Reviews, Sociology

Review: Fine, Authors of the Storm

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Last Friday’s Chronicle of Higher Education carried a nice piece on sociologist Gary Allen Fine’s latest book, Authors of the Storm: Meteorologists and the Culture of Prediction. Reviewer Nina C. Ayoub delivers a concise synopsis of Fine’s inside account of the cultural and social influences affecting the science of meteorology:

Combining theory with a shop-floor view, Mr. Fine describes how the forecasters do their “futurework,” under a range of bureaucratic and time constraints. While machines abound, data are not simply registered and reported but interpreted and massaged. Meteorologists defend their job as a blend of art and science in which intuition may trump the best software. Or as one forecaster joked: “The real atmosphere has great difficulty simulating the modeled atmosphere, which has ruined a number of good forecasts.”
Forecasting, he also shows, is a social process. No forecast is created anew. Instead, each shift looks at what it has “inherited,” and issues of collegiality can shape whether predictions are changed, tweaked, or left alone, assuming no dramatic demands by the climate.…
Language is [also] a frequently contested issue, between, for example, a “partly sunny” optimist and a “partly cloudy” pessimist, or between forecasters who favor such evocative terms as sultry and blustery, and others who think even “fair” is too ambiguous.

Revealing the people and personalities behind the daily weather forecast, Fine’s Authors of the Storm offers a valuable glimpse of a crucial profession.