Catch the Christmas/AMS Centennial Spirit

the actual James Glaisher — not to be confused with Eddie Redmayne

By now, you may have committed to coming to the AMS 2020 Annual Meeting, along with what looks to be a record number of others. Maybe you want to celebrate the closeout to our 100thanniversary year. Perhaps you want to take in the best Earth-science-and-services jam session on the planet – a once-a-year week of sharing data, ideas, and application of environmental intelligence like no other.

Still on the fence? You’re running out of excuses for not coming. In particular, it seems feds have dodged a repeat of last year’s government shutdown that resulted in so many no-shows in Phoenix. You can no longer plead that excuse. Or you may have secretly hoped that AMS members had learned a simple lesson from the past century of weather and climate study – that on any given January, holding a meeting somewhere along the ITCZ makes so much more sense than convening in Boston. But by now there’s no room for denial – Boston is where the action is.

Barring an apocalyptic snowstorm, that is. 

(Don’t shoot the messenger – just saying. At this writing the National Weather Service is still agnostic on any such prospects, but according to some private services that see this period as already within a zone of predictability, the outlook seems to be for warmer-than-usual weather approaching-and-at-the beginning of the meeting, dropping to colder-than-usual toward the end.)

So the question becomes: not whether to go, but rather: how to get the most out of the occasion? 

The answer is simple – by actively engaging as much as possible. Don’t wait until the day-of to crack open the Meeting program. Start boning up now on what’s happening, all the usual scientific sessions plus a huge gaggle of town halls, and a number of special sessions that this year’s AMS president Jenni Evans has organized. Let register the fact that this year the annual awards ceremony takes place Sunday afternoon, and that the usual Wednesday banquet has been replaced by a special evening of celebration. Channel your inner Aaron Burr: you want to be in the (right) room where it happens. 

Take some time between now and the meeting to reflect on what the AMS has meant to your career and life over these past years. Recall AMS-member contributions to science and services over the past century. Reflect on their efforts to develop radiosondes, weather radar, satellite instruments and platforms, digital computing and numerical weather prediction and to harness these. Admire the recent work of social scientists to improve uptake of forecasts and warnings. You and I only add few extra bits to the accomplishments of our predecessors.

But don’t stop there. Think through what AMS needs to do to remain as relevant in the next 100 years as it has for the past century. Inventory what you have to offer. Join with others attending the forward-looking sessions and events salted throughout the Meeting. Better yet, commit to actions you’ll take to put your gifts and potential to work over the next 5-10 years. Shape your own legacy.

The current holiday break provides the perfect opportunity for you to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Here’s a final suggestion that might help – especially when it comes to giving yourself a feel for what those early days of the Society might have been like: find a couple of hours to watch the Amazon streaming video entitled The Aeronauts.

This film doesn’t just take you back 100 years – but more like 150. It’s a fictionalized account of James Glaisher’s altitude-breaking balloon flight of September 5, 1862. Glaisher at the time was Superintendent of the Department of Meteorology and Magnetism at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. (He would later also serve as the president of the Royal Meteorological Society.) On that 1862 flight he took meteorological measurements up to an altitude of 29,000 feet, at which point he lost consciousness. The balloon continued to climb, according to estimates reaching a height somewhere between 31,000 and 36,000 feet ASL. Glaisher survived only because Henry Coxwell, his co-pilot, despite having lost all sensation in his hands, ultimately managed to pull the balloon’s valve cord with his teeth before losing consciousness himself.

One caveat: don’t look for historical accuracy. The movie claims only to be “inspired by actual events.” (I love this phrase, whose use by the film industry is relatively recent. It appropriately lowers expectations. In prior times, you’d tend to see the phrase “based on a true story,” which often over-promised.) A few of the movie’s departures from fact: in reality, Glaisher at the time was in his fifties, his scientific reputation well-established, and his balloon investigations stoutly supported by the community. In the film, he’s depicted as at an early-career stage, his reputation is in jeopardy, and more-senior scientists are keeping their distance. He has to seek private-sector funding for his enterprise. Added to the list of discrepancies, Henry Coxwell doesn’t appear at all. His place is taken by Amelia Wren, a fictional woman character who is a composite of several historical female balloonists of the time: one Margaret Graham, who was the first British woman to make a solo balloon flight, and a Sophie Blanchard, a balloonist widowed when her husband, French balloonist Jean-Pierre-Francois Blanchard, died in 1809 when he fell from his balloon after suffering a heart attack.

But these weaknesses add corresponding plusses. The cheat on Glaisher’s age and the substitution of Miss Wren allow the movie to cast Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the starring roles, bringing back to the screen the skills and chemistry that made them such a hit in the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything

Jones (who also was a compelling RBG in On the Basis of Sex) comes across in this film as the braver, stronger, savvier, and better-grounded (okay, not the best metaphor for an aeronaut) figure of the two. Nevertheless, her character and the way it was developed and she was portrayed became the target of critical reviews in the Washington Post (in fact, the reviewer found very little to like in the movie as a whole), refinery29, and Time.

The reviewers make good points. But the film’s flaws and the critiques together can serve as a springboard for private reflection, as well as dialog with others on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion – as played out with respect to both gender and early-career. To a lesser extent, it raises questions of private- versus public funding for science. What’s not to like[1]?

Want to get into the Christmas spirit? You can watch, for the nth time, reruns of It’s a Wonderful LifeMiracle on 34thStreet, and White Christmas (each worth an (n+1))But then prepare for the AMS 2020 Annual Meeting; give The Aeronauts a look. Draw inspiration from both the real and re-imagined James Glaishers.

See you in Boston!

[1]Full disclosure? Have to confess I also fully enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow, when it came out in 2004, and Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which came out the same year, both to robust scientific criticism for their distortions and mis-handling of climate–change findings. C’mon, folks! Let’s all lighten up! Fiction is fiction.

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What scientists want… and the lump of coal in this year’s Christmas stocking.

“Only sick nouns need adjectives.”– Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor(1989)

In the old days, children were told that if they’d been good all year, Santa would bring them gifts to enjoy on Christmas Eve. But if they’d chronically misbehaved, then all they’d find Christmas morning would be a lump of coal[1].

