Some “good news” from the AMS – on diversity and inclusion – to start off 2018.

If the world could stand a bit less in the way of scolding, per the topic of recent LOTRW posts, then it won’t do to leave a vacuum. What’s needed is a spotlight shining on the positive out there. In that spirit, here’s some good news from the American Meteorological Society – with respect to diversity and inclusion.

Some background: It turns out good news comes in many different levels. Let’s start with two – and maybe touch on a third.

Good news – Level 1.

My Christmas presents this year included a gift I’ve also gotten in some years past: a small box of chocolates – chocolate-covered cherries to be precise. My absolute favorites! There were only twelve in the box. Some years I’ve limited myself to one per day, in an effort to extend the experience. But this year I binged; the chocolate-covered cherries were consumed several days ago.

(Oh, Bill, that’s so wonderful. We’re all so very happy for you, Bill.)

See what I mean? Certain kinds of good news become something much less – almost the antithesis – in the retelling and the hearing. In this case, the positive is only for one person, and only for a moment. To bother sharing reveals a high degree of self-absorption. It provides little or no hope to any hearer, nor does it add pop to that hearer’s step. In a sense, it’s consumed, much like those chocolates; it’s not shareable or self-multiplying. (As recounted in the earlier post, Taylor Swift thanking her fans for a good 2017 – she was thanking her fans, that’s different – still ran afoul of this kind of reaction.)

That brings us to

Good news – Level 2.

The good news from close to home – continuing efforts at the American Meteorological Society to support diversity and inclusion – is of the second, more important type.

Here’s the AMS diversity statement: The American Meteorological Society (AMS) is committed to, and benefits from the full and equitable participation of a diverse community in its membership, in its activities, and in the audiences that it serves. The advancement of the AMS mission is dependent on its ability to have a professional membership that is fully representative of societal demographics. The Society, therefore, embraces diversity through the inclusion of individuals across age, gender, race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, physical ability, marital status, sexual orientation, body shape or size, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, and other facets of social diversity.

Unlike Level 1, this good news is good news for every hearer. The message tells you and me: you’ll be welcome here. You’ll fit in. Your contributions will be valued. The AMS isn’t just some unfeeling professional society where relationships are transactional, nothing more – it’s a true community. What’s more, we-they is less of a thing here than elsewhere. You’re not being invited to some exclusive club. We’re a science and service organization, and our inclusion extends across the myriad domestic and international publics we serve. It would be possible to wax further on all this, but you get the idea.

Some might be inclined to downplay the significance of such AMS efforts, on several grounds: (1) everyone’s trying to sound inclusive these days; (2) here at the AMS we don’t seem to be making much progress; and even if we were, (3) this is a small piece of a much larger, deeper societal problem, and much of that larger society seems to be tending in the other direction.

But to think that way would be wrongheaded. With respect to the first objection, the AMS isn’t just jumping on a bandwagon. We have been at this a long time – as long as any living AMS member can recall. Embrace of diversity and inclusion have been abiding AMS values since its founding. Upon examination, these aspirations reflect the inherent nature of our science and services. Weather, water, and climate services require a degree of cooperation, teamwork, respect – the participation of all – across a wide range of disciplines and peoples. This is unique in the sciences.

What’s more, it’s not as if every group or institution or nation is trying to move in this direction. Certain elements are working hard to enhance exclusion in our society. For example: some (thankfully a minority) of political and religious leaders, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Some seeking to end internet neutrality. Isolationists on all continents calling for walls, physical or legal, at international borders. And so on. Inclusion and diversity are hardly universal goals.

That brings us to the second objection – that, if anything, the fact that “we’ve been at this a long time” argues that our AMS progress is slow. True enough. Women, ethic minorities, and other minority groups do indeed remain under-represented across the Society. But the metrics, though primitive, do show signs of improvement, especially with respect to early-career entrants to the field. And participation by under-represented groups across AMS’ extensive volunteer structure shows them to be active and involved. Such indicators hint that the makeup of the AMS may start to look quite different over coming years.

