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Earth Science

Tornado Scientists Butt Heads With Storm Chasers 402

Posted by Soulskill
from the any-way-the-wind-blows-doesn't-really-matter-to-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Tornado researchers say amateurs — inspired by movies like Twister and shows like Storm Chasers — are getting in their way, hampering science and creating hazards. 'Hundreds of camera-toting amateurs in cars ended up chasing the same storms as a fleet of scientific vehicles during the high-profile research project, called Vortex2, which wrapped up data collection this week. At times the line of traffic caused the Midwestern roads to look like the freeways of Los Angeles, said Roger Wakimoto, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, during a briefing for reporters this week. "I worry about this as a safety hazard," Mr. Wakimoto said. "These people were blocking our escape routes because of the sheer number of cars."' Storm chasers say they have as much right to watch storms as Ph.D.s."
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Tornado Scientists Butt Heads With Storm Chasers

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  • by earls (1367951) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:22PM (#32617324)
    Agreed, the scientists started somewhere, just because the "amateurs" aren't being compensated and don't have a million dollar chase vehicle doesn't mean they have any less right to follow the storms - fuck off.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:22PM (#32617330)

    Mind if I block all the fire exits in your building and disable the smoke detectors?

  • by brainboyz (114458) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:25PM (#32617374) Homepage

    Even if it does get them killed, every last one of the bunch stuck in traffic went there knowing they could get blocked in by other people. Who says the PhD types couldn't contribute to some amateurs getting killed? There's a storm that can put a toothpick through an oak tree: everyone running towards it is responsible for their own consequences.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:28PM (#32617422)

    Yeah, but the chasers are just there to go "hyurp, issa terrnado!" while the scientists are there to learn about tornadoes and how they form so they can save thousands of lives.

  • by theghost (156240) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:30PM (#32617452)

    Perhaps, in a painfully literal sense, but claiming that your desire to seek an adrenaline high is just as valid as their desire to do research that will save lives is high asshattery.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:43PM (#32617680) Homepage Journal

    I doubt that many of these folk will become scientists.
    Why they have the right to be stupid let's be honest.
    1. This is a dangerous activity.
    2. They have caused issues with scientists trying to do proper data collection.
    3. They could cause problems for first responders trying to help people.
    So yes the have the right but is it ethical or even morally right to get in the way of real scientists?
    I would say that most of these folk should get the heck off the rode and let the professionals have their crack at getting real data that might actually end up helping people.
    Otherwise they are just using their right to be dumb jerks to hurt the advancement of science for in exchange for some thrill seeking.

  • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:47PM (#32617754)

    Given that the amateurs are just there for kicks, they should know and accept that they are willingly putting themselves into a risky situation.

    The PhDs also know that they are willingly putting themselves into a risky situation, but they are doing so to increase the sum of human knowledge, which makes it slightly more worthwhile.

  • by malakai (136531) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:48PM (#32617788) Journal

    What this article fails to mention is one of the reasons Vortex2 even got a go was partially because of the success and semi-stardom Dr. Josh Wurman got from participating in "Storm Chasers".

    The publicity that show generated for them no doubt helped lube the federal funding money chute.

    Besides, you can't just declare martial law and saw "No one can storm chase". There's no solution that will ever be enacted that ends with making it illegal, so you may as well stop bitching about it and simply work with the other guys. I'm amazed there isn't a federal call center or something for these chasers to all phone in to, and a website with realtime dopplar radar provided to them. The faster these guys report a tornado on a ground, the easier it is for the weather people to push a button for a siren or some other event.

    This just sounds like sour grapes. You could see the annoyance on the part of the "funded" scientist when that little no-name crew successfully flew a model airplane around a tornado and dropped sensors into it. The fact that was done on a budget put together by selling Tornado videos to news channels sounds like a win/win for me. Took none of my tax dollars, and reaped novel data.