Scientists want, above all else, for our science to benefit life. And the larger world seems eager to give us that chance. This year’s stocking is stuffed with the usual Congressional budget bounty, with some additional bulges hinting at several big new proposals. But any joy we scientists may feel should be tempered by the lump of coal the White House (through OSTP/NSTC/JCORE) is providing in the Christmas stocking at the same time.

No, that’s not the misdirected and ineffective attempts to subsidize continued use of coal itself, or any of the several other forms of climate-change denial. It’s not a set of immigration policies that constrain the arrival of bright young scientists and engineers from abroad. It’s not the rollback of environmental regulations or leasing of mineral rights on formerly pristine federal lands or attempts to politicize agency science advisory committees.

Scientists (and indeed a majority of Americans) hate these things, but it’s none of these things. These may be happening to science institutions and scientists, but they don’t reflect bad behavior on our part as such. 

No, the lump of coal has arrived in the form of a seemingly innocuous OSTP notice in the Federal register: a request for information on the American research environment. Here’s some of the language from that RFI: 

[SUMMARY] On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC’s) Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), the OSTP requests input on actions that Federal agencies can take, working in partnership with private industry, academic institutions, and non-profit/philanthropic organizations, to maximize the quality and effectiveness of the American research environment. Specific emphasis is placed on ensuring that the research environment is welcoming to all individuals and enables them to work safely, efficiently, ethically, and with mutual respect, consistent with the values of free inquiry, competition, openness, and fairness.

[SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION] NSTC established JCORE in May 2019. JCORE is working to address key areas that impact the U.S. research enterprise; enabling a culture supportive of the values and ethical norms critical to world-leading science and technology. This includes the need to improve safety and inclusivity, integrity, and security of research settings while balancing accountability and productivity.

Specifically, JCORE is working to:

 Ensure rigor and integrity in research: This subcommittee is identifying cross-agency principles, priorities, and actions to enhance research integrity, rigor, reproducibility, and replicability. This includes exploring how Federal government agencies and stakeholder groups, including research institutions, publishers, researchers, industry, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, and others, can work collaboratively to support activities that facilitate research rigor and integrity through efforts to address transparency, incentives, communication, training and other areas.

Coordinate administrative requirements for Federally-funded research:This subcommittee is identifying and assessing opportunities to coordinate agency policies and requirements related to Federal grant processes and conflicts of interest disclosure. Additionally, this subcommittee is also exploring how persistent digital identifiers and researcher profile databases can be used to reduce administrative work and track agency investments.

Strengthen the security of America’s S&T research enterprise:This subcommittee is working to enhance risk assessment and management, coordinate outreach and engagement across the research enterprise, strengthen disclosure requirements and policies, enhance oversight and vigilance, and work with organizations that perform research to develop best practices that can be applied across all sectors. The subcommittee is taking a risk-based approach to strengthening the security of our research enterprise balanced with maintaining appropriate levels of openness that underpins American global leadership in science and technology.

Foster safe, inclusive, and equitable research environmentsThis subcommittee is convening the multi-sector research community to identify challenges and opportunities, share best practices, utilize case studies, and share lessons learned in order to promote practices and cultures that build safe, inclusive, and equitable research environments.

The Federal Register RFI then expands on all this in considerable detail, asking questions about specifics with respect to each of these aspirations. Scientists are asking the questions. Participation is voluntary. The aim is clearly to help. 

So why should scientists be anxious? 

We should be concerned because OSTP is not chasing some will-o-the-wisp. There would be no request for information on these topics if there were no problem. Further, when it comes to these matters, especially the first and the last, the concern is largely resulting from scientist-misbehavior, not culpability on the part of the larger society. And the problem isn’t confined to a few extreme instances and a handful of bad actors. The problems are often more subtle – but rather more pervasive. 

Science as we practice it here in the United States could stand some improvement. The U.S. research environment is not “fully welcoming to all individuals” – not to the LGBTQ community, not to underrepresented ethnic groups, not even to the female half of the population. Not all scientists are able to “work safely, efficiently, ethically, and with mutual respect.” On-the-ground reality is not everywhere consistent with “the values of free inquiry, competition, openness, and fairness.”

If administrative burdens have increased in recent years (another of the OSTP concerns), it’s at least in part because agencies and policymakers are attempting to compensate for the science community’s inaction in the face of these increasingly visible realities. If administrative burdens fall heavier on us in the future, it will likely be the result of regulations attempting to enforce a degree of rigor and integrity, and levels of safety, inclusion, and equity, that we’ve been proved unable or unwilling to provide on our own. Universities, corporations, agencies, and non-profits are all trying to mend the situation, through means such as policy statements, codes of conduct, training, and greater efforts to recruit from under-represented groups. Perhaps it’s early days, but any improvement seems ephemeral: minimal, sporadic, anecdotal, and fleeting.

It’s therefore likely that in time, OSTP requests for information like this one will be followed by Congressional and executive-branch-wide imposition of new rules and regulations. That will lead to heavier, unwanted administrative burdens, but we will have brought this on ourselves.

In light of all this, what should scientists do? It’s tempting for the institutions most affected to point to the actions they’re taking – those afore-mentioned policy statements, training programs, recruiting measures, etc. – and say “we’re doing all we can.” But such top-down, command-and-control measures are unlikely to work.

Here are two additional ideas. Both are individual actions you and I can take coming out of the gate; they don’t require that we get buy-in from others, or wait for anyone else to join. In and of themselves, they won’t be enough to change things. But they will start to change the way we engage with others, and ultimately, drive outcomes in a better direction.  

  1. Own the problemAlcoholics Anonymous covers this, stressing the importance of a first step: “admitting we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” In the same way, you and I need to be unflinchingly realistic and evidence-based about our shortcomings. We need to acknowledge, at least to ourselves, or starting with ourselves (because AA’s twelve steps only begin here; they move on to accountability and other measures). The alcoholics at greatest risk from their addiction are those who remain in denial. In the same way, until we’re open to our own complicity when it comes to scientific rigor and integrity, we’ll remain content simply to judge others and do little more. Too many of us in the science community think our methods of reasoning, and reasoning power, are superior to that of others. And we don’t stop there. We think we’re not just more rational, but actually better people. This is hardly the best foundation for self-improvement. It’s far more realistic and healthy to see ourselves as possessing the massive character flaws that are so evident in everyone else we know. 

