WeatherZine WeatherZine Number 7, December 1997
"What's happening on the Societal Aspects of Weather WWW Site."


EditorialHurricane research in Pasteur's Quadrant

Community NewsCongressional Science Policy Study Wants Your Input

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Hurricane Research in Pasteur's Quadrant

As national decision makers debate and discuss the future of U.S. science policy (see related story below in community news), they should be sure to pay attention to the work of the hurricane research community, that is, those meteorologists and climatologists who study tropical cyclones. What this community has done is to establish and test drive a process that connects the hurricane-related needs of society with the scientific imperative to advance knowledge of tropical cyclones.

This is the exact process recommended by the late Donald Stokes in his book on science policy titled Pasteur's Quadrant (1997: Brookings). The book focuses on a 2X2 matrix (shown below). The matrix transforms the traditional linear spectrum of basic to applied research into a two dimensional model in which a quest for fundamental understanding can coincide with consideration of practical use of research results. The term "Pasteur's Quadrant" refers to the upper right hand quadrant of the matrix which Stokes named for the scientist who embodied these characteristics. Stokes has provided us with a conceptually clear way to think about the relation of science and society that moves us beyond the limitations of the tired, linear model.

Research is inspired by:  
  Considerations of use?
Quest for fundamental understanding?
  No Yes
Yes Pure basic research (Bohr) Use-inspired basic research (Pasteur)
No   Pure applied research (Edison)

Stokes' vision was being implemented at a recent workshop [] organized and sponsored by the U.S. Weather Research Program on the topic of "hurricane landfall." At the workshop, members of the hurricane research community gathered in Miami to discuss future research priorities for their field. The workshop's purpose was to develop a five year plan for tropical cyclone research. What made this meeting different from the typical gathering of meteorologists was that it explicitly included input from outside the hurricane research community as to what physical science improvements would be of use and value to hurricane forecasters and decision makers such as emergency managers and insurers. At the workshop, the priorities presented by the "user" community were integrated with what the physical scientists saw as areas most ripe for progress — what one participant called "low-hanging fruit."

It would be misleading to suggest that the research prioritization process put forth at the workshop was calmly accepted by all participants — after all, the U.S. scientific community has typically not explicitly considered societal factors in the setting of research agendas. Hurricane research perhaps has a head start as it has always been relatively closely connected with the needs of forecasters and other decision makers. Similarly, one could easily identify "missing members" of the user community who did not have a chance to contribute their views. But as a participant at the workshop, I doubt many will find fault with its results.

With able leadership, the hurricane workshop was able to navigate Pasteur's Quadrant, providing a clear, practical example that the quest for fundamental scientific understanding can fruitfully coexist with the desires of policy makers and the public that science contributes to addressing important societal problems. In addition to a five-year research plan that will likely survive close scrutiny, one of the workshop's lasting achievements was that it established a process through which the research community can explicitly consider societal needs in their research prioritization process.

Why is that important? As one of the chairmen of the workshop has recently written "over the next decade these issues [of the research community] will have a significant impact on building codes, construction technology, preparedness lead times, and evacuation procedures, all aimed at saving lives and minimizing damage."

Do you know of other examples to be found in Pasteur's Quadrant within the atmospheric sciences? We would love to hear about them! More importantly, send them to the attention of the science policy study now underway at the US House of Representatives (see article below).

— Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

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Community News

Congressional Science Policy Study Wants Your Input

The U.S. Congress, under the guidance of Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI), has embarked on a review of U.S. science policy. The goal of the study was described by the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) on October 23rd, "the commission which Speaker Gingrich and I have jointly given Vern Ehlers is simply stated, but daunting: to develop a new, sensible, coherent long-range science and technology policy, including a review of our nation's science and math education programs."

In an address marking the kick-off of the study House Speaker Newt Gingrich challenged the scientific community: "You give me a mission large enough to mobilize the nation. You give me a set of strategic investments large enough to be worth doing, and then make it my problem to go out and figure out how to find the money." He also noted that the issues that confront today's science policy go well beyond short-term budget concerns: "what we need to do is have the moral courage to take a deep step back, don't come and tell me how you need $3 million more dollars for the next marginal project."

The Science Policy Study has set up a Web page [] and they are asking for input from the scientific community and beyond. In addition, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched an electronic discussion to take place over the next eight weeks, the results of which will inform the AAAS' contribution to the Ehlers Science Policy Study. These are great opportunities to join the debate about the future of U.S. science policy.

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