Oh yea. I’m home. Not just back in Colorado, but in the company of ‘my people.’
At least at first glance, most of us appear to share an ethos that gathering in groups to work together for social change can lead to large-scale effects.
Work, by the way, is used here in the physics sense – “the amount of energy transferred by a force acting through a distance in the direction of the force.” From my disciplinary perspective, the force at our disposal is language; the energy comes from each (and all) of our separate, specialized knowledges. Energy, in the physics sense, is an indirectly observed physical quantity. In other words, even though energy does not have a form directly observable to human perception or technological detection, parameters can be established that allow the effect of energy to be measured.
Meteorologists are constantly grappling with the indeterminate appearance of energy in weather systems. Based on two and a half days of participant observation, the language of weather forecasting seems to mirror the chaos and uncertainties of severe storm emergence.
Mark Trail and The Weather Enterprise
Kinetic Kenny explained the marketing strategy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to use the Mark Trail cartoon character (invented, 1946) to promote the use of weather alert radios (1997). The ‘work’ that Kinetic Kenny and Julie the Jewel did in the opening WAS*IS presentation was to bring the social scientists in the room up to speed with the meteorologists regarding the mission of the National Weather Service. In other words, their energy was intended to transmit their intelligence through space in order to draw us all in to the weather enterprise.
Problematics of definition and control quickly became apparent in the formative stages of the 2011 WAS*IS group’s discourse. Weather Forecasters and Broadcast Meteorologists want people to understand risks to their safety and take proper precautions. These professionals hold themselves to high standards and agonize over fatalities – especially those that are preventable. Why don’t people heed weather warnings?
“This is water and you will drown!”
(attribution credit requested)
Decision Support is a Communication Activity
When, how, and why people choose risk over safety is social behavior that has more to do with time than space. This is my hypothesis, anyway, and I’ll be grateful to anyone and everyone who shares research and resources on this matter! Control is a discrete, technological phenomena usually achieved under (please correct me if I’m wrong!) strict constraints of immediacy: as soon as temporality extends beyond the limits of the Here-and-Now, prediction typically begins to weaken – especially if human beings are involved.
Even in the most tightly-circumscribed human process there are “too many factors,” as attested by Gaby Who Reads Minds. These factors are psychological and social: they multiply downstream during the inevitable unfolding of severe weather events. One must begin, therefore, with generalities – the patterns evident from aggregating the entire range of actual behaviors and correlating these directly observable phenomena with indirectly observable sources of influence.
Here’s what I see:
The primary pattern of meteorological communication with the public is confusion.
Lack of intradisciplinary agreement on meaning
Which is worse: a watch, a warning, or an advisory? The definitions combine spatial and temporal criteria in ways that make your head spin. As social media and other technologies allow the evolution of codes, the infighting over ownership of words and terms is intense (so I’m told). How is the public to be engaged in the co-communicative process of understanding the significance of weather measurements? Comprehension is mutually created – whether this is between individuals, among people with different demographic characteristics, or within hierarchical structures of policy construction, implementation, and enforcement.
Culture Change Underway!
The critique I’m offering of weather service related jargon is not actually a criticism. It is possible only because of the clarity with which the WAS*IS community is engaging the known dilemmas of protecting the public with the scientific tools of weather prediction. More than any other physical science, meteorologists are embracing the work of social scientists in a way that foreshadows the best potentials of team science. The newly-coined science of team science has been established on the precedents of medical/public health and safety research but has been slower to embrace social science because of a fascination with the information-processing capabilities of social networking. It seems to me both are needed in order to address wicked problems.
WAS*IS*WILLBE heralds new intellectual terrain. Let’s keep exciting each other!