My thoughts regarding the American Meteorological Society


Chuck Doswell

Posted: 16 August 2010 Updated: 14 October 2013 - added some links that should have been here

This is my opinion. If you wish to communicate your opinion regarding this topic, you can contact me at cdoswell at - either use the email hyperlink or cut and paste after replacing _at_ with @). However, if you're not willing to have your comments posted here, along with my response, don't waste my time or yours.

NOTE: most e-mail and snail-mail addresses in most of these old web pages likely have changed and so will not work, in general

1. Introduction

As my readers may know, I have been critical of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) for many years, now. This all began several years ago, when Harold Brooks and I began to investigate the finances of the AMS after reviewing the escalating costs for registration at AMS conferences.

Our review was based on numbers published in the AMS Bulletin and it turned up a number of interesting results. An important finding was that the annual dues contributed by the members were a trivial component of the AMS budget. If the dues went to zero, there would be essentially no significant change in the solvency of the AMS. So what were (and are) the important sources of income for the AMS? The journals published by the AMS more or less pay for themselves with page charges, so they are not an important income source. The books and other publications are also not a significant income generator.

By far the major income sources we found were the return on investments by the AMS. And we suspected that the conferences were also a major income stream, although this has consistently been denied by the AMS staff and is not reflected in their accounting. In fact, the AMS staff claims that the conferences lose money, with the exception of the Annual Meeting. So I decided to investigate the situation. I managed to get myself onto the ballot for AMS Coucilor in the spring of 1997,1 and served a three-year term, ending formally in January of 2000. As an “insider” for three years, I made a number of discoveries about how the AMS does business, and I presented my findings about AMS Conference fundings, based on figures supplied to me by the AMS, after I insisted on seeing more details than what they normally reveal.

I’ll not repeat all that here. I’ll only say about the AMS Conference funding that I believe it to be a major income stream that supports far more of the AMS infrastructure than that strictly needed for the conferences. It amounts to some elaborate bookkeeping tricks to assert that the conferences do not make money. Since many of us have put on conferences comparable to AMS-sponsored conferences for far less than what the AMS charges us, there simply has to be an explanation for where all that money for AMS registration fees goes. As explained in my Web discussion cited above, it’s not necessarily dishonest, but it’s certainly misleading and disingenuous to say that the conferences mostly break even or lose money. A considerable amount of AMS infrastructure is supported by the conferences, some of which has little or no direct involvement with the conferences, per se.

In my now lengthy experience with the AMS, it has become increasingly clear to me that the AMS staff includes a number of folks who are not at all involved with the science of meteorology. They aren’t teaching, forecasting, doing research, providing consulting services, or any of the other tasks that a practicing meteorologist does. Rather, they're managers and their assistants – bureaucrats. Many of them spend long hours at what they do, and I’m sure most of them believe their work is essential for the good of the Society and its members. In what follows, keep in mind I’m not saying that any specific individuals within the AMS staff are unnecessary, dishonest, or evil. I do believe, however, that their governance of the Society is seriously flawed, and this essay will provide an extensive description of the issues I have with the AMS and its operations.

I also note that the AMS benefits from the services of many people who are generously contributing their time and resources without formal pay. They are volunteers from the community of meteorologists (and related disciplines). Some of them spend considerable time with the paid AMS staffers in their tasks and perhaps a few will move over to join the paid staff. For their time, they receive no pay, but may benefit from the "perks" that are dispensed by the AMS, ostensibly in support of their tasks. These “perks” are mostly in the form of occasional "free" meals, and sometimes paid-for travel. As an AMS Councilor, for example, I was given one "free" trip per year to attend one of the two AMS Council meetings per year - one at the Annual Meeting and one in the Fall at AMS Headquarters in Boston. If I wanted to attend both Council Meetings, I had to figure out a way to get the other trip paid for - in my case, that involved getting the Federal agency for which I used to work to support my other trip.

During my 3-year term, I provided reports of each Council meeting I attended, as a sort of supplement to the formal minutes published in the AMS Bulletin. Needless to say, I included things that were not intended to be public information ...

