data on the atmosphere, oceans, and solid earth has existed for decades and is continually upgraded and advanced. To make progress toward meeting public-safety and economic goals requires no less for social sciences. Traditionally, however, social data collection and archival has been intermittent, fragmented, incomplete – catch-as-catch can. This provision would correct that and establish a foundation more for rapid progress in risk communication and public benefit.

The bill emphasizes pilot programs… explicitly calling out HBCU’s for special attention. The bill calls for establishment of a pilot program to ensure that basic research is carried through to application and actual improvements in service. Interestingly, the bill specifically indicates that a grants program should target HBCU’s. It makes other references throughout to the importance of equitable societal access to benefits from improved service. These features are certainly most welcome (but one might wonder if other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI’s) shouldn’t be given similar explicit emphasis).

The bill shares DNA with the 2017 Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act . At several points the bill makes references to this so-called Weather Bill, offers specific amendments, etc. But the proposed TORNADO Act’s entire tenor, with its “fix-NOAA” message, requirements for additional NOAA reporting, and detailed prescriptive language on topics such as warn-on-forecast, a tornado rating system, post-storm surveys and assessments, and a VORTEX-USA program of research, are all evocative of the Weather Bill (as noted here and here).

These connections to the Weather Bill suggest that the TORNADO Act just might enjoy a better-than-average chance of Congressional passage. With that in mind, it’s worth thinking about

What’s missing. Here there remains at least one big challenge. The TORNADO Act and the Weather Bill both broadly include public, private, and academic sectors, and speak to an inclusive outreach to society as a whole, but remain narrowly focused on weather service provision.  To achieve benefit, however, depends equally on societal uptake of the weather information on offer. Most days, in most places, weather is a fairly benign backdrop to human affairs, which have been tuned to climatology. And most individuals and institutions are fully maxed-out responding to daily needs of work and family (and related crises there). Community resilience to dangerous weather requires a population able and willing, and equipped, to drop other preoccupations in order to respond to life- and property threats. This is much more than simply noting a warning.

Resilience favors a public paying attention to weather. It requires individual and institutional ability to assess and manage weather threats, options for action, and access to those options, and more. This high-stakes complexity can’t be managed on the fly only once an event is in progress. Communities must be prepared and equipped for months and years beforehand. Current NWS Weather-Ready Nation efforts provide communities with some of what’s needed. But WRN will be of most help to communities where K-12 education is strong and has included years of emphasis on the geosciences generally and weather, water, and climate in particular.

The United States occupies some of the most dangerous real estate on Earth. We have our share of earthquakes and volcanism, but we are uniquely challenged by dangerous weather. We face as many hurricanes as the tropical world, and as many destructive winter storms as the high-latitude world. Cycles of flood and drought control our thousands of watersheds. And we have a virtual monopoly on the world’s dangerous tornadoes. We underinvest in K-12 public education on these matters and their consequences.


[1] The title is a bit forced/contorted, but achieved a desired acronym.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Confronting Climate Gridlock: How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future.

Who wouldn’t want to learn more? Daniel Cohan has provided an excellent opportunity to do just that, in his new book by this title. The hardcover version won’t be released until March 29, but the Kindle version is available now.

For those interested and involved in any aspect of building a clean energy future, Confronting Climate Gridlock provides both a useful starting point and a comprehensive overview. Anyone who picks it up will find a clear exposition of the clean energy challenge – its nature, its origins, why it matters (and matters existentially), and why nations, governments, corporations, and individuals worldwide find their individual and concerted efforts to cope gridlocked. But the author is no mere doomsayer. Instead he argues, in compelling fashion, that the necessary “unlocking” requires simultaneous attention and progress with respect to three interwoven endeavors: diplomacy (international actions by states), technology, and policy (in-country actions by states and the private sector). Several chapters provide extensive introductions to each of these topics in turn. While stressing their interconnected nature and the need to address all three dimensions of the problem simultaneously, the author avoids getting enmeshed in complexity and keeps the reader focused on manageable specifics.

Several features of Confronting Climate Gridlock are noteworthy: (1) the author’s masterful job of balancing his treatment of diplomacy, technology, and policy – three relatively disparate topics, each demanding in its own right; (2) a thorough summary description of each (readers will be hard put to identify any options or approaches that have been left ignored); and (3) and the book’s utility as a portal – providing extensive links to a vast amount of material available to help the reader follow up on any aspect that they might consider of special interest.    

