Public Policy

MISSION #4: Engage in dialogue with public officials and contribute to the establishment of policies and frameworks that effectively confront hazardous weather risk. Provide actionable ideas that enable researchers, forecasters, and managers to make tangible improvements to public safety.


On Capitol Hill with the 2012 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium participants.

Science for Policy & Policy for Science


In the summer of 2012, I was competitively selected to participate in the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, an intensive, ten-day immersion in science policy that takes place each year in Washington, D.C. The program, which is designed for mid-career earth and atmospheric scientists, was an incredible opportunity to meet and have candid “off-the-record” dialogue with high-level national leaders who work at the intersection of science and policy. The days we spent speaking with policy makers on Capitol Hill and participating in legislation-drafting exercises inspired me to consider the growing importance of public policy for scientists in the 21st century. Even with ground-breaking research, accurate weather forecasts, and proper emergency management training, their long-term benefit to national resilience cannot be realized without sound policy. Scientific discoveries can affect public policies, but public policies can also affect the conduct of science. In this context, science and politics no longer become two distinct objects. Rather, they have been and continue to be deeply intertwined. Thus, it behooves us as scientists to remain informed and actively engage the policy process. A fellow Summer Policy Colloquium participant, Jen Henderson, wrote an excellent blog article about her experience at the 2012 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium.

Over the last century, science and politics have become increasingly entangled. While a deterministic perspective of scientific history might present a linear, causal model of social progress directly resulting from scientific advancements, most science policy scholars acknowledge a relationship that is far more complex and nuanced. As societies have become more interconnected, the unintended consequences of scientific and technological innovation have become more pervasive. This is especially true as politically charged issues, such as climate change, clean energy, natural hazard mitigation, and geoengineering, become more important to society even as we experience greater federal budget constraints. Add to this debates about protecting the scientific deliberation process from political influences, and it becomes clear that we face a complex road ahead.

Still, there are ways for scientists to shape this uncertain future. When scientists and policymakers successfully engage with one another, they can address major problems, as was the case with policies that minimized the growth of the ozone hole and that mitigated the impacts of microbursts on the aviation community. Today, scientists confront additional obstacles, including effectively communicating with different publics and balancing scientific uncertainty with social impacts while forecasting extreme events (e.g., Hurricane Sandy). Active engagement with the science policy arena has become one of the most prominent issues of our generation.

I am currently writing a paper about these issues. Together with Dr. Aaron Goldner, 2013-2014 AGU Congressional Science Fellow, and Jen Henderson, social scientist at Virginia Tech, we hope to inform and inspire the scientific community to better understand and contribute to the policy process. Another shorter paper of ours, entitled “Science Policy: Using Your Voice to Inform and Inspire,” was published in the 19 February 2013 issue of Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, which can be downloaded here.