  1. At AMS Headquarters, September 1997
  2. At the Annual Meeting, Phoenix, AZ, January 1998
  3. At AMS Headquarters, September 1998
  4. At the Annual Meeting, Dallas, TX, January 1999
  5. At AMS Headquarters, September 1999
  6. At the Annual Meeting, Long Beach, CA, January 2000

The response to this open presentation by members has been decidedly underwhelming. Apparently, my only readers have been the AMS staffers! Since then, several bothersome issues have arisen, including the incessant complaints I receive from other AMS members about the continuing rapid increase in AMS Conference registration fees, as well as various topics tied to the process of getting papers published in AMS journals. After discussing things for the umpteenth time with the AMS staff and their sycophants, I got tired of being told my opinions are worthless. If my opinions are worthless, why am I reviewing manuscripts for AMS journals?2 So, I have declined to review papers for AMS journals ever since. Nor do I publish in AMS journals unless my coauthors wish it. And I no longer attend AMS conferences. Hence, I'm motivated to write yet another rant.

No doubt this essay will re-aggravate many people at AMS HQs - I’ve been aggravating them for many years now, and this will only reinforce their opinion of me as a bothersome jerk, a stone in their shoe. For the record, I want to say that my only motivation for any of the things I've said is to attempt to make the AMS more responsive to the concerns of its members. I believe that despite having been marginalized as a crank, many of my opinions are shared by a substantial number of AMS members - a proverbial "silent majority" who are either cowed into submission or who have been so disillusioned as to believe there’s no point in trying to fix the AMS. The silence of that majority is what permits the status quo.

It's essential to understand one major point regarding the AMS. It rightfully belongs to the members, not to the paid staffers. It should reflect the needs and interests of the membership. Frankly, apathy is rampant among the AMS membership. Joining the AMS is expected of any professional meteorologist, and many join initially in an effort to establish themselves as practicing, professional meteorologists. This is fine, but if the AMS is doing something with which you disagree, then you either make some attempt to fix it, or you forfeit the right to complain.

This essay is another way for me to attempt to fix what I see is wrong with the AMS, as it’s evident that my 3-year term as a Councilor did virtually nothing to make substantive changes in the way the AMS runs. They simply endured my aggravation for three years, and then - poof! - I was gone. The apathy among the membership ensures that the AMS staffers will be left to run things the way they see fit, with only minor grumbling to deal with, but no serious inroads by the membership.

2. The AMS “Style” of Governance

The nominal governing body of the AMS is the Council, which discusses and votes upon items placed on the Council meeting agenda by the President (whose primary duty, apparently, is indeed to preside over the Council meetings). However, the agenda is drawn up by the mysterious Executive Committee (EC). It is this committee that is the real power behind the system. The Council need not "rubber stamp" the recommendations of the EC, but that's what happens, for the most part. The EC works outside of the twice-annual Council meeting process, presumably by phone conversations, emails, etc. They are an exclusive body and no Council member who is not going to be a compliant sycophant will be asked to serve on the EC. According to the Constitution:

ARTICLE VIII. Constituent and Affiliated Bodies

1. Executive Committee

A. There shall be an Executive Committee that shall consist of: a) The President, who shall be the Chairman; b) The President­Elect, who shall be the Vice­Chairman; c) The two most immediate Past­Presidents; d) Two members of the Council, other than those named in the preceding paragraphs a), b), and c), who shall be elected by the Council, one each year for a term of two years; and e) The Executive Director and Secretary–Treasurer, each ex officio and without the power to vote.

B. A majority of voting members of the Executive Committee, at least one of whom shall be the President or President­Elect, shall constitute a quorum. The affirmative vote of a majority, but not fewer than three members of the Executive Committee, shall be required for the resolution of any question.

C. The Executive Committee shall function as the executive arm of the Council within the policies established by the Council. The Committee shall meet as often as it deems necessary, and it is empowered to interpret and execute Council policies when the Council is not in session.

Although the Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer are nominally ex officio, the reality is that they will dominate the decision-making process of the EC. AMS President candidates are not nominated if they're likely to be boat-rockers!!

In general, AMS operations are "black" - the membership is generally unaware of what choices are being discussed and considered for implementation. If you don't sit on the committee, you generally know nothing of its operation. This is a "perk" of power, I suppose. Most of those who are chosen to participate are likely to be swayed by the forceful advocacy of the Executive Director and his EC. When decisions are made, the membership is presented with a fait accompli and that's that. Take it or leave. No prior disclosure of intended changes, no opportunity for open discussion of proposed changes among the members, no solicitation of membership input. When the committees and boards have rendered their decisions, the Council virtually always approves their recommendations at the next Council meeting and it becomes the "law of the land" from that point. If you don't like it, you're going to get either a load of abuse heaped on you for being a naysayer, you'll be marginalized, and nothing will change. Your only alternative is to quit the AMS in protest. " 'Bye! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!"