  • by nyctopterus (717502) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:51PM (#32617832) Homepage

    Maybe, but look at it another way. Maybe doing things (that give you a profound experience) is as important as finding things out. Now, I bet for your average slashdotter, finding things out is one of the most profound experiences you can have, but not for everyone.

    It's very easy to get on your high horse and proclaim SCIENCE!, but in the end, what is science for? It is for making living better or more interesting. Maybe for these people storm-chasing is a big part of what makes living interesting.

    I think we should avoid making science stifle life.

  • What a joke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anon-Admin (443764) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:56PM (#32617908) Homepage Journal

    I stopped reading the article when I read "Dr. Wurman said that amateur storm chasers rarely offer useful information"

    It always bothers me when people with PhD's discount the information provided by amateurs. More than 1/2 the PhD's I have worked with tend to have a belief that if you do not have a degree in the subject you can not possibly provide any useful research data or that there is no way you can know what you are talking about.

    If they are worried about the numbers of amateur storm chasers maybe they should have a conference with them and train them in proper data collection and where to report it. Then the people they think are "getting in the way" could be helpful and add to the body of scientific knowledge.

    But then they would have to admit that anyone can do science and not just the PhD's. We can't have that, we have to pack the class rooms so they can get paid.

    /me steps down from his soap box and kicks it back to the wall where his degrees hang.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:56PM (#32617914)

    Who says the PhD types couldn't contribute to some amateurs getting killed?

    Well, the PhDs have a little thing called KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING.

    There's a storm that can put a toothpick through an oak tree: everyone running towards it is responsible for their own consequences.

    But apparently not the consequences their ignorance and sense of entitlement force on others.

  • by EricWright (16803) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:02PM (#32618014) Journal

    Are you sure? I have a PhD and sometimes, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I'm just making it up as I go along...

    Lucky for society my PhD isn't related to my job.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:10PM (#32618130)
    Professional scientific researchers have training, equipment and experience. They are fully aware of the danger the storm presents, and are risking it to perform scientific studies for the purpose of increasing human knowledge about these systems. They know what they're doing, they have things like mobile doppler radar to help them keep track of the situation, and aren't out there for cheap thrills.

    What about their camera crew buddies? Aren't they presenting a risk as well? If it's that big of a deal then none of them should go.

    Oh, that's right, camera crews = research grants... I see where this is going now.

    One ice cream truck driver slams another ice cream truck driver because he's a "professional" and anyone else is just asking for those poor little kids to get run over when they hear the bells ring.

    Seriously. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If it's that dangerous, he needs to drop his TV show.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:15PM (#32618198) Homepage Journal

    He didn't say that, you stuffed your own definition in there.
    real scientist.
    Someone who collects data and applies the scientific method to it.

    Most of these amateur storm watchers don't do that. They get a camera and take photos. Hardly any of them will do any research.

    Those people are in the way.

    You have a right to stand around and gawk,, but when you get in the way you are being a dick.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:21PM (#32618296) Homepage Journal

    But let's be honest.
    The real storm chasers are probably not the problem. It the people that watched Stormchasers on TV and think it looks like fun.
    Also so what if the scientists have jumped onto the bandwagon? Are they doing real science that helps people? Then it is a good thing.

    And they are not claiming the roads or the storms. They are asking people to not get in their way or endanger them while they are collecting data.
    Seems all too reasonable to me.

  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:35PM (#32618542)
    I think you'll find that if people do something all the time over a period of years, they'll end up 'KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING' as a matter of course. It's called 'experience' and is not always related to how many books one reads.

    I have nothing but respect for PhDs, but I doubt that much they learn in grad school prepares them any better for storm chasing than what an amateur can learn from doing it themselves. (And, get this, amateurs can read books too! I know, right? Who knew that you could read books outside of degree programs and still learn things!)
  • Re:What a joke (Score:3, Insightful)

    by casings (257363) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:41PM (#32618658)

    If you want anything done practically, you aren't calling a Ph.D. I would never trust a Ph.D to do anything actually useful.

