Monday, October 22, 2012

In the Public Eye

I just entered into the arena where science and policy come together - applying science for public good. I'm still very much in the midst of learning the culture, what I can and cannot say (aka how and when to censor myself), and figuring out what I'll be doing. At the same time on the other side of the world, six scientists were just convicted of poorly communicating the uncertainty of science in the public sphere. Six geoscientists did not predict an earthquake or 'accurately communicate' the potential earthquake hazard. This does not inspire confidence as I start navigating this new realm.

We had 2 weeks of orientation - oriented to leave out the caveats when giving a message to the Hill. There's not time nor the desire by the audience to go through the uncertainties. At the same time, we were told to tell it how it is... within the confines of the audience and time limits. It's a difficult line to find - concise, clear and decisive, but scientifically complete. I knew I had to learn how to hit the right balance. Now I'm a bit scared of what might happen if I miss.

There are numerous articles, blogs, comments, etc discussing the trial and verdict. I don't know the intricacies of the trial nor the exact words said before the earthquake, so I do not try to presume the 'correct' verdict. However, only hours later, there are already profound effects rippling across the scientific community. It is not only me, a small player in a pond, that is questioning their role and willingness to put themselves out into the public... its really too bad, because I also see a lot of opportunities to help society and help the environment.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I had a month hiatus due to personal reasons - I wish I was off to some fabulous vacation, but no such luck. The hiatus is over though.  This was my first week in another new and foreign discipline and another government agency - US Agency for International Development (USAID). Its still 'development' but in a very different vein. Its also ecology but in a different context. Going to NIH, I went from large-scale biology to small-scale biology. Now, I'm scaling back up even larger than before - a more complete ecosystem which includes humans and all of their institutions.

The week didn't start off well though. I hope its not a sign. My first day... My first staff meeting... I descend the longest escalator in the DC metro system to board my train to my new job. Only problem - someone decided that they were having a bad day (or year) and jumped in front of a train half an hour before I got there. The red line was DELAYED while they were investigating the incident. I was patient, having included an extra half an hour to get there. Finally a train came to pick us up after at least 10 min waiting. Yeah. Two stops were completely normal and then we stopped... and stopped. After 12 min sitting at a station with the doors open (total delayed time now ~25 min of my 30 min buffer), I gave up and got a cab. After walking to the cab stand, negotiating payment type, and then driving back towards the metro stations, the train still hadn't moved. Of course, we hit traffic once we got into downtown DC. I finally got dropped off in front of the Ronald Reagan Building - my new place of work. I finally made it through visitor's security and was escorted to the meeting. I was 7 minutes late. Ugh. Luckily, two people came in after me and my new mentor.

The rest of the week has been full of logistics, meetings that I mostly to somewhat understand, and gathering reading assignments. Overall, I think its been a win - I got badged (giving me access to the building and my office without an escort attached to my hip); I can access my computer and have a new email address; and I have contributed a possible new idea towards the office's research portfolio. The best part though was getting out of the metro station this evening, after my first week, and seeing a full rainbow against retreating grey storm clouds. A gorgeous end to my first week.