A colleague here at AMS reminds me occasionally (and compellingly), “the scientist should always be the severest critic of his/her own work.” In the same way, each of us needs to be the severest critic of our own integrity, our own ethical standards and values. We need to add this topic to our discourse, but we also need to model the desired behavior.

  • Ownership having been established, engage in some self-reflection. The Eugene Peterson quote at the top of the post speaks to this. Peterson, a pastor himself, said at the outset that the very notion of “pastor” should imply “contemplative.” Adding that adjective should be unnecessarily redundant. He went on to argue that pastors should also be inherently, and by their inmost nature, unbusysubversive, and apocalyptic. But, he says, look at the pastoral community, and you’ll find some of the most stressed, anxious, timid, establishment-minded people you’d ever hope to meet.

In the same way, no one should have to say, the honest scientist; thee inclusive scientist; the non-abusive scientist.

You and I would do well to contemplate what it was that made us eager to enter science in the first place: a sense of wonder at nature, a curiosity about how things worked, and the unmatched joy that comes not just from advancing knowledge, but seeing it used to better the human condition and the planet itself. We didn’t enter science to become rich, or famous, or powerful, or any of these inferior things.

The holiday season might be a good time to recommit to this.

[1]Interested in a bit of this seasonal history? You can find a fuller account (one of many) here.

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What scientists want… and what may be in the Christmas stocking.

Recent LOTRW posts have focused on what scientists want – occasions and means to take their science to the next level – to use their research to build a better world.

New opportunities may be in the offing. Here are a couple of examples – just a few of the many being floated.

A Schumer proposal for a new research funding entity

According to an American Institute of Physics (AIP)/FYI report: at a conference held by the… National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, [Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY] said the entity would focus on funding research related to emerging technologies such as AI, quantum computing, robotics, and 5G telecommunications.

Referring to the proposal as in a “discussion draft” stage, Schumer said it has not yet been “firmed up” and that its proponents have not settled on how to structure the entity. However, he said the current idea is for it to be a “subsidiary” of the National Science Foundation that would work “in concert” with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and be governed by a board of directors.

According to Schumer, the objective would be for the entity to spend $100 billion over five years, with funding flowing to universities, companies, and other government agencies. For comparison, NSF’s annual budget is currently $8.1 billion while DARPA’s is $3.4 billion.

Schumer did not indicate whether the entity is intended to be permanent or if it would expire at the end of the five-year period he mentioned

Lofty, both in aspiration and in dollar amount. 

Meanwhile, a bit closer to earth, Ernest Moniz is arguing for an $11B carbon removal initiative. Again, as reported by AIP/FYI: 

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is working to build support for a 10 year, $11 billion plan to drive down the cost of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The effort would span 10 federal agencies and explore a broad range of technologies and associated carbon storage methods.

The Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), a research nonprofit Moniz founded in 2017, released the proposal in September. Calling for swift action, it argues mitigation measures alone will be insufficient to reach net-zero global carbon emissions by midcentury, a target that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded is necessary to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

For its part, Congress has recently shown interest in directing funding to carbon removal technology development. Next week, Moniz is testifying at a hearing on DOE’s role in addressing climate change held by the House Appropriations Committee, which has proposed to launch a carbon removal initiative within the department.

Speaking about the proposed initiative at an event held last month by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Moniz explained the intent is to fund a portfolio of research, development, and demonstration projects to assess the commercial scalability of candidate technologies.

He noted there are three main approaches to carbon removal: “natural techniques,” such as afforestation; “technologically enhanced natural processes,” such as the uptake of carbon in rocks through accelerated mineralization; and purely technological approaches, such as direct air capture, which uses chemical processes to absorb carbon from ambient air. Some removal techniques also require associated storage solutions, such as incorporating the carbon into new products or sequestering it underground. Justifying a broad approach, the EFI report argues it is “too soon to declare a ‘winner’” among the techniques.

An initiative surfacing just as the world realizes limiting global warming to a couple of degrees Centigrade can’t be accomplished by transition to renewable energy sources and emissions reductions alone. Definitely timely.

The White House is piling on. This (also from AIP/FYI):

Within the next year, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology plans to recommend ways to jumpstart progress in areas such as quantum information science, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing. The council will also consider options to bolster the U.S. STEM workforce and deepen federal laboratories’ engagement in the U.S. R&D enterprise.

Meeting for the first time on Nov. 18, the newly reconstituted President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology received its marching orders along with the message it has little time to waste. Observing there is only one year left in the current presidential term, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier told it to keep a tight focus on “important policy achievements and policy actions to make a difference.”  

Droegemeier, who chairs the council, explained that for now the current iteration of PCAST will not follow its predecessors in producing detailed reports. Instead, he said it should make “actionable” recommendations to advance existing efforts in three “priority workstreams”: advancing “Industries of the Future,” bolstering the U.S. STEM workforce, and better engaging federal laboratories in the U.S. research enterprise.

As the council discussed its agenda, it became clear that its efforts will be tightly anchored to the Industries of the Future rubric. First articulated by OSTP earlier this year, the term originally encompassed four areas: artificial intelligence, quantum information science, 5G telecommunications, and advanced manufacturing. However, Droegemeier indicated that number now stands at five, with synthetic biology added to the roster.

Three concluding remarks. First, speaking of biology, the Congress is also proposing plus-ups for the NIH budget in the 4-7% range. Political leaders are clearly signaling their desire for help from the R&D community with respect to a number of national challenges – not a mere handful of parochial interest to LOTRW readers. Even in the face of many competing budget claims directed at urgent, short-term needs, Congress is working to fence off and protect funding that will provide researchers with the tools to accelerate and sustain needed innovation[1]across the board. 

Second, some might note that much of the emphasis in these budget initiatives is on technology– especially IT – as much or more than science. But if the goal is to make science more useful, to harness science for societal benefit, then initiatives in artificial intelligence, next-generation computing and the like promise to break new ground as much or more than a Large Hadron Collider or the James Webb Space Telescope[2].To start, they should actually extend the power and value of these extraordinary tools. But they’ll do more than foster advances in particle physics and cosmology (with associated societal benefits, to be sure, but likely visible only over the longer term). They’ll foster new and relatively immediate breakthroughs across the whole of the human endeavor and improve prospects for every human aspiration.