The book will make a great textbook – unsurprising, given that Daniel Cohan is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. But it will also be a useful desk reference for engineers in the field, as well as for diplomats and policy wonks. Speaking of simplification, one suggestion he introduces early on, and repeats throughout: the gridlock that matters most is here in the United States. If we can make progress here, the rest of the world will follow.

A closing note: I first met Dan in 2003, when he was a Harvard-educated mathematics BA, finishing up his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science at Georgia Tech. He participated in that year’s AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, joining a group that included Paul Pisano, from the Federal Highway Administration; Pam Emch, from Northrop-Grumman; Julie Pullen, then working for the Navy, and now at Jupiter Intel; Jason Samenow, then of EPA, who founded the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, Aimee Devaris, then of NWS, and now USGS Regional Director for Alaska, and others too numerous to list by name here. If you’re an early-career scientist or engineer who wants to master the use of diplomatic, policy, and technology tools to make a better world, if you want to network and collaborate with like-minded peers, not just for ten days but for a lifetime, you might consider participating in the 2022 Colloquium.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The (climate) signal and the (social) noise.

Let’s start with a little climate science.

Today the big news splash centers around the release of the IPCC 6th assessment report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (WGII). The Washington Post reports this morning Humanity has a ‘brief and rapidly closing window’ to avoid a hotter, deadly future:

In the hotter and more hellish world humans are creating, parts of the planet could become unbearable in the not-so-distant future, a panel of the world’s foremost scientists warned Monday in an exhaustive report on the escalating toll of climate change.

Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will raise sea levels several feet, swallowing small island nations and overwhelming even the world’s wealthiest coastal regions. Drought, heat, hunger and disaster may force millions of people from their homes. Coral reefs could vanish, along with a growing number of animal species. Disease-carrying insects would proliferate. Deaths — from malnutrition, extreme heat, pollution — will surge.

Other media coverage is similar (from the New York Times: Climate Change Is Harming the Planet Faster Than We Can Adapt, U.N. Warns)

Somber reading, and a lot of it.  The IPCC study proper weighs in at 3500 pages distilled from thousands of studies by world experts, and thus carries special heft. UN Secretary-General Guterrez reacted this way: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this…” [The document is] “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

Thousands of studies? Even so, there’s still room for fresh thinking from individuals. ICYMI, here’s a beautiful example. Michael E. McIntyre recently published an “essay,” Climate Uncertainties: A Personal View.

His thoughts reward a thoughtful, complete read. The paper’s abstract, reproduced verbatim, should whet your appetite:

This essay takes a brief personal look at aspects of the climate problem. The emphasis will be on some of the greatest scientific uncertainties, as suggested by what is known about past as well as present climates, including tipping points that likely occurred in the past and might occur in the near future. In the current state of knowledge and understanding, there is massive uncertainty about such tipping points. For one thing there might, or might not, be a domino-like succession, or cascade, of tipping points that ultimately send the climate system into an Eocene-like state, after an uncertain number of centuries. Sea levels would then be about 70 m higher than today, and surface storminess would likely reach extremes well outside human experience. Such worst-case scenarios are highly speculative. However, there is no way to rule them out with complete confidence.  Credible assessments are outside the scope of current climate prediction models. So there has never in human history been a stronger case for applying the precautionary principle. Today there is no room for doubt—even from a purely financial perspective—about the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions urgently and drastically, far more so than is possible through so-called ‘offsetting’.

(That was enough to get me hooked.)

The full essay merits your time and study. Two reasons.

First, there’s McIntyre’s exposition of various scenarios. He demonstrates not just willingness but intellectual ability to dig deep and explore the possible implications of concatenating successive tipping points, instead of throwing up his hands and halting the thought process upon encountering the first such. References and underlying rationale for these explorations are supplied throughout. Just what one would expect from the author, who’s a Fellow of the Royal Society and who was awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal of the AMS (in 1987, 35 years ago!).

Second, there’s the writing itself. It’s an easy read, crisp and clear, supplying important detail but stripped of excess verbiage; identifying major though uncertain risks, but without overstating and without histrionics.