a. Committees, Commissions, Boards

Being asked to serve on one of these "governing bodies" seems like an honor. You've arrived, it seems. The system is seeking your participation in the governance of the society. It looks great on your resume, too! But the reality is that if the AMS brass have asked you to serve, it's likely to be an indication that you're perceived to be someone unlikely to ask hard questions, or seek to upset their tidy world. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the more likely it is that they see you as a sycophant. Yes, you get some "perks" by serving - some free meals, perhaps some free drinks, even some free travel if you get far enough up their food chain. You're being bought cheaply, of course, and the money comes from the membership. There are no free lunches - it's the members who pay for your perks! Stay cooperative and you might get a Commissionership, or even be asked to serve on the EC.

And the operation of these governing bodies also proceeds under cover. Your choices and votes are not public. The members have no idea where these ideas came from or who might have been responsible. Once the committee/commision/board votes, the decision is recommended to the Council at its next meeting. Some debate and - wham! - the approval stamp comes down. Your part in it is invisible and you're free to do whatever you want - provided its consistent with what the AMS brass wants to do ...

OK, you've been invited to sit on a STAC Committee - a committee that's nominally responsible for AMS activities within some subdiscipline, like severe local storms, for instance. You're young, the signatures on your diploma may still be wet, and you're overwhelmed with the "honor" bestowed upon you. So when the AMS begins to dispute the ideas you have for the next AMS Conference in your discipline, you're most likely to cower in submission. How can you, a lowly STAC Committee newbie, dispute the demands of the AMS staffers? Well, in my book, the conference belongs to the scientists, not to the AMS. How can the AMS tell the STAC Committee how to run their conferences? The simple answer is that they shouldn't be so empowered, but they are because people like you are unaware of what's happening. You think that the AMS rules must have been writ by the moving finger of God himself on tablets of stone! The way the AMS runs a conference is to maximize their profits, plain and simple. If you do something to interfere with that, they're going to fight you!

But I have a secret:  you can fight back!! And there's a good chance that if you take a firm stand and have a number of committee members behind you, the AMS staffers will cave in! This takes courage and determination and shouldn't be done for trivialities. Pick a cause worthy of your determined support and don't bend to the demands of the AMS. It's your conference, damn it!

b. Unwritten rules

Although the AMS has a Constitution and Bylaws, a considerable portion of the day-to-day governance of the AMS relies on unwritten rules. When I joined the Council, it was an interesting process to learn more about these unwritten rules each year. You can see some of this in my Council reports (above). This is consistent with the "AMS style" - the members see only the results of the process, but they know little or nothing about the process itself unless they take part by volunteering (or being asked) to serve on the various committees, commisions, boards, etc. that conduct the operations of the AMS. If you serve on one of the governing bodies, you're simply informed that these are the rules, even though they're not codified anywhere. You have little choice but to go along, right? If you protest too much - well, your term of service will run out and you won't be asked back.

Did you ever take a look at the AMS ballot every year and notice that both presidential candidates come from the same sector: private sector, public sector, or academic sector? There's a reason for that. It's an unwritten rule that the AMS wants to spread its governance around to all 3 of these sectors in turn, presumably for fairness (whatever "fair" might mean). Did you ever notice that the 5th (unelected) Council member is selected every year from a 'historically underrepresented segment' of the AMS membership?3 Both of these are unwritten rules you likely know nothing about. You may or may not agree with them, but you didn't get a chance to vote on them, either. You didn't get to select candidates for office - that's done by the Nominating Committee, which cowtows to the Executive Director and his EC. You can only choose among the alternatives presented to you.


1 No, I wasn't nominated by the nominating committee. I volunteered! This resulted in some consternation by the AMS staff, who didn't quite know what to do with this. Ultimately, I was asked to provide 2 letters of recommendation (I asked Bob Maddox and John Snow, whose recommendations apparently were satisfactory), and eventually was put on the ballot. As it turns out, that year, I received the most votes of any councilor candidate, which seems to indicate I had some grass roots support for my mission, which was to be a thorn in the side of the AMS for three years. However, I was not asked to serve on the AMS Executive Committee (the real governing body of the AMS) - that 'honor' was given instead to Drs. Brad Colman and Roger Wakimoto, two other councilor electee that year. I wonder why I wasn't asked ... . Anyway, I suspect anyone wishing now to get on the ballot the way I did would be refused outright.

2 I received an AMS Editor's Award for meritorious reviews in 1994!

3 See my Council Reports (above) for more information.