Third, as for that Christmas stocking, these funding initiatives, and all that past, present, and future support for science isn’t intended as a gift. There are strings attached. With every dollar comes responsibility. It’s incumbent on us, individually and as a community, to be good stewards of this vote of confidence. We need to earn the trust that Congress and the American people they represent have conferred.

 Let’s keep at it.

[1]Based on recent reports, in the past few days, even against the background of impeachment proceedings, the Congress and the White House have reached basic agreement on $1.3 trillion of 2020 budget that will likely prevent a repeat of the previous cycle’s government shutdown.

[2]Or, for that matter, a permanent human presence on the Moon.

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What scientists want, redux: APLU structural recommendations for academia.

As set forth in the previous LOTRW post, what scientists want most is to see their research and advances in understanding applied for human benefit (and for the benefit of life more broadly). This hunger is universal and runs deep.

A case could be made that the gap between research and application is experienced most viscerally on university campuses. Researchers in government laboratories are closely connected daily to larger agency missions, legislative mandates, and the public purpose for their work. Scientists in corporate laboratories get marketplace signals on the reception of products and services derived from their research. Feedback, whether affirming or negative, is immediate and clear. By contrast, for many years academics have been working under a model that stresses basic research that may or may not see societal uptake. Impacts of their work are evaluated in terms of proxies: peer review, the citations/impact metrics resulting from their publications, etc. For academic researchers, the end value of their work can often be hard to see.

Universities and the national institutions funding basic research are aware of this problem and have explored different remedies. This is particularly true at state-supported schools, whose charters date back to the Morrill Act of 1862, explicitly purposed to foster agriculture and the mechanical arts (and hold the Union together during the Civil War). Performance evaluation for university faculty is typically couched in terms of three dimensions: research, teaching, and societal/community engagement. However, the first of these three is often given greater weight in promotion and tenure decisions. Funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation ask that research proposals speak to both intellectual merit and broader impacts, but in practice it is often the former that is evaluated with more rigor and emphasis.

Last month, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) weighed in, with a significant new report entitled Public-Impact Research: Engaged Universities Making the Difference[1]. The report is less of an ad-hoc fix and more a deep study of possible structural changes that could be made throughout the academic enterprise. The goal is not so much to supplant the current emphasis on basic research as to offer a clear complementary path for faculty whose skills/contributions fall more naturally on the applications side.

The report merits a thoughtful, complete read. The major findings give the flavor and at the same time motivate such a thorough study. So here they are, verbatim:

1. Adopt the overarching term “PIR” to better demonstrate value to the public.

  • Integrate PIR into advocacy for government and private support, showing how PIR relies upon and feeds fundamental research.
  • Contribute examples of how institutions and stakeholders use PIR in their messaging.

2. Conduct PIR more purposefully by adopting a variety of institutional approaches.

  • Identify PIR approaches that best reflect your own institutional and stakeholder cultures.
  • Adapt lessons from the experiences of other institutions, including international collaborations addressing global challenges.

3. Engage stakeholders broadly and across the entire spectrum of PIR activities.

  • Before launching a PIR initiative, consider whether the program meets the test proposed by the Kellogg Commission as the benchmark for an engaged institution and develop a plan for improving your engagement practices.
  • Identify key research strengths and how they align with important issues and needs within communities, with appropriate attention to special needs of diverse populations. Universities and partners ought to work closely with communities affected by these issues.
  • Work with partners to assess the cost of engagement as part of a PIR initiative and ensure that those costs are covered by project budgets.
  • Work with partners to develop goals for PIR initiatives and determine how progress toward those goals and the project’s community impact will be measured.

4. Communicate about PIR to all stakeholders to better convey significant public dividends.

  • Invest in communications, including human capital and dissemination tools.
  • Weave training for communication scholarship and impact to the public into the fabric of institutions.
  • Involve stakeholders (in content and, if possible, delivery) in highlighting the importance of PIR.

5. Build specific campus and stakeholder structures and policies to encourage PIR.

  • Build commitment among potential funders for research that addresses important social issues.
  • Continue to change the disciplinary-publication-focus of faculty advancement guidelines. Incentivize transdisciplinary research through explicit funding of cross-college/crossunit activities; examples include seed grants and provision of funds to the VPR to support transdisciplinary faculty hiring. Develop and share guidance for evaluating the quality and impact of non-traditional forms of academic outputs and work with stakeholders through APLU.
  • APLU and its member institutions should discuss with sponsors the possibility of using PIR and its associated typology as a means to provide consistent guidelines for measurement and evaluation of broader societal impacts.

Whew! A big list! But there are opportunities for every academic to plug in. And spread in this way over the entire academy, not only doable, but worth the effort, as society faces ever-bigger challenges of greater complexity and urgency. Public-Impact Research: Engaged Universities Making the Difference is a needed and welcome addition to an ongoing national conversation.

[1] My thanks to Roger Wakimoto, Vice Chancellor for Research at UCLA, former past AMS president, and contributor to this APLU report, for bringing it to my attention.

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What scientists want.

“Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all — that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these inferior things, but for the benefit and use of life, and that they perfect and govern it in charity. For it was from lust of power that the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger by it.”– Francis Bacon

Scientists want most of all to see their science harnessed for human benefit.

A simple idea, but it raises three questions:

1. Why? Why do scientists want this?

Scientists are first and foremost human. The greatest human yearning is to lead a life of significance, to make a difference – to matter. Gaining a new bit of knowledge and understanding? Realizing the implications of a physical or social experiment, or an observation of the natural world, or a bit of mathematics? That engenders a corresponding though usually fleeting measure of private joy. Sharing that advance, that new understanding, with others through a conference talk or a journal article? More gratifying still. A wonderful thing. But what scientists have known for centuries, and what Francis Bacon articulated so well, is that these are inferior satisfactions. And what brings a lasting peace of mind, and enduring contentment, and gratitude beyond imagining, is to see such understanding improve the human condition broadly and for the long haul. 

