The AMS joins the American Institute of Physics.

Mere hours ago, the American Institute of Physics announced that the American Meteorological Society has just become its newest member. The press release cites advantages to members of both organizations, and there’ll be plenty. But they’ll be dwarfed by the likely substantial benefits for society writ large.

Here’s why.

First, some background. Readers of this blog may be more familiar with the American Meteorological Society than with the AIP. In brief, this is how the AIP self-identifies: Dedicated to the advancement of physics, AIP serves a federation of physical science societies, and provides leadership through its own programs and publications.

Drilling down further on the AIP website yields this:

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership corporation created for the purpose of promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare[1]. It is the mission of the Institute to serve the sciences of physics and astronomy by serving its Member Societies, individual scientists, students and the general public.

As a “society of societies,” AIP supports Member Societies, who represent a broad cross-section of scientists, engineers, and educators in the global physical science community. Through its Physics Resources Center, AIP delivers valuable services and expertise in education and student programs, science communications, government relations, career services for science and engineering professionals, statistical research in physics employment and education, industrial outreach, and the history of physics and allied fields. AIP also publishes the flagship magazine Physics Today and is home to the Society of Physics Students and the Niels Bohr Library and Archives.

A short squib on their historical origins is particularly interesting:

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) was founded in 1931 in response to funding problems brought on by the Great Depression. At the urging of the Chemical Foundation, which provided initial funding, leaders of American physics formed a corporation for the “advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the science of physics and its application to human welfare,” especially by achieving economies in the publishing of journals and the maintenance of membership lists.

Broader concerns also argued for cooperation. With the advent of esoteric theory in quantum, nuclear, and relativity physics, the worlds of academic and industrial physics seemed to be drifting apart. Meanwhile the public found physics increasingly hard to comprehend, and some blamed science-based technology for the perils of modern warfare and economic collapse. [emphasis added.]

Thus while the bulk of AIP’s efforts would always be devoted to publishing and membership services, from the outset the Institute also worked to foster cooperation among different segments of the physics community and to improve public understanding of science.

In a 2006 report on capacity building, ICSU, the International Council for Science, noted that a great [societal] “challenge, a development problem, is the widening gap between advancing scientific knowledge and technology and society’s ability to capture and use them.”

Both AMS and the current AIP member societies number among their professionals not just scientists but also service providers. They share keen interest in tackling this challenge and they bring complementary skills to the table. Inclusion of the AMS in the stable of AIP member societies adds a significant new arena to the AIP purview – Earth observation, science, and services – and corresponding new opportunities for societal benefit, in an important set of applications: resources, environmental protection, and resilience to natural hazards. Look for good things to happen.

A closing note: Much of the ICSU challenge lies in the policy arena. Not just members but the larger world have a stake in how AMS and AIP leadership and their respective policy staffs collaborate over time.

[1] Emphasis added. Sounds close to what the AMS says about itself: The American Meteorological Society promotes the development and dissemination of information and education on the atmospheric and related oceanic and hydrologic sciences and the advancement of their professional applications.

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