  • by GooberToo (74388) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:48PM (#32618766)

    The entire thing about "storm chasing saves lives" is complete bunk to give the PhD's moral authority over the amateur chasers who are in it for the thrill.

    All I can say is, "WHOOOSH!"

    The entire point of the research is to better improve tornado detection, tracking, and analysis. As well as to better predict when and where they'll pop up. In short, they absolutely DO have moral authority on the scene. That's not to say every trip raises the bar for what science can do, but just the same, the entire purpose for them to be there absolutely establishes morale authority in hopes to further improve things for EVERYONE - including these thrill seeking fuck-tards. If this were not true, there would be no need for continued research. And at this time there exists a need for LOTS of continued research. In short, the fact that a need persists, in of itself, establishes morale authority.

    Anyone else who isn't contributing to the scientific body of knowledge has no right or need to be there. Even with established criminal laws, its illegal for them to be there; such that it hinders a scientist's ability to "safely" conduct research. This is called reckless endangerment [wikipedia.org]. Should the worst happen, these idiots are setting themselves up for both criminal and civil prosecution - to wit I sincerely hope the law does so to its fullest extent possible. If you bother to read the provided link, you'll find this fuck-tard behavior of people who don't need to be there are the literal definition of reckless endangerment. So in short, morally and legally they shouldn't be there so long as they are creating these types of hazards for legitimate researchers.

  • Re:What a joke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:49PM (#32618782)

    I don't understand this anti-intellectual campaign. Is it so hard to understand that if you don't have a degree then chances are you don't know what you are talking about? I mean sure, it's quite possible to learn stuff on your own and investigate things on your spare time. Some even manage to get a decent grasp on a specific topic without ever having a course on it. Yet, when we look into it... how many uneducated know-it-alls do you know that really know nearly as much about a specific field than the educated person? And how many know-it-alls do you happen to know that boast how much they know about some stuff but, when we really delve into it, we find out they know jack shit?

    I really don't understand this anti-intellectual nonsense. Since when does an uneducated, ignorant but strongly opinionated individual knows more about a subject than a publicly recognized expert on a subject who is recognized for making significant contributions to humanity's understanding of a specific subject?

  • Re:What a joke (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmai l . c om> on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:58PM (#32618910) Homepage

    I don't understand this anti-intellectual campaign. Is it so hard to understand that if you don't have a degree then chances are you don't know what you are talking about?

    Actually the problem people have is with the arrogance and egotism of people who have pieces of paper. Simply because I don't have a piece of paper, doesn't mean I don't have a clue on how to plot my own weather maps and provide valid meteorological data to other sources. I can do both. But I've got no paper, but I have been studying weather since I was a kid. So 22 years give or take.

    The interesting thing is, I can say the same about people in many scientific fields. The reality is, many academia believe that if you have a piece of paper your knowledge is more worthy then the guy who doesn't. Even if your paper is from another distant field that isn't related.

    To sum it up, a 4 year education doesn't mean you have enough experience to understand more then the guy on the ground who's been doing it for 40 years without the same. You probably don't.

  • by Yergle143 (848772) on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:31PM (#32619390)

    You make a salient larger point. There's a good deal of lack of respect for nature. Whether it be sailing around the world when you're 16, going to live with Grizzly's, or scaling the Himalayas; good old fashioned awe is at a long time low. Technology is the prime mover I guess in counting coup with a tornado. After the encounter you bring images and tales back to the BBQ and share them with your (now) world youtube tribe who anoints you with adulation and esteem. I've been close to a tornado whilst exposed in the eastern plains of Colorado. There is no record of me lying in a ditch soiling my pants and I'm glad of it. Ooops.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:44PM (#32619572)

    You have a right to stand around and gawk,, but when you get in the way you are being a dick.

    This.

