This is the fifth in a series of articles encouraged by the Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists and the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists to explore the ethical issues that can be encountered conducting business in the meteorological community. The purpose is to initiate a discussion within the broader membership about how the professional guidelines section of the AMS constitution comes to life in the conduct of everyday life of professional meteorologists. Comments are welcome and should be addressed to the authors. More formal responses can also be made to the editor of BAMS.

Meteorology is one of the most data-driven sciences. The fundamental processes of taking weather observations, analyzing weather maps, and running numerical forecast models make this work about as objective as can be imagined. Why then, with this high degree of objectivity, would the AMS need a code of conduct for its membership?

The answer is probably because the science sustains many types of services where relationships between meteorologists or between meteorologists and their customers can invite compromises in personal behavior that might be considered unethical. Ethics guide us through areas where there are no laws but where there must be standards for personal conduct. A review of the AMS code and other guides for ethical behavior can illustrate the ways we should conduct ourselves in the normal course of performing our work and associating with our colleagues, customers, and the public.

AMS CODE OF CONDUCT.

The AMS has taken an active interest in creating standards of performance for application of the atmospheric sciences. The society uses its constitution and various policy statements to set clear guidelines about ethical and professional conduct.

The AMS's Code of Conduct forms a portion of the Society's constitution (www.ametsoc.org/aboutams/organizationpdfs/constitution.pdf). They are in the Guidelines for Professional Conduct found in Article XII, as follows, and are also referenced in the membership application:

To enhance the benefits of the meteorological and related professions to humanity, to uphold the dignity and honor of the profession, and to provide guidance for individual members, institutional members, or for members in association with other professionals, the American Meteorological Society has adopted the following Guidelines for Professional Conduct. Only individuals and organizations who intend to abide by these Guidelines should seek admission or continuing membership in the Society; therefore, these Guidelines will appear on the membership application form and will be published at least annually in the official organ of the Society.

  1. Relationship of members to the profession as a whole.

    • Members should conduct themselves in an ethical manner and reflect dignity and honor on their profession.

    • Members who are professionally active should endeavor to keep abreast of relevant scientific and technical developments; they should continuously strive to improve their professional abilities.

    • Members engaged in the development of new knowledge should make known to the scientific world their significant results through the media of technical or scientific publications or meetings.

  2. Relationship of members to colleagues.

    Members should not take credit knowingly for work done by others; in publications or meetings, members should attempt to give credit where due.

  3. Relationship of members to clients and the general public.

    • Members should base their practice on sound scientific principles applied in a scientific manner.

    • Members should not direct their professional activities into practices generally recognized as being detrimental to, or incompatible with, the general public welfare.

    • Members undertaking work for a client should fully advise him or her as to the likelihood of success.

    • Members should refrain from making exaggerated or unwarranted claims and statements.

    • Members should refer requests for service that are beyond their professional capabilities or their scope of service to those properly qualified.

    • Members shall not use or display the official seal of the American Meteorological Society, the Radio Seal of Approval, the Television Seal of Approval, or the designation Certified Consulting Meteorologist or Certified Broadcast Meteorologist unless duly authorized by the Society.

To pointedly draw attention to ethics, item 1A of Article XII of the constitution was recently amended to include the reference that “members should conduct themselves in an ethical manner.”

The guidelines help to establish a high level of confidence in the meteorological community's ability to execute its collective responsibility to the public. This confidence is developed by the daily demonstration of highly ethical professional conduct by AMS members and, in particular, by members who hold AMS certifications such as Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) and Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM).

AMS POLICY STATEMENTS.

Beyond the statement on personal conduct in the AMS constitution, the Society has also sought over many years to promote ethical behavior guidelines through its policy statements. Those policy statements address the expected limits on specific capabilities of the science and practicing meteorologists.

Several of the policy statements have implicit standards for personal conduct that are particularly relevant to private-sector meteorologists offering services to industry or the general public. However, they relate mainly to the capability of the science and indicate where a claim of skill may be overexaggerated and could be considered to be unethical or an overrepresentation of competence. The AMS's statements are reviewed regularly and revised to reflect the present state of the science. Current and recent past statements may be found at www.ametsoc.org/policy/amsstatements_inforce.html.

Relevant sections of some current and archived past AMS policy statements include the following.

The Public/Private Partnership in the Provision of Weather and Climate Services [1999 (past)]

The AMS offers the view that there is a clear division of responsibility between the governmnt and the private sector: “In the case of situations where life and property are threatened, the private sector relays public sector warnings and advisories to the public, ensuring that a consistent, unified voice is heard by those affected citizens.” Members of the private sector may produce confidential forecast advice to their clients that is based on their own meteorological analysis. However, care must be taken to avoid dissemination of such advice to a threatened community when the forecast may be at variance with government warnings and advisories prepared for the public sector.

Weather Analysis and Forecasting [2007].

The AMS has outlined the expected skill in forecasting weather for periods ranging from 12 hours out to 8–14 days. Extended and seasonal outlooks are also discussed. The statement acknowledges the relative decreasing skill with increasing time in forecasting temperature and precipitation. This statement serves as a useful guideline to users of weather information. Meteorologists who might make assertions of skill beyond these guidelines without sufficiently addressing the accuracy degradations over time can be considered as making extravagant claims about their forecasting abilities. This would clearly be a violation of the personal conduct section in the AMS Constitution, which says, “Members should refrain from making exaggerated or unwarranted claims and statements.”