2. What is the reality – the situation on the ground?

Has science been – is science being– harnessed for human benefit? Most would see the situation as mixed. Science has led to great extensions of life and the quality of that life. Human numbers have exploded. In many ways, today’s much-larger populations are better housed, better nourished, generally more secure, longer-lived, and enjoying a better experience across that span of life than prior generations. The green revolution, the eradication of smallpox and polio, the harnessing of electricity and yes, even the development and use of fossil fuels – these and many more innovations have all played a role.

But much is left undone, or even heading in the wrong direction. Vaccines of proven efficacy and safety are not fully used. Root threats to human health – poor nutrition, stress, lack of sleep and exercise – though identified, remain unaddressed. Economic understanding of the need to balance opportunity for some with equity for many has been ignored, or used as a weapon for political debate. Information technology has broadened access to knowledge but at the same time has led to deliberate falsification of fact, malicious trolling and cyber bullying, and the erosion of privacy. Science has been harnessed to subjugate entire nations, to make war, to foment terror, to destroy biodiversity, shrink habitats, and degrade air, water, and soil. So far, science has merely made us better off; it has failed to make us better.

3. What will it take to use science more effectively?

More can and should be done to harness science to the benefit of life. But how can this be accomplished? 

The fuller answer requires myriad small actions, all woven together and interconnected, and sustained and evolving over time. Such work will in truth be never-ending – harnessing science for societal benefit will always remain an aspiration more than an accomplishment. But here are a few tangible first steps.

First, the world’s strategic planning should accommodate scientists at the table at the outset, and at the highest levels. National agendas are typically set with an eye to future needs and human concerns as best leaders can discern these. But the meansto their achievement are too often visualized or couched only in terms of the tools of the past. They fail to incorporate new possibilities offered by more powerful tools in the pipeline. Scientists are uniquely positioned to see such possibilities, but too often in the dark as how their efforts might be applied. We’d all be better off if leaders and nations were requesting help from science and eagerly awaiting it, versus sitting in critical judgment on it once the science arrives.

Second, leaders and peoples should do what they can to foster a culture of innovation. The future will always present constant change and demand the same of ecosystems and human populations. The societies that will thrive will be those comfortable with, adapting to, and when the occasion demands, even driving such change.

Third, toward this latter end, countries should invest far more heavily in public K-12 education, and especially STEM education, emphasizing critical thinking throughout. This is especially important in democracies such as the United States, where governments and the private sector need informed publics holding them accountable.

Fourth, and finally, it should go without saying (but since it doesn’t, it’s emphasized here) these goals can be achieved only by adopting diversity, equity, and inclusion as the essential starting point. 

All of this should be done out of what those Elizabethans called charity – what we today would call love.

If we look past our selfish, momentary preoccupations – superiority or fame or fortune or individual advancement – putting these things aside in favor of working together, scientists and non-scientists alike, for the benefit and use of life, we’ll make Francis Bacon proud.

And we’ll fulfill our God-given purpose.

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Enough is abundance.

(Note added Tuesday, December 10, 2019. In November several of us received phone calls, informing us that Dick was gravely ill, and asking that we provide some form of thanks and encouragement to him that he could receive and appreciate while still alive. This Thanksgiving post was one such offering, written to honor that request. Now, Dick has passed away. Heaven has been correspondingly enriched. It might seem that this world has been diminished in like measure. Certainly, we already miss him. But, fact is, his influence lives on, and is growing, through each of us. In the meantime, counting the moments, Dick, until we’re united with you again.)

It’s time for you and me to channel our inner Richard Krajeski.

Here in America, the last week of November 2019 finds us at the confluence of (1) ominous environmental news across virtually every front, and (2) this year’s annual Thanksgiving celebration. 

The word from the United Nations on CO2emissions is dire. We’re also learning belatedly that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, and that plastic is beginning to accumulate in our bodies (tonight’s PBS programming will unpack the story). Recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have stalled

Thanksgiving is also making the headlines, some in a not-so-good way: Extreme winter weather threatens to disrupt the busiest travel week of the yearFive things to talk about at Thanksgiving that aren’t politics. Sometimes easy to think that Thanksgiving can be equal parts celebration – and ordeal.

In the face of all this: how to be thankful?

This is where Richard Krajeski comes in. Everyone who knows Richard will know what I mean. Here’s a guy who unflinchingly faces all the good, bad, and ugly of everyday reality. He’s no Pollyanna. He sees dysfunction and brokenness – and yes, evil – for what they are, and names them. He stands up to the wrongheaded, even the powerful wrongheaded. But at the same time he sees good and hope and love and possibility at the very deepest levels of human experience, in even the worst of situations. He helps those around him get in touch and stay connected to our best selves. At meetings, and in groups, he’s most comfortable in the back, with the rest of us. But when he finds himself up front, whether at a conference lectern or a pulpit (he’s also ordained), he doesn’t merely talk; he proclaims.

And he models desired behavior. He doesn’t just opine about community resilience; he builds it, on the ground, one person at a time. Together with his wife, the fabulously energetic and insightful Kristina Peterson (she’s also a pastor), Dick has devoted a lifetime to faith-based, on-the-ground disaster relief. To be around him is to feel that school is in session. The headmaster is genial, to be sure, but still the headmaster. (And for that matter, Jesus himself is always in the neighborhood.) Dick is fully in the moment, but always with one eye out for the future.

So, for decades, within the hazards community, Dick has been supporter, participant, exhorter, comforter, spiritual measuring stick, contributing to and personifying what is best in the blend of academics, practitioners, survivors, and fellow travelers of that enterprise. He’s contributed original research, sermons, poems, and more, blending advice and encouragement of every sort.

But one note runs throughout:

Enough is abundance.

Just gotten an e-mail from Dick? There you find it at the beginning and/or the end: 

Enough is abundance.

Not that easy to wrap your head around the idea in the middle of the dozens of other e-mails and issues and the pressure of the day. But as you allow it to roll around in your head, you see the truth: enough really is abundance. And voila! The rest of the day – and maybe even life itself – is changed for you.

A graduate student worried about your thesis defense? A faculty member worried about tenure? A government worker burdened by lack of political support, or the threat of yet another (!) shutdown.? Or a daunting deadline?

Enough is abundance.

Lost everything and everyone you cared about in a disaster? Dick is providing you shelter and a hot meal. He’s not saying the words, but he’s telling you “enough is abundance.” Tomorrow you’ll see God’s love again.