The author stops short of prescriptive solutions, but does suggest that society, mindful of the precautionary principle, should do more to limit emissions, and do so more concertedly. That brings us to the last reason you might want to give the essay a look. Some readers will find themselves by virtue of education and background positioned to do more – to extend the particular line of reasoning, or flag other scenarios and additional pathways or cascades that merit investigation. This subject matter cries out for diverse individual perspectives to complement the more structured IPCC work. The biggest climate risks we face will be the ones we fail to see coming.

So much for efforts to detect the climate signal. Now let’s turn to the social noise. Also in today’s news, the NYT reports Supreme Court to Hear Case on E.P.A.’s Power to Limit Carbon Emissions, observing that the case, brought by Republican-led states and coal companies, could frustrate the Biden administration’s efforts to address climate change. A Washington Post report on the same subject notes that [today], the court takes up a years-long challenge from coal-mining companies and Republican-led states contesting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate sweeping changes to the way the nation’s power sector produces electricity, the nation’s second-largest source of climate-warming pollution…

Environmental advocates fear the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could limit the Biden administration’s ability to curb carbon pollution from power plants before any regulation is written, and leave the United States short of its climate goals at a time when scientists suggest drastic cuts in emissions are needed to avert dangerous warming.

So, at precisely the moment when climate change trends challenge society to identify, develop and carry out a unified, sustained set of actions, those sectors of society most invested in one side or the other of impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability questions (the major political parties, the fossil fuel industry, environmental groups) are putting out shrill messages more aimed at emphasizing polar-opposite views than attaining an actionable middle ground. The public is then left to sort that out on its/our own.  

Climate change is not a slow-onset event. It’s rapid onset, compared with the time required for 8 billion people to reach consensus on what to do about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Can Spiritual and Faith-Based Knowledge Systems Inform the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise?

That was the topic of an AMS Webinar at the beginning of this week. Here’s the online blurb:

Presented by the AMS Interfaith Committee, hear stories, work, ideas from panelists across various spiritual/faith-based backgrounds on environmentalism, and how the AMS and spiritual/faith communities can work together in this important space. This is one of a series of topics related to conversations, work, and ideas on collaboration and relational building between the AMS and faith/spiritual communities. Organizer: Dr. Carlos Javier Martinez – National Center for Atmospheric Research Panelists: Rabbi Geoff Mitelman – Sinai and Synapses Dr. William (Bill) Hooke – American Meteorological Society James Rattling Leaf, Sr. – Cooperative Institute Research Environmental Sciences, North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center Dr. Emma Frances Bloomfield – University of Nevada, Las Vegas Nana Firman – GreenFaith The Q&A, chat file, anonymous survey results, and attendee list from this webinar will be shared with its organizers.

My impression is that the webinar was recorded and will be available online to members sometime soon. Very thankful for the opportunity to be part of the event; meant a great deal. Some personal takeaways (starting with a full disclosure):

Disclosure. At the time I embarked on a career in atmospheric science as a newly-minted Ph.D. in 1967, I saw myself as a confirmed atheist. Wound up embracing Christianity in the spring of 1976 – a story for another day. My life has felt profoundly different more meaningful and more complete – ever since.

Takeaway #1. Faith and religion have long been considered the third-rail of conversation in the government workplace, and in much of the private-sector and academic workplace as well. There’s good reason for this, as much of the growing awareness of systemic racism and other barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society attests. It’s all too easy for religious bias to negatively impact decision making and basic standards of workplace fairness (ironic, as most faiths hold fairness and equity as basic tenets). But just as it’s become necessary for our society to put systemic racism and related negative topics on the table and thus begin to rectify them explicitly, it also seems important and timely to open a broader, more nuanced discussion of faith, spirituality, and faith-based knowledge systems that could offer many positives to our profession.

However, years of enforced silence on this topic in the professional sphere mean that today we lack vocabulary, protocol, and traditions for having the safe and respectful discussion that’s needed to jump start the process. We should expect it take some time to develop these needed foundations. We should enter this realm with some appropriate caution, and take special pains to bring along representatives of as many indigenous forms of worship worldwide into the discussion as early and quickly as we can.

Takeaway #2. Spiritual and faith-based knowledge systems already can and do inform the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise – the academic-, public-, and private-sector institutions and professionals engaged in the science and application of weather and weather forecasting. Ignoring these aspects to our work is therefore not an option; we must instead seek to integrate them effectively.

