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.

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