Saturday, January 30, 2016

Phaedra Daipha's "Masters of Uncertainty"

Phaedra Daipha is assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth, and reported the following:
Masters of Uncertainty passed the test and the test passed Masters of Uncertainty. I was delighted (and somewhat relieved) to discover that page 99 can well serve as a benchmark of sorts for the book, in the sense that it nicely encapsulates how forecasters at the National Weather Service (NWS) endeavor to tackle meteorological ambiguity and uncertainty.

Right at the top of the page, I was greeted by the following passage:
It is precisely this visceral need to achieve an optimal gestalt, or “maximum grip” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, Dreyfus 1992), on the atmosphere that in practice compels NWS forecasters to oscillate between different ways of viewing the weather. Cast in this light, their habit of leaving their workstations to study the weather outside becomes central to understanding how they impose order out of the disparate and ambiguous fragments of information at their disposal.
The text next launches into a series of thickly described episodes from the field, so as to illustrate the “countless, indeed daily, instances where a forecaster would leave his workstation with the express purpose of checking on the weather outside, fully aware that a colleague had just been outside for the very same reason.”

The weather outside is forecasters’ passion and it is their nemesis. It remains forever elusive—too complex to be reconstituted and studied under controlled conditions inside, too dynamic to be perfectly predicted. To prevail over meteorological uncertainty and produce accurate and actionable weather predictions, NWS forecasters cannot afford to simply rely on the standard set of highly sophisticated information delivered to them on their computer screens. In practice, they harness a widely disparate assortment of meteorological cues to fashion a provisionally coherent representation of the future. Masters of Uncertainty takes the reader through firsthand accounts of several forecasting episodes to flesh out the dilemmas and challenges of creating weather predictions come rain or come shine. In the process, it advances a theory of decision making that foregrounds the practical and situated nature of expert cognition and casts new light on how we make decisions in the digital age.
Learn more about Masters of Uncertainty and read an excerpt from the book at The University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue