2.4 Congress and Meteorologists: Miscommunicating about Weather Control in the Early Cold War

Monday, 8 January 2018: 11:15 AM
Room 2 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Kristine C. Harper, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee, FL

In the immediate post-World War II period, prominent scholars such as physical chemist Irving Langmuir of the GE Laboratory and John von Neumann of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton were taking steps to push weather control (as it was dubbed) as a Cold War tool of the American state. Meteorologists—especially academics, government, and industrial meteorologists—were appalled. They were still trying to get a handle on precipitation processes (cloud physics), forecast the weather accurately in a shorter period of time (numerical weather prediction), and help airlines keep their passengers and crews safe. A team of meteorologists from AMS decided to make their case to Congress, as did a team from the Weather Bureau. They did not have a good time at the hearings. What went wrong? What didn’t go wrong? In short, the meteorologists assumed that Members of Congress were looking for evidence-led policy. The Congressmen, it appears, were looking for policy-led evidence. Their frustrations and efforts to be good scientific citizens offer some insights for meeting the needs, if not the wants, of legislators today.

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