Climate change realities got you down?

Enough is abundance.

Thanksgiving as much a hassle as harmony?

Enough is abundance.

Enough is abundance? Thanks for the thought, Dick! Just what we need to hear these days. We’re paying it forward. And Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from all of us.

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Ethical disaster-zone research.

Ideally, weekends provide not just a chance to catch up on household chores, but also opportunity for reflection and centering, for meditation on things that matter. 

For this latter purpose it often helps to have a starting point – material giving some initial focus and structure to your thinking. 

JC Gaillard and Lori Peek have provided just such a rich source of ideas for you in their comment published November 20 in Nature, entitled Disaster-zone research needs a code of conduct.

They introduce the topic this way:

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage, Alaska, in late November 2018. Roads buckled and chimneys tumbled from rooftops. Business operations were disrupted. Schools were damaged across the district. This was the largest earthquake to shake the region in a generation, and there was much to learn. What was the state of the infrastructure? Might further quakes occur? How did people respond? Teams of scientists and engineers from across the United States mobilized to conduct field reconnaissance in partnership with local researchers and practitioners. These efforts were coordinated through the clearing house set up by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute in Oakland, California, which provided daily in-person and online briefings, as well as a web portal for sharing data.

But researchers are not always so welcome in disaster zones. After the deadly Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on 26 December 2004, hundreds of academics from countries including Japan, Russia, France and the United States rushed to the region to collect perishable data. This influx of foreign scientists angered and fatigued some locals; many declined researchers’ requests for interviews. The former governor of Aceh province, Indonesia, where more than 128,000 people died, described foreign researchers as “guerrillas applying hit-and-run tactics”. Yet research on tsunami propagation and people’s response to the event has led to improved warnings and emergency-response plans.

Hooked? You should be. This dilemma runs across the whole of the social sciences – think, for example, about studies of poverty, or spousal abuse, or the rights of the LGBTQ community. But nowhere is it more raw or sensitive than when whole populations are devastated by catastrophe, rummaging around an apocalyptic landscape, devoid of much of the social and physical underpinnings of their former lives, coming to terms with a new normal. 

Hopefully you will want to peruse the complete Nature comment carefully. Again, to pique your interest, Gaillard and Peek argue that any code of conduct should embody three guiding principles:

  • Have a clear purpose
  • Respect local voices
  • Coordinate locals and outsiders

They expand on each of these in turn, in crisp, unambiguous language. A good summary of the issues. Sound advice, making priorities clear, but stimulating thought, leaving room for situational flexibility. 

By now, you should be eager to get reading! But before you start, a few closing comments (admittedly from the perspective of a bystander, someone not doing research in this area):

Benefit those impacted. First (and the detailed discussion by Gaillard and Peek make this explicit) the scientists’ purpose can’t merely be clear, it has to contribute to the benefit and recovery of those who have been most impacted by the calamity, not only the myriad others who may hypothetically be impacted by similar events in future years. Social scientists should be doing more than merely “documenting human failure” ever more authoritatively.

Institutional Review Boards. Most universities, and many other entities, have established IRB’s to ensure that their researchers (especially in social and health fields) do no harm to those who are subjects in their studies. At least from my sideline vantage point, it seems IRB’s struggle when it comes to disaster research, just as communities and individuals struggle with disasters themselves. Sometimes it appears that IRB’s settle for protecting their institutuions from litigation, as opposed to heavier lift of respecting the needs of those recovering from disasters.

Participatory action researchWikipedia summarizes this as:

an approach to research in communities that emphasizes participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection. PAR emphasizes collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history. Within a PAR process, “communities of inquiry and action evolve and address questions and issues that are significant for those who participate as co-researchers”. PAR contrasts with many research methods, which emphasize disinterested researchers and reproducibility of findings.

This suggests that social science researchers do well, particularly with respect to the ethical dimensions of their work, when they embed themselves to the extent possible in the communities where they work, make their goals and aspirations congruent to the extent possible with the interests of those communities, and work together to develop the knowledge and understanding that will lead to recovery and to improved future outcomes.  Again (to an outsider), it looks as if many of the conflicts of interest facing researchers disappear by the application of such methods, the more so as the ideal is approached.

Gaillard and Peek go on to discuss first steps. They’ve teed up a much-needed conversation. Now it’s time for the rest of us to join in both the conversation and (more ethical) action.

Everybody have a good weekend!

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This week’s House S&T Committee EPIC hearing.

Wednesday afternoon I had occasion to participate in an iconic 21st-century American pastime – decamping from the office in order to wait at home for the cable guy, who then never shows up until well after the agreed-upon time window (essentially valuing the residents’ time at zero). The silver lining? An opportunity to watch the live-streamed  U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on EPIC.

Folks living outside the Beltway might be forgiven for thinking that nothing is going on in Congress outside the much-ballyhooed impeachment hearings. But the reality is quite different. For the most part, the nation’s business continues. There’s a focus on meaningful priorities, and there’s comity and bipartisanship, all resulting in worthwhile discussion. That was the case in Wednesday’s hearing.

What made the hearing EPIC was not this conjunction of rational elements, but rather the subject matter: the notional Earth Prediction Innovation Center. (Taking a few liberties), here’s a thumbnail version of the background: In 2017 Congress passed the (remarkably nonpartisan) Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, which among other things called for a national weather forecasting capability that will surpass that of the Europeans. The hearing was focused on what’s been done to date, future plans, and the resources that will be needed. The committee heard from a distinguished panel:

  • Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, performing the duties of Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA
  • Dr. Clifford Mass, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington 
  • Dr. Peter P. Neilley, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Director of Weather Forecasting Sciences and Technologies, The Weather Company, An IBM Business 
  • Dr. Thomas Auligné, Director of the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)

The full discussion is worth your viewing, but here are a few takeaways/reflections:

Goal. To people of a certain age, this goal of surpassing the European weather forecast capability calls to mind the 1960’s challenge of reaching the moon by the end of that decade. At the time, President Kennedy referred to this as a race that the United States would win, but he also referred to a loftier goal of building on innovation more generally to “explore the stars.” EPIC’s framing has some elements of a race as well. Some comments at this week’s hearing seemed to suggest that U.S. research expertise in weather prediction is unsurpassed, so that achieving superior weather forecasts for societal benefit was largely a matter of (1) NOAA’s opening its doors and providing greater academic-research-community and private-enterprise access to operational models and model development (unifying not just the codes but also the supporting community computing infrastructure), and (2) substantially increasing the computing power available to government, academia, and the private-sector.

