Report #6 by

Chuck Doswell

on my activities as a

Councilor of the

American Meteorological Society


Created: 25 January 2000

Disclaimer: Everything contained herein is associated with me personally, and has no connection with my employer [NOAA/ERL/NSSL] or with the AMS. That is, these are my personal observations, opinions, and recommendations and have no official standing or sanction. If you are offended or bothered by any part of this, take it up with me <doswell@nssl.noaa.gov>, not with either my organization or the AMS.


If you have not seen them before, I have other writings concerning the AMS at this Website. Please consult my campaign statement for some of this, and you can find my first report from the council meetings here, my second report here, my third report here, my fourth report here, and my fifth report here.

 

The Council - as of the beginning of the January 2000 Council Meeting (at the AMS Annual Meeting in Long Beach, CA)

The Council consists of (see Article VII.1 of the Constitution):

New Councilors (non-voting) present: R. Atlas, J. Fein, T. Schlatter, M. Glackin, W. Lyons

New President-Elect: R. Serafin

$ At the end of the Business Meeting (on Sunday night), these Councilors finished their terms and the new Councilors became voting members. Also, George Frederick became a Past President, Jeff Kimpel became the new President, and Bob Serafin became the official President-Elect.

Commisioners Present: Avery, Rosen, Schubert, Ban

My Sixth (and final) AMS Council Meeting - Impressions

Formal minutes of the meeting will appear in a future issue of the AMS Bulletin . This was my last Council meeting. Thanks to all of you who supported me. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and contributed some things to the discussions over the course of three years. It is now time for some of YOU to step up and offer your concerns and insights to the Council! What follows is a more or less chronological listing of the topics we crammed into a single day!

 

Ten-Year Vision Implementation.

Brad Colman did his best to make a presentation re the Bulletin, having lost all his files through a crash of the hard drive on his PC (note: make back-ups!). The proposed changes to the Bulletin are clearly tied to other items in the agenda, but the general sense I got from the Council was that the proposed changes need more careful consideration. There are a number of constraints: no loss of content from the current version of the Bulletin, increased interest from an audience outside of the AMS (to the extent that it might even appear on the newstands), revenue neutrality, a new full-time editor, etc. The changes will necessitate the break-up of the Bulletin into two parts: (1) Member-relevant news items, and (2) articles of wide interest. Achieving this in a workable, affordable way is a must, because the current Bulletin is a big money-loser, only supportable via the "profits" associated with the journals, collectively. A workable solution also must mesh with the related items, to be discussed below.

 

Journal production time

There has been considerable unhappiness expressed by the membership regarding the time it takes from acceptance of a journal paper to its appearance in that journal Ö the so-called journal production time. The AMS experienced a loss of senior technical and copy editors more than a year ago, and a backlog developed, as a result. The existing staff is just able to keep up with the current submissions, and the backlog remains as it was a year ago. The solution proposed by the AMS staff is to hire more technical and copy editors. A spirited discussion followed, and many concerns were expressed about a lack of having explored alternative, including the impact of doing away with the technical and copy editing entirely. Keith Seitter noted that a considerable amount of copy editing is associated with mark-up of the manuscripts in preparation for typesetting and inclusion in electronic media, rather than modifications for stylistic matters. Hence, there are some limits to how rapidly articles can appear. The staff believes that the goal of 150 days production time is achievable with their proposed enhancements to the technical and copy editing staff. Following the discussion, the Council approved the proposed changes.

I believe the proposed solution from the AMS staff is probably inevitable, and further delays for considering more alternatives will only lead to delays in reducing the journal production time. I hope that any changes in the process will incorporate incentives for authors to submit "cleaner" manuscripts, requiring less time spent fixing unnecessary problems. Some authors are notably careless in their submissions, and they should be encouraged to be more careful through the use of incentives for minimal changes. The current arrangement includes the option of charging authors an extra fee for sloppy submissions, but it is rarely enforced owing to the way purchase orders are used to pay the page charges. I suggested that a time penalty be imposed on authors whose submissions require extra effort.

The additional cost associated with the additional technical and copy editing staff can be compensated for by making the Bulletin more or less revenue-neutral (instead of requiring support from the journal profits). Thus, this item is connected to changes in the Bulletin and the dues (see below).

 

Changes to 45 Beacon Street

In an effort to improve the situation regarding journal production time, the AMS is proposing to hire more technical and copy editors. The crowding of 45 Beacon Street is already bad enough to be a problem, such that the space within the building must be increased to accommodate the proposed staff increase (see below). The resolution of the current situation is another complex optimization problem involving: finding adequate room somewhere, maintaining the historical integrity of the facility, fiscal responsibility to the membership, modern building codes, and constraints on the ability of the Society to deal with the facility (a historical property). The current staff has proposed a solution that involves a renovation of the so-called "Carriage House" attached to the main building, to (a) stabilize its structural integrity and (b) modify the interior to create suitable workspace. The cost of this renovation, estimated at about $600K, will be financed from the Reserve Fund (which was created, in part, to deal with such situations). Ken Spengler, former executive director who was responsible for acquiring the 45 Beacon Street property in late 1958, made a passionate plea to preserve the carriage house in its current state. In the end, the Council approved the proposed changes, with some abstentions.

