92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012: 4:00 PM
Of Weather Beetles and Women: What the Beverly Hillbillies Can Reveal about the Insecurities of Early Computer Age Meteorologists
Room 335/336 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Roger D. Turner, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA

Popular culture can affect the development of science in a variety of ways, particularly in democratic countries. Television shows, advertisements, and best selling novels influence how science is valued by non-scientists, which in turn can influence government funding, as well as popular support for (and resistance to) scientific experiments. This paper explores a 1964 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, where Granny challenges a forecast issued by the U.S. Weather Bureau. In doing so, the character implicitly attacks the cultural authority of meteorology more broadly. This episode of the then number one rated show occurred at a worrisome moment for American meteorologists, when several new technologies were being developed, including satellites, television weathercasting, cloud seeding, and digital computing. While these expensive technologies excited meteorologists, it was not clear that they provided significant benefits to the public who paid for them. The episode concludes with a short film, obvious produced by the Weather Bureau, which attempts to justify government investment in advanced meteorological services. Today, when federal funding for atmospheric science is under threat, understanding the history of representations of meteorology in popular culture is especially important.

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