These steps can indeed accelerate U.S. progress. But there’s probably little joy in seeing this as a race, for several reasons. First, unlike going to the moon, where there’s little ambiguity about “who gets there first,” superior European weather-forecasting skill is something that can only be discerned from statistical analysis. Second, the European capability is not fixed, but a moving target. Equaling their current level of skill will be easier than catching up to where they’ll by that time. Third, and most fundamentally, European Center and U.S. centers have historically cooperated, and the Europeans are not an enemy. By contrast, during the Cold War, the connection of the space race to nuclear missile capability was obvious, and the Soviet threat to U.S. and indeed world interests was tangible and real.

It’s therefore important to keep in mind, and perhaps even elevate, the broader idea that America hosts the world’s widest variety of weather challenges: great cycles of drought and flood; winter storms matching those of other high latitude countries; hurricanes matching those of lower-latitude nations; severe warm-season convection; and a virtual lock on the world’s tornadoes. Better weather forecasts are therefore fundamental to every American aspiration: renewable energy, food production, and water management; life and safety in the face of extremes; and protection of the environment and ecosystems. The goal is a better life for every American, and indeed every person, plant, and animal on Earth. (The idea is not to choose between either of two quite different framings, but rather balance them and realize the benefits of both).

Time frame. The prepared statements, the questions, and the answers to those questions could have left viewers with unfounded expectation of a “quick win.” The idea that American university research expertise is a vast underutilized resource only needing to be tapped is a bit simplistic. Incentives for advancement within the academic research community are not exactly aligned with the personal investments needed to contribute to the practitioners’ world. The cultures are wildly different – and for good reasons. The difficulties of “unification” of codes, hardware, etc., were largely unaddressed or glossed over. Big data, artificial intelligence, and other nations are competing for the same talent pools. The governance issues are themselves non-trivial, as is the need for…

Resources. There was universal agreement across the panelists and committee members that more resources will be needed. Discussion focused on money and computing power. The current budget discussion in Congress shows perhaps $7.5-15M available the first year, depending on the Senate or the House mark. All parties agreed that either mark would be wholly inadequate, but there were no suggestions about how the needed higher levels of funding might be achieved.

Governance. The funding discussion played into considerations of governance. Everyone agreed that the Center should be hosted/housed outside of NOAA (but with NOAA (and other federal agencies strong participants). This point was emphasized beginning with the opening statements and reaffirmed throughout, as if to assuage fears that NOAA would somehow capture the entity, and the country would wind up no better off than before. The NOAA-veteran-of-32-years part of me was a bit put off by this tone, maybe even defensive, but it is right decision. One exchange suggested that this extramural location would ensure sustainability following the end of the current administration. However, follow through over the long term will stand or fall based more fundamentally on whether at its core EPIC is a good idea.

Other comments under this heading included whether EPIC should be a completely new entity, whether it should eventually morph from a virtual organization (demanded by the small size of the budget increment) or something more concrete featuring bricks and mortar. A cautionary note: Formation of a new entity risks creating yet another marginally-supported institution likely to be drawn into turf wars with existing (also marginally funded) players. Even a proposal-driven process that results in an existing institution taking on this additional role will be similarly vulnerable. This suggests that all stakeholders, including the Congress, devote equal attention to community-building across the so-called Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise.

Near the hearing’s close, two questions were raised that ought to be of special interest to all of us.

Return on investment. The first was: What will be the return on investment here? It’s likely that none of the panelists is satisfied with the answers they were able to mount. The interlocutor seemed satisfied after hearing that several trillion dollars a year of U.S. economic activity is weather-dependent. This answer is a bit glib. The foot-shuffling highlights the importance of ongoing efforts across the Enterprise to develop better analysis and characterization of the value of environmental intelligence.

What will change? The second was: Let’s go out five years. EPIC has been a success. What will be/feel different to the average American? The answers were variations on a theme that Americans can have more confidence in their forecasts.

True enough. But’s that not going to change the experience for those in harm’s way. That’s because forecast improvements are barely keeping pace with increasing demands on forecast quality imposed by population increase, urbanization, the rise of social media, and other social change and technological advance. So long as emergency response requires mobilizing larger numbers of Americans ever-sooner in the face of approaching threats, under major uncertainty about their options and associated risks, American lives will continue to disrupted, even forever changed by weather, water, and climate extremes. Americans can feel safer and enjoy more control  in the face of natural hazards only when land use, building codes, and more robust critical infrastructure systemically reduce hazard risk; when public education and public policies restore equity and agency.

EPIC alone, as currently viewed, will not by itself change that. Still a lot of work ahead.

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Living in the (Rabbit)-Hole-ocene

Go down the rabbit hole: 

To enter into a process or journey that is particularly strange, difficult, problematic, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds.

Geologists tell us that we’re living in the Holocene, which is the name they’ve given to this, the second epoch of the Quaternary period.  The Holocene covers the 12,000 years, give or take, since the last glacial epoch, the Pleistocene[1].

Some would say that human beings have defined a new epoch, the Anthropocene – the age of it’s all about-us. There’s a good case to be made for this. However, it just may be that the current epoch is actually morphing into something less:

The Rabbit-Hole-ocene.

This reality dawned on me during the morning’s commute to the office on the Metro. I’m old school, so each day I bring the home-delivered print edition of the Washington Post along to prepare me for the day. On the ride in, I read, in succession, that

  • The U.S. signaled intent to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change at the earliest possible moment (meaning the day after the 2020 presidential election)
  • California wildfires were knocking out the state’s air quality monitors, just when the air was approaching its smokiest
  • New Delhi is losing the battle against air pollution
  • Another forest “guardian” was killed amid the rising tensions over logging in the Brazilian Amazon
  • Bauxite mining would harm Ghana
  • Chocolatiers are fueling deforestation
  • California burns. Always has. Where there’s smoke, there’s California.
  • (from the science section) that physics only works if we supply a giant fudge factor, bringing in “dark matter” and “dark energy
  • (from Dogbert) that “dark matter” must be “stupidity” – and when Dilbert asks “why didn’t I see that,” Dogbert drives his argument home: “because you’re 85% dark matter.”
  • (and all this is just the job-relevant news, before I get to the Nats’ White House visit or Carolyn Hax’ always-lucid advice).