From where I sit, I don't believe the AMS is in the business of preserving historical buildings. I don't feel comfortable asking the members around the nation (and world) to support the preservation of a historical property in Boston, when the history of the property isn't even associated with atmospheric science in any way. I like the idea of preserving historical properties as much as anyone, but if it costs a premium to do so, I am ready to vacate 45 Beacon Street as soon as necessary. However, it turns out that the society pays no rent or taxes on the property, and staying there makes considerable fiscal sense; renting new property and moving to it would entail considerable expense and disrupt Society operations. I believe that the AMS staff did a superb job of balancing all of the various issues in arriving at the proposed renovation, and I support it fully. Interestingly, the solution includes the capability to return the carriage house to its current state. Interestingly, Ken Spengler himself was associated with some alterations to the Carriage House in the 1960s that, among other things, are thought to have destabilized the structure, necessitating at least some of the current approved changes.

 

Glossary dedication

It was proposed to dedicate the new Glossary to the late Werner Baum and Charles Talman (who died in 1936, after a career as the Weather Bureau librarian). The proposal was approved by the Council with a lone dissenting vote (mine).

This proposal struck me and several others (who were not inclined to vote negatively, however) as hasty and ill-conceived. Honoring the contributions of Werner Baum is certainly something that the Society should consider, but his connection to the Glossary project is pretty tenuous. I think that some other honor would be appropriate, but it should be one that has been more carefully considered and clearly tied uniquely to Werner than this dedication. I have no idea of the pertinence of Talman's connections to the Glossary Project, but the arguments on behalf of dedicating the Glossary to him were more persuasive than those associated with Baum.

 

AMS financial philosophy and a dues increase proposal

As noted, the Bulletin currently is operating at a deficit, being supporting by diverting profits from the regular journals. Generally speaking, the philosophy of the Society has been to have its various services and activities be more or less revenue-neutral. Since the Bulletin is a standard part of membership, its cost can legitimately be spread over the whole membership. There was considerable discussion of this proposal, and as with other proposals from the staff, it was said that other options had not been explored adequately. Nevertheless, following the discussion, the proposal (suitably modified from its draft form) was passed by a 19-1 vote.

It's premature of me to go into all the details, but in essence, the dues for Regular and Asociate members will increase to $70 in January of 2001. The cost to students will not increase, and some discounted memberships were established, including to accredited K-12 teachers. Overall, it was felt that there would be some loss of members in the process of increasing the dues.

Personally, as I have noted elsewhere, I have felt that a dues increase is long overdue. Our dues have been artificially low for a number of years. Thus, while this may be viewed as unpopular, it needs to be done and should have been done some time ago. I also favor the near-neutrality of the various components of AMS products and services, not only collectively, but also separately, to whatever extent it is possible to make them so.

 

Restructuring Earth Interactions (EI)

Keith Seitter has noted that the primary purpose served by EI, to lead the way to electronic implementation of journals, has been overtaken by the mainstream AMS journals. This leads to some questions about the viability of EI, which has been very slow to catch on. The AMS is nominally working with the AGU (American Geophysical Union) and the AAG (Association of American Geographers) on EI all along, but now the AGU wants to put out its own interdisciplinary journal. Thus, the nature of this whole partnership is in question. A lot of discussion focused on the idea that the AMS has never begun a journal and then stopped it, thereby leaving the authors who contributed to it with their papers in limbo. Thus, some reluctance toward discontinuing EI was expressed. Nevertheless, there was also sentiment (including mine) to consider simply cutting our losses and discontinuing EI. I thought that the journal had a split personality, being both totally electronic and also attempting to be interdisciplinary, when interdisciplinarity is tough to wish into existence. Interdisciplinary projects typically end up being orphans in many organizations and universities, as I have noted elsewhere. Thus, EI's electronic character is complicated by also attempting to be interdisciplinary. There was no resolution of this situation, but the input from the Council to Keith was considered useful and negotiations to clarify the situation re the other societies (notably, the AGU) will continue. Hence the topic was tabled.

 

Special initiative funding

After minimal discussion, the recommendations of the Executive Committee regarding the priority ranking of new initiatives for funding was approved. Personally, I am satisfied with this process as it stands, although I still believe that too few members know about this opportunity.