Part of this latter objection also raises the question, “if this is good news, what’s truly new?” Well, it turns out there are several things:

  • An AMS Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, under the leadership of Susan Avery.
  • A Diversity-and-Inclusion page on the AMS Website
  • An AMS President, Roger Wakimoto, who has made inclusion a priority for his tenure, and who is framing the 2019 AMS Annual Meeting around “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive [emphasis added](III).”
  • Launch of the AMS Early Career Leadership Academy. (From the AMS website ) With support provided by IBM, the American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Early Career Leadership Academy (ECLA) aims to build and sustain a diverse network of early career leaders in weather, water, and climate science. ECLA will bring together a select group of early career individuals, in particular, women and underrepresented minorities, for an immersion experience in leadership, such as creative problem-solving; conflict resolution; building trust and enhancing communication skills. We seek early career individuals from a wide range of professions, interests, perspectives, cultures, and experiences. (Important Note!!! To be eligible for the first ECLA, April 26-27, 2018, you must apply by January 19. See the webpage for details)

Which brings us to the third objection: that even as the AMS and the weather, water, and climate community become more inclusive, such steps remain small relative to the size of the problem, as laid out by Deanna Hence in her LOTRW guest post. She reminds us that the abuse so prevalent a part of the experience of underrepresented groups, whether the LGBT community, or Puerto Ricans struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, or America’s urban poor or women in general, can hardly be addressed by the AMS efforts bulletized above.

All of this is true enough! But these are the elements within AMS influence. And through these and follow-on efforts, AMS will “be the change we want to see in the world.” In analogy with Lorenz’ butterfly, flapping its diminutive wings but setting into motion tomorrow’s hurricane, we can contribute to that larger, beneficent change.

Good news – Level 3?

Feel free to stop here if you want. We could end on this note.

However, to do so, to stop now, is to leave hanging a serious difficulty. Nothing so far has suggested that exclusion versus inclusion is anything more than a personal preference. And at this point in the discussion there’s no reason to think that the one is better than the other. It would follow that those preferring either view can either keep their preference to themselves or fight for it. What’s more, such fighting would be exhausting and, more importantly, polarizing – favoring, even fostering we-they divisions and therefore exclusion. At best, for those favoring inclusion, the outcome would perpetually be in doubt.

But few of us – almost none – really believe that. Instead most of us think and act as if something in the fundamental nature of the universe favors inclusion over exclusion. That attitude seems less like conscious learning than something hardwired in our nature. Some would say there’s a contribution from evolutionary behavior. Tribalism contains a state of tension between inclusion and exclusion that in prehistory might have offered survival value.  But for the past 2000 years, inclusion’s been given a little push by a rumor, arising in the Middle East, about a third level of “good news.”

The people living back then and there knew exclusion and worse to be the order of the day. They endured stupefying levels of government oppression; abuse of women, religious and ethnic minorities; slavery, poverty, war, and terror. History had recorded little else, and offered no prospect of change.

But then something happened. A man appeared, announcing “good news.” He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and offered a message of inclusion – for women and children as well as men; for the hated, despised other – the Gentile, the Roman soldier and the tax collector – as well as the Jew. The establishment of the time, both Roman and Jewish, was less than thrilled. In other instances, they’d found execution to be effective in putting an end to such rebels and their messages; they tried this here. To their dismay, killing him didn’t put a stop to things; quite the opposite. Those on the scene reported his resurrection; this news and his message went viral, quickly spreading across the Mediterranean. Today, some 2B people, one-third of the world’s population, self-identify with that “good news;” abetted by the Internet, the viral spread appears to be continuing, with the most rapid growth occurring in China, Africa, and Latin America.

It might be argued that it’s this deeper, third level of “good news,” that gives all other levels of good news their juice. Reason for reflection – perhaps even encouragement – as we enter 2018.

And in the meantime, register for ECLA!

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