Yup. Each day’s world’s events, and their retelling, are strange, difficult, problematic, and complex on the face of things, and become even more so as we delve in.

Not just during the morning commute, but each and every hour of the day, you and I are confronted with a choice between keeping up with what eight billion people are doing while our backs are turned, or making our own contributions, while their backs are turned. Seeking to understand, vs. seeking to be understood. Balancing the two, especially when engaged in knowledge work, is problematic, almost existentially so. Getting it right matters!

That’s why I’m glad I also read this morning’s Washington Post articles on

  • The prevalence of worry in our society (who knew “GAD – generalized anxiety disorder – was a thing?)
  • The benefits of coffee (these articles on coffees effects appear frequently; as a six-cup-a-day-guy I hold my breath whenever I see such a headline; each time (so far) I’ve come away relieved if not reaffirmed.

To repeat: if we fail to immerse ourselves in news and social media of every stripe, we risk irrelevance in 21st-century society. But if we do nothing else, if we fail to make our own contribution to the general noise, we will lack utility.  Two quite different skills, traits. The former rewards those of us who are ADHD, and extroverted. The latter calls for focus and favors the introverts among our number.

Well, now I’m late, I’m late for a very important date. Gotta run – on to my day job, and its focus on the value of environmental intelligence.

(With a tip of the hat to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – who saw this all coming almost two centuries ago.)

[1] If you succumbed to the instinct to click on this link, you’ll agree we live in the Rabbit-Hole-ocene.

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Value and Worth.

The real world’s value doesn’t decrease based on our inability to see its worth. (paraphrase of an inspirational quote)

Most of us, as individuals and in community, are a bit preoccupied, and rightfully so, with our worth. Do we matter? Are our lives significant? What gives those lives meaning? Is my company, my NGO, my government, my university, our nation making a difference? These and other questions rule our thoughts and also our emotions. 

Hardly surprising that our moods can swing wildly up and down depending on the feedback we get from others. Hence the motivational posters: your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

The reality? Each of us knows better than any outsider that we are daily falling short of our potential — and precisely how. We’re constantly striving to do better. Those outside critics are merely piling on – taking a break from contemplation of their own shortcomings to focus on our deficiencies.

That’s why criticism, however it might seem merited by those who offer it, is generally worse than useless. “Constructive criticism?” An almost negligible subset of the larger critical noise in our world. Essentially an oxymoron. (Encouragement? An entirely different matter – but a subject for another day.) 

My community – the gaggle of people developing environmental intelligence[1]– is no exception. We constantly assess the value of what we do. Historically, these self-assessments have been piecemeal, subjective, anecdotal, flawed. That may have been adequate to the need in past years. Natural resources were, for practical purposes, unlimited. Whether they were renewable or non-renewable mattered little. Our vulnerability to extremes was localized; there was little critical infrastructure to be affected. The environment was pristine; natural ecosystems were thriving alongside agriculture. And the costs of monitoring all this, with the rudimentary tools we had available, together with a bit of research, was a negligible fraction of government budgets and national economies.

But today, and going forward, the picture is different. Eight billion people are consuming resources at a per capita rate tenfold greater than our ancestors. Extremes of weather and climate are disrupting megacities, destroying economies, and displacing whole populations. Signs of habitat loss, reduction in biodiversity and environmental degradation are disturbing. What’s more, the trends in these respects are worrisome.

And at the same time the costs of monitoring – making the basic measurements and observations, assimilating the data, predicting immediate weather threats and assessing longer-term global changes, and factoring in the likely societal impacts – are themselves growing. 

Two ideas are emerging in this new landscape. The first is an awareness of ecosystem services

  • provision: of food, energy, water…
  • regulation: control of climate, disease…
  • support: of nutrient cycles, atmospheric oxygen, etc.
  • culture: spiritual, recreational benefits.

Unsurprisingly, monetized estimates for the value of these are rudimentary and these vary. They tend to fall in the $10T-$50T/year range. Researchers have also estimated that the value of such services are trending downward, in response to environmental degradation, at rates that would reduce the value by 50% in a few decades or even more rapidly.

A second, related notion is that of a so-called green GDP. This is, as the name applies, a recalculation of the usual GDP estimates factoring into account the environmental consequences of that economic activity (i.e., in economics-Speak, internalizing those externalities).

Even this barest of descriptions should make it obvious: the value of ecosystem services, and hence world GDP itself, will be increasingly dependent on policy: with respect to carbon emissions, solar- and wind energy development, land use and development, and much more. Economic growth will swing up or down depending on the extent that we formulate policies congruent with the way our planet works. What’s more, policies will allocate costs and benefits, determining winners and losers. And finally, policies can either foster or suppress innovation, directly, through funding of research and development, especially in the environmental sciences and related technologies, but also indirectly with respect to K-12 public education, especially STEM education. These realities hold not just for countries individually, but for their future prospects among the international community. Countries that get their policies right will gain in influence and their ability to lead and shape the destiny of the world as a whole. 

If ecosystem services and green GDP matter, then we need to get far better, rapidly, at keeping score. Thus the one policy that matters most in this future world is our policy with respect to environmental intelligence. Here, especially the race will be to the swift. We need to gain a predictive understanding of the coupled Earth-human system, one allowing us to shape a favorable destiny – versus a retrospective understanding, one that merely lets us see after the fact where we went wrong.

A couple of closing notes. The AMS 2020 Centennial Annual Meeting includes a presidential session Monday morning that will examine these issues: The Enterprise: Worth More Than You Think. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The issue is moving to center stage at relevant federal agencies, across academia, the private sector, and NGO’s (including AMS, Resources for the Future, and others). It has been and will continue to be the topic of conversation at AMS Annual Meetings, the Washington Forum, and the Summer Community Meeting for years to come.

The Enterprise is indeed worth more than you think.

BTW? so are you.

[1]The provision of observations, science and services based on weather, water, climate, and more.

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