Hurricane Forecasting in the United States [2007].

In the same manner as the statement on weather analysis and forecasting, the AMS has made a statement about the expected accuracy of hurricane track and intensity forecasting. The statement is meant to represent the state of the art in that specialty. The statement also includes a declaration about seasonal predictions that says, “Predictions of seasonal hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin have demonstrated forecast skill since the mid-1980s; however it is not yet possible to confidently predict seasonal activity for smaller regions or landfalls.” Making assertions about hurricane forecasting skill that conflict with this statement would be another instance of an extravagant claim.

Statement on Seasonal to Interannual Climate Prediction [2001 (past)].

The development of weather derivatives and the use of weather forecasts or outlooks as a guide to investing in financial markets have created a strong demand for seasonal outlooks in recent years. While there may be a demand for deterministic forecasts to use in this arena, claims of skill in this area can be considered to be an overstatement of forecasting capabilities. The AMS statement says, “Owing to the chaotic nature of day-to-day weather fluctuations, such forecasts will always remain probabilistic and be subject to considerable uncertainty, but they can nevertheless be of substantial value.”

Planned Weather Modification through Cloud Seeding [2010].

Mitigation of drought has always been the hope of farmers, municipalities, and water districts. However, rain makers selling their services with misrepresented assurances of almost certain success have masked the true capability of the science to actually modify nature's weather.

The AMS policy statement on planned weather modification says that recent improvements in the composition and techniques for dispersion of seeding agents, observational technology, numerical cloud models, and in physical understanding of cloud processes permit ever more detailed design and targeting of planned weather modification effects, and more accurate specification of the range of anticipated responses. It cautions that, “There remain limits to the certainty with which desired changes in cloud behavior can be brought about using current cloud seeding techniques.”

Responsible meteorologists who serve this public need still must adhere to a strong code not to promote the capability without substantial evidence about the probability and limitations of success. On this topic, the Weather Modification Association has adopted a statement on standards and ethics (www.weathermodification.org/standards_ethics.php) in order to further that association's purposes, which include but are not limited to

Promoting research, development, understanding and application of weather modification for beneficial uses, and

Encouraging and promoting the highest standards of conduct in all weather modification activities.

AMS CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS.

Meteorologists who have qualified for and received the AMS accreditation as a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) find additional guidance from the Society about how they must conduct themselves. The qualifications for CCM certification stress that

The character of the consultant must be of the finest and be manifest in devotion to the highest professional ideals. Relations with fellow meteorologists, and with clients or employers, should be conducted in a spirit conforming in full to the Society's Guidelines for Professional Conduct (Article XII of the Constitution).

Applicants for the CCM credential can expect to find questions about the AMS ethics guidelines on the written examination, and they will also be questioned about ethics situations during their oral exam. The AMS reserves the right to suspend or revoke the privilege of CCM certification if, in the conduct of his or her profession, the certification holder clearly exhibits conduct that fails to reflect the dignity and honor of the profession, or fails repeatedly to adhere to the criteria set out for the certification.

Similarly, the Certified Broadcast Meteorologists (CBM) program establishes standards for seal holders' conduct. The outline of the certification program says the AMS reserves the right to suspend or revoke the right to use the CBM seal if the holder, in the conduct of his or her profession, clearly fails to conduct himself or herself in a manner that reflects the dignity and honor of the profession or fails repeatedly to adhere to the criteria for the certification.

OTHER SOURCES OF GUIDELINES ON PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT.

Looking beyond the AMS guidelines for personal conduct one can find much related material for scientists in general and see a variety of approaches to articulating standards of conduct. For practicing scientists, an overarching organization is the National Academy of Science (NAS), which has joined with its sister organizations, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, to publish a rather definitive guide on professional standards of science. The title is On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research (3rd edition), published by the National Academies Press (www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12192).

While the NAS publication is directed mainly toward scientists in the research area, it has useful guidelines for the practicing meteorologist on several topics, such as intellectual property, conflicts of interest, and credit for authorship. Case studies are included that inspire thought and illustrate the many gray areas that can exist when making judgments about professional ethics. It also includes a lengthy list of additional resources that the reader may seek out.

By itself, the National Academy of Engineering has established the Center for Engineering, Ethics, and Society, which includes an online Ethics Center (www.nae.edu/26187.aspx). The online center provides readily accessible literature and information, case studies and references, and discussion groups on ethics in engineering and science. It focuses on problems that arise in the work life of engineers and scientists.

The American Academy for Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the journal Science, also is very involved in ethics related to science. The academy regularly publishes its Professional Ethics Report (PER; http://shr.aaas.org/newsletter/per/archives/newper70.shtml), which reports on news, events, activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.

Clearly, there is no shortage of ethics-related and science-oriented material available. Much can be found by searching the World Wide Web where material related to many types of businesses and professions illustrate how ethics issues arise. Whether a meteorologist is involved in research, teaching, industrial forecasting, or marketing weather services, there are many examples to be found of ethical dilemmas that can arise and where the boundaries of proper conduct may lie.