    It's just like when there's a big accident on the highway. If you know a bit about first aid, great; provide it. If you don't, well, you're still welcome to stare, BUT! In both cases, when the real ambulances arrive, get out of the way and let them do their job. And don't complain about how you have just as much of a right to be there as they do.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:47PM (#32619624) Journal

    "There was a guy down in Florida who said that the age of 53 years old, he was in good enough physical condition to withstand the wind, rain and hail of a force-3 hurricane. Now, let me explain somethin' to ya: it isn't THAT the wind is blowin', it's WHAT the wind is blowin'. If you get hit by a Volvo, it doesn't matter how many sit-ups you did that morning." - Ron White: Comedian.

  • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:55PM (#32619718)

    Except you're missing a pretty important point.

    Sure, everyone's got a right to the road. Thing is these amateurs are getting in the way of people who are trying to study this shit so we can better understand and so better prepare and warn people of disaster.

    In other words, the amateurs have their heads up their asses. Yeah, they have as much right as the PhDs to be there, but what they SHOULD do, were they decent people, is concede that people other than themselves are better able to do better work and that because of this they should allow them better access.

    If someone's choking to death, only an asshole would stand in the way of trained paramedics and claim that they have just as much right to stand there as the paramedic. That's a thin analogy but still works -- get the hell out of the way of the professionals, they know what they're doing more than you do.

  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:58PM (#32619772)
    The difference between 'experience' and 'training' is a syllabus. It may surprise you to learn that everything that can be considered a skill that people do now at one time had to be done by people who had nobody to learn from and 'didn't know what they were doing' simply because they were the first to do it. A human being with initiative can self-educate. As a species we should never denigrate that, as it has been the key to civilization itself.
  • by bonch (38532) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:01PM (#32619800)

    This isn't about rights. Why do people automatically assume criticism of a behavior means someone is trying to take away the right to do it?

    This is about morons with beer hats getting in the way of professionals trying to do legitimate, life-saving research.

  • by bonch (38532) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:07PM (#32619860)

    Sorry, but a flood of Slashbots is going to respond and tell you "Storm-chasers have a RIGHT!" even though nobody is talking about rights. It doesn't matter to them that these scientists are trying to do government-funded, life-saving research because, apparently, morons with beer-hats and cell phone cameras are to be defended against those mean, ol' scientists trying to figure out how tornadoes work.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:09PM (#32619892) Journal

    Are you sure? I have a PhD and sometimes, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I'm just making it up as I go along...

    When you graduate from high school you know everything.

    When you graduate from college you realize you don't actually know everything.

    When you get a masters' degree you realize you don't know *anything*.

    When you get a PhD you realize nobody else does, either.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:31PM (#32620110)

    Since when did "Scientists" gain possession of the roads?

    No implication of possession was made, the scientists were simply saying it was rude and dangerous. Which, it sounds like it is to park across the highway in the middle of a tornado!

    Not sure when the assumption on slashdot became "If you say something -should- be this way, you're trying to pass a law enforcing it."

  • by Vasheron (1750022) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:35PM (#32620164)
    As Einstein famously pointed out, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"
  • by Hooya (518216) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:46PM (#32620280) Homepage

    Morons with beer hats paved the way precisely because they were moronic enough to start chasing twisters long before the dudes in white coats figured it was a legitimate scientific endeavor worthy of their time and reputation.

    See rocketry, flight etc. Not that the Wright brothers were "moronic". But the point I'm trying to make is that almost any field *becomes* a "science" only after someone with no knowledge explores it enough to establish some information that the science types can then study and then become scientists in the field.

    So, in essence, curiosity and the sheer determination to explore something in the face of ridicule - something a proper modern "scientist" rarely would risk their reputation for - is something, most of the time, is better done by amateurs. Which becomes the foundation for the science that then follows. So, at least in my mind, the amateurs are discoverers of science. The "scientists" just study the science.

