Presidential Forum

Sunday, 7 January 2018, 4:00 p.m., Austin, Texas

Note that this year’s Presidential Forum will be held on Sunday, 7 January 2018 at 4:00 p.m.; it will not be held on Monday morning, as in previous years.

AMS is excited to announce the keynote speaker for the upcoming 98th Annual Meeting will be renowned glaciologist and climate scientist Richard Alley, who serves as the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State University.

Transforming Communication in the Environmental Sciences:

Some Thoughts from a Reluctant Participant


Our funding increasingly requires that we learn and then make that learning useful to the public. Successful communication thus is no longer optional but imperative. Despite encouraging signs that we are getting better at communicating our science to the public, major challenges remain.

These challenges can seem large. Some people simply don’t want to hear about our results. I work on sea level change, for example, and knowing what is coming could save immense sums of money. But the best news we could give people on this topic is that change will be small and slow. Worse news may not be welcome. Making scientific knowledge of this type actionable for policy makers and the general public requires building broad understanding of the science. Informed responses by policy makers can be blocked if the public is confused, and those who seek to generate confusion have a much easier task than those of us fostering broad understanding.

In order to get the communication right, we must first get the science right—everything else rests on this bedrock of knowledge. Beyond that, the scholarship is clear that scientists’ voices are essential but insufficient. We need help from a broad range of people and disciplines. Wise use of weather, water, and climate knowledge helps businesses, industry, agriculture, and the military save lives, save dollars, and save the environment. Enlisting the full breadth of those who benefit from our science can be highly successful. We need to include the voices of military leaders, farmers, and businesspeople as well as artists, teachers, medical experts, and others. Scholars in social science and communications are increasingly examining our challenges, successes, and shortcomings, and we have much to learn from these efforts. In recent years, AMS, its members, and the weather, water, and climate community have been leaders in improving communications. These successes create urgency for us to continue, because we now have the attention of so many.

Dr. Richard Alley

Dr. Richard Alley has ranged from Antarctica to Greenland to help learn the history of Earth’s climate, and whether the great ice sheets will fall in the ocean and flood our coasts. With over 280 scientific publications, he has been asked to provide advice to the highest levels of government and been recognized with numerous awards, including election to the US National Academy of Sciences and to Foreign Membership in the Royal Society. He hosted the recent PBS miniseries Earth: The Operators’ Manual and has been compared to a cross between Woody Allen and Carl Sagan for his enthusiastic efforts to communicate the excitement and importance of the science to everyone. Dr. Alley currently serves as the Evan Pugh University Professor at The Pennsylvania State University.