SOLUTIONS TO SCIENTIFIC PROBLEMS ROOTED IN CHARACTER
The next member of the “character community” to profile is my good friend William Hooke. Bill now directs the Policy Program at the American Meteorological Society, where he has been since 2000. But he started out as an atmospheric scientist. For 33 years he worked as a career civil service employee with what is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [You may have noticed that sometimes your weather forecast is wrong? Bill’s job, first as a scientist, and then as a manager and a leader of scientists and engineers, was to make those forecasts better.] Bill started out in the research world, in Boulder, Colorado, but eventually, in 1987, Senior Executive Service responsibilities brought him to Washington, DC. He served for seven years as the Deputy Chief Scientist of NOAA, in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations. For two years he was Senior Scientist in the office of then Secretary of Commerce William Daley. For much of his time in Washington, Bill worked under White House auspices to coordinate inter-agency federal research and collaboration in reducing the impacts of disasters. His work cut across floods and storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, pandemics, and terrorist acts. He came to see that science could help, but that public policies, toward land use and building codes, and protection of critical infrastructure, were far more important. In 2006 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, which was founded in 1745 by Benjamin Franklin and is “held at Philadelphia for the promotion of useful knowledge.”
The world’s peoples – all seven billion of us – wake up each morning seeking a slightly better life on this Earth, which is, at one and the same time, a resource, a victim, and a threat. We depend on the Earth for breathable air, potable water, food and fiber, energy, and every other imaginable service. As seven billion of us tramp around, we inevitably degrade the very environment, natural habitat, and biodiversity we depend upon. And because of our land use, building codes, and rapid social change we continue to find ourselves confounded and dismayed by flood and drought, hurricanes, and fierce winter storms.
These problems lie not so much in science as in the policy framework that either fosters or inhibits society’s ability to make decisions and take actions based on the best available knowledge and understanding… our job in the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Policy Program. We help scientists understand the policy process, policymakers understand the state of natural and social science, and both communities collaborate more effectively for the public good. Our efforts are critical and urgent. Though small, we succeed for two reasons:
First, we have a well-deserved reputation for being objective, thoughtful, balanced, and apolitical.
Second, we recognize that these issues, like many others, hinge not so much on the scientific and political skills of society as a whole so much as they are rooted in the character of its individual members.”
Bill blogs for the AMS on many of these subjects at http://livingontherealworld.org.