    For the scientist to claim that they are the ones doing important work - f that. The most important work was done when someone decided to chase the storm just for the hell of it.

    And wasn't curiosity an essential part of science?

    If an amateur develops a safer way to get closer to the storm - is that development any less scientific?

    And please don't forget, the scientists and the doctors - if "life-saving" is the only dimension of human endeavor - have all failed miserably: every single human being dies.

  • Re:What a joke (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:50PM (#32620318)

    Umm... four year education? You realize that to getting a phd usually requires 5-8 years of full-time work, right? And that in science the degree is just the stepping stone to a post-doc, which is supposed to be an additional training step. Honestly, nobody in academe cares about the piece of paper. People are judged based on their contribution to the scholarly community. Those who do useful or interesting work are respected, whether amateur or professional (yes, credit is not always allotted fairly, but this happens everywhere, not just academia). Would-be "experts" with chips on their shoulders, who shout "the academics think they are more worthy than me" any time their work is criticized? They are not respected.

  • Re:What a joke (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IICV (652597) on Friday June 18, 2010 @07:26PM (#32620638)

    Actually the problem people have is with the arrogance and egotism of people who have pieces of paper. Simply because I don't have a piece of paper, doesn't mean I don't have a clue on how to plot my own weather maps and provide valid meteorological data to other sources. I can do both. But I've got no paper, but I have been studying weather since I was a kid. So 22 years give or take.

    Congratulations, if that's true then you're one in a million. The other nine hundred, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people who claim to be experts in a field without a degree are actually morons greatly enjoying the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    This is why academics frequently discount the opinions of people without degrees; those opinions are frequently worth discounting.

    Further, you don't even seem to know what a PhD entails. You don't spend just four years getting one; that's only if you stop with an undergraduate degree. If you add up the amount of time a person spends getting a PhD (including the undergraduate degree and postdoctoral positions (and a successful postdoc is basically required to get anyone to take your piece of paper seriously)), it ends up being anywhere from ten to twenty years.

    Yes, you've spent the last 22 years studying the weather. Was it your full-time job, or was it just something you did weekends and evenings? Did you spend at least four hours a day reading papers from climatology journals that whole time? Did you basically blow six years of your life apprenticing yourself to someone who had made a career out of studying weather? Have you ever systematically gathered data of any sort? Did you then write up a report on it and published it anywhere? (bonus points if it was a peer-reviewed journal) Have you contributed to the advancement of science in any way?

    Hell, how do you know that these scientists haven't been studying the weather since they were children? You're assuming that they aren't as passionate about it as you, but they were willing to literally throw away a decade of their lives just so they can study this one thing. They were willing to put their money (as in, lost potential earnings) where their mouths were; why is it that you're not willing to do the same thing? It's not like these programs are hard to get into, no matter what your age; my wife, who is a PhD student, has a classmate in her eighties.

    This is why the anti-elitist sentiment (as it applies to academia) in the United States is so baffling. These "elites" have given their lives over to studying a topic, and you think that just because you've been "studying" the topic since you were a kid you're as qualified as they are.

  • Re:What a joke (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Friday June 18, 2010 @07:59PM (#32620944) Homepage

    There is nothing anti-intellectual about the idea that a degree is only one of many ways a person could be knowledgeable or have something to contribute. There is nothing anti-intellectual about suggesting that the storm chasers should give the amateurs a way to participate meaningfully rather than just lamenting their existence.

    Both of those ideas ARE strongly anti-elitist.

    Sure, the world is full of blowhards who think they know everything about everything. Some of them have a degree and some don't.

    Consider this, evading a tornado that turns on you calls for some fairly extreme driving. Why don't the PhD's step aside and let the experts (stunt drivers, offroad racers) take care of it? Because they think they can do just as well in spite of minimal experience and no actual training in the skill, just like the amateur storm chasers.

There are running jobs. Why don't you go chase them?

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