Monday, June 24, 2013

Changing the Tone

I am traveling to Nashville this week to meet with valued colleagues in our Broadcast Meteorology, Warning, and Communications communities. This meeting provides an opportunity for colleagues from various corners of the community to come together. It provides a forum for discourse on new opportunities, challenges, and partnerships. I am certain that dialogue will touch on some difficult topics (e.g., communicating tornado threats, how severe weather is covered, and even climate change). While different viewpoints exist on each of these topics, I am happy that we have a format to convene, debate, and discuss the issues professionally. This realization stimulated thought about the broader discussion and tone that is emerging around an issue that our community faces, climate change. As with my twitter site, my blogs represent my personal perspectives rather than AMS or any other organizational positions or viewpoints. Herein, I am writing from the perspective of member of our community and AMS President.

I am reflecting on a recent exchange in which someone expressed concern to me that the AMS is too passive on climate change and should hold its members accountable for communicating the science properly. Around the same time, I was having a discussion with someone expressing concern that they believe the AMS Climate Change Statement is too heavy-handed and AMS is trying to make me say something I don’t believe.  This is common with an organization with such breadth and scope.  I hope you see the challenge and why I now have a few grey hairs in my facial peach fuzz (smile). By training I am a scientist, but more importantly, I am a human that seeks to find common ground, accepts differences of viewpoints, and lives by a set of values rooted in charity or love.

The Tone:  One of the primary goals that I stated as incoming AMS President was to promote an environment in which all viewpoints were welcomed, even if they are not in agreement with aspects of the 2012 AMS Statement on Climate Change or my own scientific viewpoints. Each of the nearly 15,000+ members is not a part of a monolith and will have different viewpoints. "My mother and I don't always agree, but when we don't agree, we don't seek to tear each other down, call each other names or bully each other into our respective viewpoints." And to be clear, I have seen examples of these things from all sides of the discussion. This is counter-productive because paints a picture of hostility to the public, media, and policymakers.  This fact also breeds mistrust. A common theme among valued colleagues on both sides of this issue that I queried. Any of us that have entered this discussion may be guilty so there are “no stones being cast.”

I believe that most people can have a reasonable position even if there are threads of disagreement. As a three-time Florida State alum, I have honestly had Gators and Hurricanes fans in my house. Light Digression (smile).  In productive relationships, sides share perspectives, try to find common ground, and move ahead.  I see scientific discourse the same way. Why is there such vitriol and anger on a topic, even if there is disagreement? Scientists are trained to explore, debate, and exchange (often opposing) ideas without emotion. Increasingly, I am seeing more voices enter the debate that may not understand that discourse, peer review, and differences are a part of scientific exchange.

Mike Smith and James Spann are two of the most important voices within meteorology. I am proud to call both of these men colleagues.  Guess what, Mike, James, and I have different perspectives on climate change. Yet, I respect both of these men tremendously and would lend my support to them in anyway if they ever needed it, and I think they respect that. James Spann recently told me, “I would rather focus on the things that bring us together instead of the things that tear us apart. My work is focused in making the severe weather warning process better. And, we are making great strides.” This is a powerful statement and consistent with some text that I close with herein.  People who know me personally and not behind an obscure computer screen, know that I seek to foster openness and a non-confrontational environment.

Conferences: Anyone that has been in academic or scholarly discussions with me knows that I am very open to engagement and will cite peer-reviewed literature from all perspectives. In fact, while having breakfast with 2 very prominent scientists last year in Washington, DC that may, at times, challenge the consensus position, I floated the idea of a possible session at the 2014 AMS meeting that would give "all" sides a viewpoint at AMS and stimulate open discussion in appropriate format. During that same breakfast meeting, one of the colleagues shared news of a new paper of his in an AMS journal. I thanked him and shared it in a class the next semester.

Committee on Climate Change Communications:  Many may not be aware of an activity that AMS initiated a few years ago. The Committee on Climate Change Communications (CICCC), currently chaired by Past President Bob Ryan, has been hosting events and Climate Cafes to foster an environment where “all” viewpoints can be shared comfortably even if not from the near-consensus position.  The activities of the CICCC were aimed at not “changing opinions” or force feeding a viewpoint but establishing an environment where members can respectively exchange and disagree.

Why I don’t debate on Twitter: As many know, I am a huge fan and proponent of social media. I believe scholars and scientists need to be in this “game”.  Twitter is particularly useful for high-impact and short time scale events, and I find it to be of value for quick information/science "bites" within our field. Because of Twitter's character limitations, I find it unappealing as a format for back/forth discourse because dialogue can quickly become antagonistic, context can be lost, or “portions” of tweets can end up out of context in blogs or news feeds. As such, I have stated that I would not engage deeply within that format.  AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter wrote a really nice piece several weeks ago ( on "Toaster Streudel Arguments" It provides insight on why I do not engage on the topic on Twitter. If you catch me at a conference, in a classroom, or within peer-reviewed literature, I am happy to engage.
Uncertainty:  In the recent AMS Policy Statement on climate change in the Next Generation Science Standards, we were very adamant about including statements about “uncertainty” and the scientific process. We received emails applauding AMS for how we handled that statement and some were from rather surprising sources. This level of support from a wide-range of colleagues with differing viewpoints was very satisfying because there was quite a bit of discussion to assure that we characterized that element carefully.

A Voice with Many Voices

The AMS is a voice for the community and is not defined by one issue. I encourage members not be defined by one issue either. There are critical recent issues involving the broader weather community (e.g. weather satellites, budget cuts, furloughs, modeling capacity, storm chasing, and hazard communication/perception issues) in which the AMS voice stood strong for the greater good of the community.  These issues unite not divide, and there is always strength in numbers. I am convinced that our collective voice was vital to many recent key decisions that have benefited the overall weather community.  Further, many young professionals are afforded career development and promotion through AMS, and I encourage them to not lose sight of the forest because of “one tree.”

In closing, another goal of mine was to grow the Society and broaden its base, and our membership growth numbers have been strong. Thank You. The tent is wide enough for all viewpoints.  I look forward to meeting many of you soon at various meetings and having “person to person” conversations because that is how I was raised.