 

Executive Director's Report

The Executive Director (Ron MacPherson) is now submitting what amounts to a work plan for the coming year, outlining the goals intended to be fulfilled during the coming year. For those in Government service, this is a familiar exercise. I'll not bother discussing this, as most of it will either be presented in the formal minutes of the meeting or has already been covered in this report.

 

AMS Radar Conference venue

Rick Rosen discussed the proposal of the Radar STAC Committee to have its next conference in Munich, Germany. Insofar as the last Radar Conference was held in Montreal (and Canada is viewed as a foreign nation by many funding agencies), there was some concern for the propriety of this proposed venue. The sentiment was expressed, by me and by some others, that we have no business micro-managing the decisions of the STAC Committees, and the proposal was approved. I observed that this whole discussion reminded me of a discussion we had at the last meeting re a proposal from the Severe Local Storms Committee, but the outcome was notably different. A lot of the Council's reaction to a proposal depends on the tone of the presentation. If the presentation is half-hearted, or slanted negatively, then the Council reacts badly. If the presentation is supportive, then the Council reacts favorably. Hmmmm ...

 

Hurricanes Policy Statement

Kerry Emanuel circulated the latest draft Policy Statement and requested that any input be sent to him soon, so he and the drafting committee could finalize the statement. I mentioned to Kerry that it was my hope that future policy statements would reflect the notion, approved in principle by the Council, that AMS Policy Statements could include two parts: (1) a slowly-varying, consensual part that would be terse and contain the essence of the statement, and (2) a second part that might change relatively often and could contain such things as: (a) supporting references, (b) supporting documentation, including graphical material, tables, etc., and (c) material describing [briefly] controversial topics associated with the basic policy statement. Kerry noted that he had inherited the Statement and was eager to finish; hence, he was reluctant to do a major re-working of the current version of the document.

I observe that the policy statements regarding (1) tornado safety, (2) flash floods, and (3) probability forecasting were not discussed at all and, hence, had not made any apparent progress toward completion. The tornado safety statement, for which I was the Council "facilitator" was in an advanced draft stage but was not prepared in time for inclusion on the agenda. I was an "assistant" to nominal the Council facilitator (S. Zevin) on the other two, but I have no knowledge regarding their progress.


Some General Impressions regarding the Annual Meeting

I was very pleased with the Fujita and VORTEX symposia. So pleased, in fact, that I have recommended to the Severe Local Storms (SLS) Conference Program Committee that they consider following the example of the Annual Meeting and have a Symposium on some cross-cutting theme embedded within the SLS Conference. The idea of having experienced speakers give reasonably long invited presentations went over very well, and having a poster session for contributed papers would give everyone the excuse they need to obtain funding support to attend the Conference. Since all the contributed papers would be in the poster session, no one could feel their paper had been treated as a "second-class" contribution. I thought having the posters up all week was great, and the poster room was a venue for a lot of spirited discussions.

I believe that some specialty conferences (like the SLS Conference) have, like the Annual Meeting, become too large and have tended recently to fractionate into smaller, non-interacting subspecialty sessions. Thus, shutting down such a conference to have a more interactive discussion that incorporates some theme that cuts across the sub-specialties would be a valuable addition to the larger conferences, at least.

I found this year's Annual Meeting to be better organized than the last and it was a lot easier to obtain accurate information regarding the venues for the various sessions. I believe the AMS staff deserves a big "thank you" for implementing a better plan and organization than last year!

Stimulated by the historical aspects of the Fujita Symposium, I (and others) have come to the conclusion that we as a Society are doing far too little to preserve the history of our profession, especially the personal anecdotes and materials that give our scientists a real human face (warts and all!). The invited speakers, including the Banquet speaker, at the Fujita Symposium generally offered considerable insight into the very real and very human character of Ted Fujita; sadly, that insight is not often available for the majority of our scientists. The AMS is undertaking some minimal effort to be a caretaker of the historical record for our scientists, but I feel it is too little and often too late to preserve the important documents and oral history. I recommend that we all support the AMS as the central clearinghouse for historical materials Ö if the AMS does not act in this way, who will? The AMS per se need not retain all the materials, but our Society should be acting to support the creation and mainenance of historical archives, so that future historians and scientists know where such materials are kept and how to obtain them.

Generally, I am satisfied that the ad hoc committee on Meetings (organized to offer implementation suggestions on the topic for the 10-Year Vision) has put the Society on the right track. If you have had an experience in this year's Annual Meeting, either positive or negative, please don't hesitate to tell the AMS about your feelings.

I was pleased to be able to attend the special session for newly-elected, incoming Council Members on Saturday, run by the Executive Director. This session is an excellent way for new Councilors to begin the process of contributing. I hope it will continue and that outgoing Council members (like me) will continue to have a chance to "coach" the new Councilors.