As a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech in the Science and Technology in Society program, I’m focusing on three interrelated issues that have a common interdisciplinary grounding in meteorology, technology, and society.
I recently visited Joplin, Missouri, and was stunned by the amount of damage that one storm did to a small town. Months after the tornado touched down, the community still struggles to rebuild.
I’m interested in both the experts and the publics involved in this process:
- From a perspective of the meteorologists, I’d like to know how forecasting is done. How are tornado warnings created? What circumstances trigger a warning? What limits might technology present to forecasters? What ethical and policy issues come to bear on the process? How do forecaster skill and judgement affect their ability to mediate uncertainty?
- Given the number of weather-related disasters that occur in the U.S. each year, I’m also interested in how people in disaster-prone areas interpret and respond to warnings. Who are these publics? What myths, stories, or personal beliefs affect their interpretation of weather warnings? How do they receive these warnings? Do they not get them in a timely matter? Do they not have access to televisions, weather radios, and other mobile devices?
While many different kinds of scientists are working on ways to improve tornado warnings, mainly by learning everything they can about how and why tornadoes form, I’d like to look at the social, technical and policy issues surrounding current storm warnings.
2) How do technologies associated with weather forecasting shape the practice and knowledge of forecasters? How are these technologies shaped by policies?
I’m particularly interested in the historical nature of technologies such as Doppler Radar and earth observations satellites. These are the key technological tools that allow forecasters to accurately predict and detect what kind of weather we might have, whether that means today’s forecast or the weekly outlook.
- How have historical events and developments shaped technologies meteorologists use today? What alternative technologies might exist but are not used because of their historical connection to meteorology?
- What technological design considerations are influenced by historical and social issues?
- How do remote sensing technologies, such as satellites, shape different public’s perceptions of severe weather or risk?
3a) How might operational meteorology address gender issues?
I’ve been an amateur storm chaser for the past ten years, though recently, I joined an educational group from Virginia Tech whose mission is to learn how to forecast severe weather, appreciate the destructive power of tornadic supercells and tornadoes, and instill a lifelong interest in assisting communities through meteorological research.
What I noticed on these chases stumped me. Nearly half of our groups each year are comprised of women, a pleasantly surprising fact given the dearth of women in sciences in general. Yet, when you watch television programs such as Storm Chasers or the Weather Channel, women are not in the field. Instead, they’re usually in front the camera as forecasters, like Stephanie Abrams.
The same is largely true in the National Weather Service field offices. There are fewer women who work in operational meteorology–or the National Weather Service itself–though this is starting to change. Like other highly technical sciences, such as engineering, there is a slow shift toward gender balance in the workplace.
- How women are nurtured and mentored in atmospheric sciences and why so few women become operational meteorologists and storm chasers.
3b) How might STEM education (especially G.I.S.) affect gender equality in higher education?
A related issue for me is the role of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Geosciences, a burgeoning field in geography, was recently added to the list of STEM disciplines that the National Science Foundation believe provide an impetus for technological research and advancement of society through science. In particular, the NSF is interested in ways to encourage young women to participate in sciences and the hurdles that keep them from doing so.
There’s been a lot of research done with regards to women in engineering, but I’m curious if the same trends and issues that women face in this largely applied field are similar to those faced by women in geosciences, which relies heavily on the tool GIS (Geographic Information Systems).
I should mention that I’m also interested in technology’s impact on nonfiction, philosophical issues in animal rights, and technology’s influence on academia and book publishing, too. However, these are minor research interests, meaning, I hope I get to them someday.