For Sale by the AMS: Your Mailing Information

A few weeks ago, I received a package in the postal mail from a climate-research and advocacy group out of Berkeley, CA–the rather generically-named “National Center for Science Education”, with which I was not familiar. [My specialty is tornado prediction and research, not climate science.] The solicitation was saturated with a blatant, clearly biased sociopolitical advocacy agenda, one rather impertinent to me and also wholly unsuitable for the professional meteorological setting (work address) where I received it. As such, I discarded it as a mere nuisance, with little further thought.

Since then, conversations with several professional colleagues who are members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) reveal that at least some of us have received the same solicitation, and more interestingly, each of us received it at the same mailing address where we receive the AMS Bulletin (BAMS) and other AMS paraphernalia. After doing more checking around, including with an AMS official whom I won’t name (since I didn’t ask his permission to reveal his name), I now know this for a fact: The AMS sold its members’ postal mailing addresses to a third-party group without members’ explicit consent.

Why did the nominally nonprofit AMS violate members’ trust and privacy for some unknown number of shekels? What I have learned is that organizations that take out full-page ads in BAMS are granted the right to purchase your Society’s postal mailing list for one-time mass-mailings–mailings that are pre-approved by an AMS official. In other words, you scratch our backs, we’ll scratch yours. I don’t know what is to stop entities that purchase AMS’ mailing list from violating that apparently implicit agreement and conducting multiple mass junk-mailings; but so far that seems not to have happened.

If you are in the AMS and do not agree with the Society’s practice of pawning off your contact information to high-bidding boosters, please let them know. I already have. Apparently I’m one of just a few who have protested, likely because the practice hasn’t been well-known, and certainly isn’t prominently advertised in AMS membership materials or high on their website.

If the bulk of AMS membership is fine with such a payola arrangement, then I’m outvoted, and that’s that. I’ll just keep recycling the incoming rubbish that crosses the professional line between science and sociopolitical activism (this line probably being good fodder for another AMS-related BLOG entry in the future). But at least all AMS members should know this is going on. There is nothing wrong with being informed; and if you’re reading this, now you are.

The 94th AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta is coming soon (2-6 February) and is an ideal venue to inform AMS officials (including the Society President) of your thoughts on this matter. I cannot be there due to work responsibilities; but for those who can, please be sure to express your concerns to any AMS Councillors and officers you meet there (including at the various social functions)–and in writing via e-mail as well at any time. I don’t foresee this as a problem, since any professional society worth that designation should encourage such open and frank dialog.

[UPDATE–14 Jan 14]

In response to “some recent online activity” (in other words, this BLOG and social-media posts thereabout), the AMS posted this statement, “Use of AMS Mailing List by Third Parties“, to the AMS web server. Commendably, it is currently linked from the front page of the society’s site.

I should address one aspect: the attempt to trivialize the issue by stating how few times it has occurred, how few have protested (because it was little known, of course) and how little revenue is generated. All are irrelevant. It’s about the principle of the matter–namely, a professional society’s selling the contact information of members without their advanced consent. Playing minimalistic numbers games doesn’t reduce the importance of maintaining organizational trust.

Otherwise, that AMS post is a good step, albeit belated and reactionary. While I applaud this newfound openness regarding the AMS’ selling of members’ mailing addresses to third parties, why be reactive instead of proactive about it? This should have been made known at least as prominently to members before the practice ever was put into place. Proactive (not reactive) transparency is a defining ethic for any reputable professional organization.
Since I believe complaints without solutions are meaningless, here are solutions to the problem as it now stands from the AMS perspective:

  1. CEASE and DESIST: Vote to stop the practice at the upcoming annual meeting, or…
  2. POLL MEMBERS: Proactively poll AMS membership about the practice and stop it if a majority opposes.
  3. OPT-OUT: If a majority of AMS membership somehow supports the selling of their mailing addresses to third parties, or if AMS chooses to continue the practice without polling members, then every member should be given the easy option to opt out of the mailing list. This can be done straightforwardly with each new membership application or renewal, by means of a prominently displayed online check-box (and one on paper applications, for those who still use that).

Again, please voice your concerns about this practice (and any solutions to it) to Keith Seitter, your AMS Councillors, its president, and/or any other AMS officials who may influence the policy.

[UPDATE–30 Jan 14]

Yesterday, I got yet another mailing, obviously pawned off by the AMS, in brazen defiance of what they know now to be a problem not only with me but other members. This one was addressed to “AMS Members” from a business called “Exelis”, a weather-information packager and provider. I neither requested this solicitation nor asked to be placed on this company’s mailing list (as with the other one mentioned above), yet this happened–without my permission or prior knowledge. At least a couple of others in my office have received same.

Unless enough AMS members voice their concerns about the unauthorized selling of their contact information to third parties, this only will continue. The AMS meeting is next week. If you can go, voice your concerns there (and thereafter).


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