APS News

New Process Gives APS Members More Voice in Policy

By Michael Lucibella

The recently adopted addendum to the APS 2007 Climate Change Statement came about as the result of an effort by the Panel on Public Affairs to clarify the existing statement using input from the membership. The process to add to the statement was developed in conjunction with the Constitutional and Bylaws Committee to help serve as a template for the adoption of future policy statements.

The addendum was included in order to add greater detail, provide data, and clarify the language used in sections of the existing statement. The contents of the original statement were not changed. The addendum follows the original statement.
Gray arrow   APS Climate Change Statement

“The approach we took was to dissect the policy statement and say what is the policy statement, and what is the information that supports that statement,” said John Browne, a member of the subcommittee. He said also that in the addendum they added additional information in areas they thought needed further detail. “Physicists like to see data. They don’t like hand-waving arguments. They want to know what has been measured and they want to know the uncertainty”

The statement was called into question when at the spring 2009 meeting of the APS Council, councilor Robert Austin brought forward a motion calling for the original statement to be replaced with a new statement. The request was tabled, and Cherry Murray appointed a committee headed by Daniel Kleppner to review both statements and suggest potential options for responding to the motion.

Acting on the Kleppner committee recommendation, Council passed a motion in November calling for POPA to review the 2007 statement and address “issues of tone and clarity”. POPA formed a subcommittee headed by Duncan Moore to draft an addendum to the statement. In addition to Browne and Moore, James Drake and Frances Houle served on the subcommittee. The members  were chosen because none had worked on originally drafting the climate change statement, and none had taken a public stance on the controversy of climate change.

In early January, the subcommittee members held lengthy teleconferences with five prominent voices in climate change research. The experts they interviewed included both proponents of anthropogenic climate change as well as those critical of it.

After consulting the climate experts, the subcommittee began writing the addendum. On February 5th POPA unanimously adopted the addendum in its preliminary form.

On February 23rd, APS President Curtis Callan sent an email to all APS members that linked to a website with the proposed addendum. It invited all members to read the statement and critique the draft. This was the first time the entire membership had been asked to weigh in on an APS National Policy Statement.

As reported in last month's APS News, a total of 1,767 people, or about 4 percent of the membership, responded to the email and submitted responses through the website. Each comment was read by at least one person on the subcommittee. Comments were ranked from 1 to 5 based on how strongly they supported or opposed the proposed addendum. Those comments that the committee member thought had constructive suggestions for edits were set aside and circulated for all subcommittee members to read.

After each subcommittee member read all of the set-aside comments, they went back and re-edited the statement based on the responses. The committee made over 50 changes to the seven-hundred-plus word addendum. Many of the changes clarified the language used; however, several of the changes were more substantial.

“The membership had a huge impact on the whole thing,” said subcommittee chair Duncan Moore, “We made significant changes… [including] a couple of factual errors that were corrected because of that.”

POPA submitted the final version of the addendum to the Council on April 18th, and it was adopted 31 to 2 with one abstention.

This won’t be the last time the membership is asked to comment on such matters. The Constitution and Bylaws Committee is currently working on a system to similarly solicit member input on any future public statements.

“It seems like a good process,” said councilor Gay Stewart, “Everybody got a chance to voice their opinion.”

Not all of the councilors were completely satisfied with the process for members to weigh in.

“It should have been quantitative not qualitative. It was a very flawed poll,” said Austin, who ultimately voted against the adoption of the addendum. He said also that having members submit written responses was an unscientific way of gauging the opinions of the membership, “I think they should have had a professional pollster come in.”

All of the councilors interviewed said that an important issue to them was that any statement adopted had to be based on sound science.

“It’s a good idea with the caveat that in the end POPA has to write the statement based on their work and not just on a poll of the membership,” noted councilor Steven Rolston.

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Editor: Alan Chodos