AMS at 100: core values for tomorrow.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” – Robert Frost

An earlier LOTRW post called attention to an updated set of strategic goals and core values the American Meteorological Society has promulgated in observance of its 100th year. That same LOTRW post hinted at a planned deeper dive.

That was July 11th.

It’s now two months later[1]. In the interim, Hurricane Dorian, the NOAA predictions, and related White House actions have provided us a stress test of those AMS core values and strategic goals.

Let’s have a look. Here are the

AMS CORE VALUES

  • We value the integrity of science and the scientific process.
  • We believe that a diverse, inclusive, and respectful community is essential for our science.
  • We believe that decisions affecting society should be made in a transparent, evidence-based manner.
  • We are committed to excellence, relevance, and agility in all our activities.

Unassailable. Timeless.

But perhaps too tidy to always be of material help for those of us living on the real world, which is constantly evolving, at times to the point of being dynamic, turbulent, even chaotic.

For example, formulations like this tend to frame the values as distinct and separable. This might be approximately true in circumstances where the weather is calm or benign, and where society is stable. People in positions both high and low have the time, energy, and margin to more-or-less think and behave in conformity to each core value. Good behavior can be sought, and improved upon, in isolation. Progress in one respect doesn’t lead to problems in another. Scientists of a certain stripe might call such a regime linear.

But extremes – hurricanes, tornadoes, flood and drought – are by nature nonlinear, integrative events. In these weather circumstances the constraints and guiding principles embodied in the core values can no longer be separated in some tidy fashion. They start to run together, and sometimes exaggerate, sometimes interfere with each other. Similarly, the world’s societies themselves are by no means stable. Eight billion people rubbing shoulders lead not just to bruises but bruised feelings, to irritation that can grow into distrust and lead into exploitation and disenfranchisement (and ultimately even into hate, terrorism, and war). And natural hazards further aggravate these pre-existing problems.

Dorian provides a recent and poignant illustration. As the hurricane approached first the Bahamas, and then the U.S. coast, all of these core values were tested, perhaps even thrown out the window. What’s more, Dorian revealed that past performance with respect to the core values hadn’t been nearly adequate. Those on Abaco or Grand Bahama were forcefully reminded of a history of ramshackle construction and the ratcheting build-up of inequity and vulnerability over years that had suddenly found them exposed to injury, suffering, economic loss, and even death. As for the Weather Enterprise, those in NOAA who’d done such a great job of forecasting the storm track and guiding national and international emergency response discovered their vulnerability to political attack, not originating from somewhere in the external world, but from the White House itself.

The experience raises questions, and it hints at deeper truths.

The questions. Are the AMS core values self-consistent when times are turbulent? Compare, for example, values of agility and relevance with transparency. Is today’s rapid pace and extent of events at hurricane landfall compatible with transparency? Just how transparent can decisions and actions be under such circumstances?

Do these values merely express our expectations of our AMS community (or tribe, or the Weather Enterprise) and how we engage with each other internally? Or do they refer to our expectations of how we expect to engage with and want the larger world to work? Since the values speak of relevance and decisions affecting society, the meaning tends toward the latter interpretation. But the larger society is a vast arena where we have little control and can only hope to offer leadership by example. And though our community is itself growing more diverse, it’s nowhere near so diverse as the outside world with its mix of different cultures and backgrounds. That larger society includes many members who’d say if asked that they don’t hold much truck with what our community calls scientific integrity or evidence-based process. And yet we value respect. As a practical matter, what does it mean to respect people holding those views?  

 The deeper truths. These questions (and countless others; we’re only scratching the surface here) quickly point us to a deeper set of core values. Expressions of these would vary (after all, we’re diverse and inclusive), but would include notions such as:

  • Love.
  • Forgiveness/mercy/grace.
  • Trust.
  • Commitment to each other and relationship.

Considered in the abstract, these might seem to many minds as far too fuzzy and abstract. Contemplated during the real world’s beguiling but sporadic linear moments, they might be viewed as so vague as to be useless. But in light of Dorian, the way it’s forever changed the lives and prospects of those in its path, and the resulting political and media storm here in the United States, their vital meaning becomes clear. Consider this joint community message from the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association:

September 12, 2019

The past few days have been unprecedented for the weather community. As much as we dedicate our professions to societal resilience, this week we have proven our own resilience. We come out of this past week with one wonderful piece of evidence: we in the weather community are a tightly knit group whose camaraderie transcends the boundaries of a standard professional group. We have studied, trained and worked together for more years of our lives than not. We have shared life events together and been by each other’s side through weddings, births, and losing loved ones. We have a shared interest, passion, and mission to help save lives and understand this remarkable natural phenomenon of weather. We have a shared pride in our work because we know we are making a difference and we do it with honor and integrity. So it’s no surprise that this past week has been an emotional one for everyone. From the top ranks to the bottom, we all feel pain when this community is hurt. In many ways, we are a true professional family and that relationship was tested this week. Yet we prevailed. Issues will come and go but the dedication of this group is long lasting; the dedication to both our profession and each other. It has been heartwarming to see the sincerity, respect, and forgiveness that many in our community have shown and it proves we are, indeed, resilient and have a long future ahead together. -American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association.

A clear expression of love, forgiveness, trust, and commitment to relationship. Needed in these times. Well and truly said.


[1] Lesson learned: In the future, instead of promising or even hinting in a given LOTRW post that in the next post or sometime soon I’ll revisit a topic or theme – I’ll just waterboard myself, or lie in a bed of scorpions, or ask readers to inflict their preferred forms of torture. No matter how copious or obvious the raw material looks for future posts, no sooner do I commit, than any shred of insight vanishes; every bit of enthusiasm flees, every last vestige of the joy of writing is sucked out of me. I experience the dreaded writer’s block .

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