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Friday, May 20, 2011

Weather Scientist Cliff Mass Fired by KUOW

Fired for Having an Opinion!
Cliff Mass, UW Weather Climatologist
ph credit - Publicola

Cliff Mass, renowned UW Weather scientist has had a 5-10 minute segment on KUOW's Weekday show for over 15 years.  He was one of the most engaging and interesting regular science spokesman on the local media, precisely because he did speak candidly about what was going on with weather and all his topics. He had previously taken on the education establishment in Seattle with his "Where's The Math" project about the "Discovering Math" Textbook series.

Publicola has the story which links to Cliff Mass Blog and complete story.

But now the station, apparently due to sensitivity of their original home, the UW, pulled the plug on his segment due to his expressing an opinion.


No More Weather on KUOW Weekday

For over 15 years, I have talked about Northwest weather, the weekend forecast, and education-related topics on KUOW during Friday's morning's Weekday program.

I have done so as my attempt at educational outreach, to go beyond the basic forecasts given on other media, providing the why behind the weather and to allow local residents a chance to appreciate the grand complexity of the weather of this beautiful area of the world. And occasionally to talk about related educational issues.

Starting tomorrow, I will not have the opportunity to do so anymore on KUOW. On Monday I received an email from Weekday host Steve Scher informing me that the regular weather segments on Weekday will be discontinued.

Now if this was a simple issue of the weather program getting stale, of a need for a new format on Weekday, or of listeners wishing a change, I would not complain. I would have thanked Steve for the opportunity to talk about local weather all these years and moved on.

But that is not what happened.

And the real reasons for the termination of the my segment are more ominous and disturbing. And as I will explain, it has much in common with the recent termination of Principal Martin Floe by Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield.

My involvement with KUOW began in the mid 90s when I was contacted by them to replace the previous weather person, Art Rangno. I told them that I was not interested in just giving the forecast, but wanted to do scientific outreach, trying to follow (in a modest way) the footsteps of one of my mentors, Carl Sagan, who convinced me that scientists had to communicate directly with the public. I offered KUOW a hybrid: a weather forecast/weather 101 combination and that was accepted.

For over ten years I followed that route, first starting with Dave Beck, Marci Sillman, and Steve Scher and then later only Steve. Many of you seemed to enjoy the material and increasingly I heard from you over the phone and then emails (now several dozen a week). I also started talking about other topics. First, the need for a coastal radar--and the letters and efforts of many of you helped make that happen. But by the early 2000s I started talking about my concerns in education. I am just not a scientist, I am an educator as well--by now having instructed many thousands of students at all levels. I started seeing degradations in math skills and a few times a year I began talking about it and my concerns for the future of our nation.

Sometimes I talked about science education, such as issues with the Seattle Science Center (to their credit, after a discussion on air about it, BryceSeidel, the director, invited me down to talk about my concerns. And I note that he was responsive in many ways to my concerns--such as the need to entrain more regional scientists in Science Center programs).

But things changed a few years ago. A new producer for Weekday was taken on--Katy Sewall--and on a program I remember well, I talked not only about the problem of declining math skills, but what I thought was the reason--the proliferation of discovery ("fuzzy") math books and the poor instruction by the Schools of Education, including the UW.

A short while later Katy contacted me, telling me I was no longer allowed to talk about math and that Steve concurred. I asked why--she said there were several complaints from the UW Education folks and that it was against "journalistic ethics" to allow me talk about such issues. This went back and forth for a while and I asked to see both Steve and Katy to talk it out.

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