In weather emergencies, a lack of Spanish-language information endangers the public
Weather officials, media recognize call; taking action
By Kay Nolan, April 8, 2022
The American Meteorological Society has permanently revoked the membership of an atmospheric physicist, two months after it opened a “Code of Conduct” investigation over a Twitter comment he made to a bilingual meteorologist, according to a public AMS statement and the chair of the AMS ethics committee.
The atmospheric physicist, Timothy J. Dunkerton of Bellevue, Wash., was also stripped of his “fellow” status with the AMS, which grants the honor to just a fraction of its 12,000 members worldwide “for outstanding contributions” to the field “during a substantial period of years.”
The actions came after Dunkerton, who holds expertise in the circulation of the atmosphere and has published more than 150 studies, sent inflammatory tweets to other meteorologists on the social media platform in February.
The Washington Post attempted to seek a comment from Dunkerton via phone calls, multiple emails and a Twitter message, but he did not respond.
The AMS — a society of meteorologists, atmospheric chemists and physicists, oceanographers and other scientists — is among a number of professional science groups that have increased efforts in recent years to strengthen their ethics codes, foster a more welcoming culture for underrepresented groups and develop and enforce sanctions when members are accused of harassment or discrimination. They are also wrestling with how much to disclose publicly about such incidents.
On April 1, the society said in a statement that it had taken action against a member, although Dunkerton was not named.
“A recent AMS Code of Conduct violation resulted in the removal of an AMS member from the Society and the revocation of their AMS honors,” the statement said. “The AMS is committed to building inclusive, equitable and welcoming environments for all. To uphold the highest ethical and professional standards, the AMS strictly adheres to zero-tolerance on bullying, harassment, and discrimination of any kind in our community.”
AMS Executive Director Stella Kafka declined to answer questions about the incident.
Frederick Carr, chair of the AMS Committee on Ethics, confirmed the society’s action against Dunkerton. He said in an email, “I am glad that our committee instantiated the enforcement policies and procedures when we did, as less than 2 years ago we would not have been able to respond to Dr. Dunkerton’s egregious behavior.”
The Post obtained a copy of an email sent privately by AMS Associate Executive Director Stephanie Armstrong to society members who had filed a formal complaint about the physicist’s behavior.
That email names Dunkerton and says he “violated two components of the AMS Code of Conduct: 1) Members shall carry out their activities with integrity and the highest ethical standards. 2) Members must treat all individuals with respect. Members must refrain from all forms of discrimination, harassment, and bullying in their professional encounters.”
Dunkerton caused a furor Feb. 2 after a Hispanic meteorologist, who researches severe storms for a program affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tweeted an update about his work as host of a Spanish-language weather information podcast.
Dunkerton tweeted back, “When are you going to assimilate into America?”
Joan Oltman-Shay, president of the Seattle-based NorthWest Research Associates, where Dunkerton held a part-time job, fired him after she saw the tweet.
When others in the weather and science field spoke out against Dunkerton on Twitter, he sent additional controversial tweets.
After Aaron Piña, a NASA deputy program scientist who promotes diversity awareness at the AMS, tweeted his outrage, Dunkerton replied: “Why are you wearing a mask? Hiding from who you really are?”
About two weeks later, Dunkerton tweeted at Piña: “Why are you still hiding behind a mask? Ashamed to work for NASA?” Dunkerton proceeded to mention his own connections to NASA and a senior manager at the agency. “Having second thoughts? Sleep well,” the tweet concluded.
“It felt like a threat,” Piña said last week of Dunkerton referencing by name one of his superiors at work.
After Dunkerton’s initial Feb. 2 tweet, many people reported it to Twitter, which replied that its investigation “found this account violated the Twitter rules” against abuse and harassment in some instances.
On Feb. 7, Twitter told The Post in an email that Dunkerton was required to delete the violative content before gaining access to his account.
As of this week, the tweet was still present and Dunkerton was still active on Twitter.
In response to an email from The Post inquiring as to why the account was active, Twitter replied, “The account owner referenced was required to delete a violative tweet, and was then able to regain access to their account, in line with our enforcement options.” However, the violative tweet did not appear to have ever been deleted.
The AMS process to expel Dunkerton and inform the community took two months.
In the email to society members who filed complaints against Dunkerton, the AMS’s Armstrong said internal procedures “hampered” its ability to take swifter action. She wrote that it is initiating a review of its code of conduct and seeks “to develop a better communications strategy moving forward.”
Erika Marín-Spiotta, a University of Wisconsin geography professor who holds “bystander training” workshops — which teach people ways to intervene when they see harassment or bullying — stressed the importance of disclosing incidents of misconduct to the broader community.
It “is important so that the community is aware that these behaviors are happening, they are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” she said.
Oltman-Shay, Dunkerton’s former boss, said this week: “I applaud the AMS for continuing to review their code of ethics. … It’s my hope that this will become an example to serve as caution to those who bully.