Start with application, where the connection is more familiar, easier to see. Most people would agree, and the AMS vision statement makes explicit, the “application” is not self-serving so much as for societal benefit. In a world where broad swaths of society and societal institutions self-identify as spiritual or faith-based, life-protecting risk communications on all time frames from climate change to tornado warnings will work best when framed in terms that are compelling and actionable to members of these groups. Similarly, what is deemed a true societal benefit versus something less, or even a negative, depends on the cultural and spiritual lens of the person or peoples involved. Given these realities, the issue is not whether faith-based and spiritual knowledge systems inform science, but rather how to harness such “informing” fairly and effectively.

Connections to the science itself might seem less obvious, or perhaps unnecessary. But consider the following question: where do new scientific concepts originate? Physical scientists might argue they come from experiment and observation, and from mathematics – but social scientists tell us that most of our ideas originate socially, from contact with others. Faith and cultural backgrounds and spiritual natures necessarily color and shape these contacts. And consider the choices that determine what science is prioritized, gets attention, gets financially supported, gets done. In these days of government and private-sector budget support for science, much of that has a faith-based, or spiritual, or cultural tinge. And this is only a single example, to illustrate a point. Other examples abound.

All this is preamble, a much broader issue than the connection between faith and spirituality and environmentalism and environmental science per se.  This week’s panelists focused to a great degree on environmentalism and the calls of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths for environmental stewardship. But the spectrum of views spanning just these three faith traditions is far broader than the hour of conversation would allow. Even in this respect, they represented only the merest sliver of the thinking on the subject. Meanwhile, other faith perspectives – Hinduism, Buddhism, and those stemming from the varied experience and tradition of a host of indigenous peoples worldwide – weren’t heard from. That’s why the AMS BRAID chair Ayesha Wilkinson and the webinar moderator Carlos Martinez emphasized early and often that Tuesday’s conversation was intended to be the first of many, rather than a one-off, and why they assiduously and repeatedly invited all participants to make suggestions about future topics and panelists.

Takeaway #3. (Readers may disagree with this one, but remember, the takeaways here are personal). One of the biggest benefits that the spiritual dimension has to offer is hope. By contrast, climate/global change issues tend to invite the opposite: fear and anger in the face of evidence of impending doom and the seeming failure of others to care or to take action. That negative outlook is only exacerbated by a raft of other societal ills all too evident today – including but not limited to the pandemic, social inequalities and unfairness of a variety of types, wars such as that now underway in the Ukraine, and more. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, most of us are living lives of quiet desperation.

Such dismal future prospects can turn some people, including some scientists, into scolds – delivering harsh messages that are growing more sharply pointed as the time window for stemming the worst effects of climate change seems to be closing. Worse, it’s well known from social science that negative emotional states make it more difficult to think clearly. This is bad news for scientists, engineers, and for the other professionals in the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise. Given that so many of the problems the larger world faces are in our wheelhouse, we need to be thinking at our best.

Again, most people, including those nominally “well off,” are hungry for real hope – hope that isn’t founded on delusion or ignorance, or momentary pleasurable distractions.

In the faith-based system of thought that I know best, that hope is fairly basic, and on point as well. It stems from nothing less than the message throughout the Old and New Testament Bible that a Higher Power is in the business of the restoring the Earth and its peoples to the originally-intended Eden-like state, and will ultimately succeed. And the Judeo-Christian tradition by no means has a monopoly on such hope.

Takeaway #4. Most of us will find it tempting, natural to dive right into future conversations on these topics. That’s appropriate and welcome and has much to recommend it. These matters, like all others, benefit from a diversity of views. But the presence of a few experts among this week’s panelists – Rabbi Geoff, Nana, and Emma – should remind us that there’s already an extensive thought and published literature here. Some might want to be more disciplined – allow such literature to inform their thinking.

Where to start? One point of departure might be the books on Carlos Martinez’ professional website.

(If I had one recommended addition to the books you’ll find there it would be Mike Hulmes’ Why We Disagree about Climate Change.)

Takeaway #5. Carlos Martinez is a force of nature. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for doing the hard work required to stand up a structured, respectful, actionable conversation on this set of issues, and showing us how we might ourselves work some of these perspectives into our respective day jobs. You’ll find his professional website useful as well as thought provoking, perhaps even inspiring.

Thanks, Carlos.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Think like the Norwegians. Or think like [insert your favorite culture here].

On February 8 and February 10, LOTRW posts explored possible futures for the Weather and Climate Enterprise and associated steps/actions required to get there. These prompted a comment from Michael Douglas, which he posted in the American Meteorological Society Open Forum. (As it turns out, the so-called AMS “Open” Forum is really not all that open; it’s accessible only to AMS members, so extended excerpts are provided here.) Mike says:

Bill Hooke’s message from almost 2 years ago (4-28-2020) [link added] about the need for more scientists as a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is a valid one, as are both of your comments about the need for support from the public for building a resilient weather enterprise.  

Politicians respond (in a democracy) to public pressure and science-based solutions to environmental issues ultimately depend on a science-savvy society for support.  Adding more basic researchers to the pot won’t necessarily solve the problem of getting essential information into the hands of those who need it and in obtaining support from the public for those politicians.

He then adds this observation (which concludes in a cautionary vein):

Many scientists neglect public outreach opportunities because it isn’t part of their official duties. If they teach college courses, they may think that is plenty – perhaps too much effort – for their renumeration.  Secondary or primary school teachers likewise may be constrained by state mandates of what they are allowed to teach in their classes.  And state or federal researchers (like I was) don’t usually have public outreach built into their work plans except in minor ways.  Some researchers in my NOAA lab even shied away from giving seminars to their own colleagues because it was a distraction from their research.  And very few entertained the thought of giving a talk about their research to the public.  Sometimes such an opportunity wasn’t even available to them – or it wasn’t formally encouraged.  And during my latter years it was controlled.

He continues:

Frustration during the 2020 election campaign, where environmental issues – aside from climate change – were not really discussed by the presidential candidates in their debates, led me to put together “A Norman Environmental Primer” for our local community.  It was, and is, an effort to bring attention to “environmental issues” that I view as important for basic public awareness.  The Primer is web-based, since errors or omissions can easily be corrected, and because the material is imagery-intensive.  It is a bit presumptuous to call it a “Primer”.  Each section of the Primer could have been written by individuals here in Norman more qualified to write them.  And every topic could be expanded to book-length. But then even fewer people would read it.   The Primer, buried within another website that I’d previously prepared, is at:

He closes with these two invitations:

I’d encourage readers to peruse the Primer and read through topics they find interesting…

I’d encourage motivated educators to produce a Primer for their own local community.  Public outreach doesn’t have to be restricted to those already involved in teaching or research.  And it should cast a very wide net because one never knows who will benefit most from it.

I accepted this invitation – gave the Primer a look. And was duly rewarded! Turns out the Primer is indeed thoughtfully crafted, informative, appealing. If you take the trouble to check it out, you can approach his material in a couple of ways. You might look for things that could be improved or criticized. If you do, sure enough, you’ll find them. (Mike has acknowledged as much.) Or you could work through it with an eye to how you might do something similar for your backyard/neighborhood. (That’s what Mike is hoping.) Speaking of your neighborhood, in the vernacular of Sesame Street, in so doing, or by other means, you’d be reminding folks that just like the postal worker,  baker, doctor, trash collector, “a scientist is a person in your neighborhood.” This would be a good thing.

You’d also be taking an additional step. To see this, note that yesterday the Winter Olympics concluded. Strikingly, the Chinese hosts, with a population of 1.4 billion, and the United States, with a population of one-third billion, lagged Norway (population 5 million) in the medal count. The glib conclusion is: sure! All of Norway is icily cold and mountainous. But to dig deeper is to discover that all Norway, including the kids, make a point of having fun outdoors in the cold, in addition to playing computer games. And they’re really just having fun; Norwegians are not identifying the few physically gifted kids and focusing on their athletic development while encouraging the general population to confine their attention to video games. In fact, identifying athletically-gifted kids in any systematic way before they reach the age of 13 is proscribed by Norwegian law, motivated by a sense of children’s rights. (And obviously, Norway is not the only culture that can boast such success. Ethiopian and Kenyan dominance in marathons comes to mind, etc.)

In the same way, science and engineering shouldn’t be the province of “nerdy geniuses” alone, while the rest of us are sidelined spectators. They are and should be participatory. By following Michael Douglas’ example, you and I can start the ball rolling in our respective neighborhoods.

Let’s get on it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment