Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fraud and Insanity - Welcome to Meteorology 2015, Part 2

I would add the following final thought to my previous blog:  No forecast that doesn't contain information about the uncertainty of the forecast can be honest.  Uncertainty is inevitable with any forecast and to issue a product without including that information is dishonest and unprofessional.  If people want to use a long-range forecast as if it were just as accurate as a 1-day forecast, even after being told about the uncertainties, that's their choice.  But if we want to be professionals, we need to be honest, regardless of whether or not people choose to listen to our caveats.

OK - moving on to my next topic, I want to spend a little time on an example of a conspiracy theory that doesn't involve climate science:  the very weird and bizarre notion of the so-called "chemtrails".  Up until a few years ago, I didn't know that this nonsense existed.  The basic notion is that aircraft are dispersing chemicals via their contrails, and those chemicals are supposed to be associated with a whole array of fantasized evils.

It seems that a person named Scott Stevens ... "an award winning television weatherman"... has developed quite a following with wild claims about "geoengineering" projects including (but not limited to) the chemtrail concept.  If you're involved much with social media, no doubt you're well aware of the fanaticism associated with conspiracy theories of all sorts.  There is no scientific basis for claims of a conspiracy involving aircraft contrails, and the other similar parts of "sinister" geoengineering.  Mr. Stevens is careful not to claim he's a meteorologist ... probably since he was forced to resign from an Albany, NY TV station in February of 1995:

Weatherman Scott Stevens has resigned from WRGB (Channel 6) after station management accused him of lying about his credentials.

In a statement read during Tuesday's 6 p.m. broadcast, David Lynch, vice president and general manager, said WRGB "hired Scott Stevens to be chief meteorologist based on faulty information provided by Scott" and his agency. WRGB subsequently learned that "Scott has never completed the necessary academic course of studies that would lead him to the official title of meteorologist,'' according to the statement read by anchorwoman JoAnne Purtan.

In effect, he has essentially zero qualifications to engage in such claims.  It seems that these days anyone can make any wild claim they wish, including those that are virtually complete fabrications, and they can put such garbage out via the Internet.  Gullible, ignorant people are taken in by such nonsense, and the followers of such can infect others easily via electronic media.  This applies to a lot of such imaginary conspiracies (like the putative conspiracy by climate scientists to defraud the world into believing in anthropogenic global warming).

I'm a huge fan of the freedom of speech on the Internet - but people need to take some time to consider what is and is not credible.  Wild "scientific" ideas are common in today's world and nonprofessionals might easily be taken in by them   People need to be able to recognize reliable sources from the loonies out there trying to convince you of such absurdities as the government is using aircraft to fill the air with chemicals that will harm you.

Finally, I've recently seen several examples where junk science concerning topics involving meteorology that may even have been rejected by meteorology journals then turns up in some other journal.  There's the utter nonsense of the example about erecting walls to prevent tornadoes, another one where the authors make up some gibberish about:

... the theory of byuons, allegedly realized by means of a positive feedback between the tornado updraft and the cosmological vector representing the global anisotropy.

as an "additional energy source" for tornadoes, and so on.  My favorite subject - tornadoes and severe storms - long has been a magnet for crackpots and those who think they know something the subject but in reality are profoundly ignorant about severe storms meteorology.  When I dispute their ideas, I've even been subjected to insults.  As a recent example from someone responding to one of my blogs, he called me a "government paid phoney" and said about my science that "One thing we know is that it will be meaningless. It will be pseudoscience. It will be more Doswellian lunacy."

Next, I suppose, come death threats from the chemtrail fanatics ... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fraud and Insanity - Welcome to Meteorology 2015, Part 1

There are several things going on in the weather business that make me cringe these days.  This field has become politicized and even worse of late, in ways I never dreamed of in my past, when I was nose down into my research.  I can only touch on a few of them, but the list is long, especially in the climate business - a can of worms I won't review here.

Most everyone now is accustomed to seeing 7-10 day forecasts, where the forecast high and low temperature, as well as clouds and precipitation are presented, usually in some graphical format (as shown in the example).

These show up on TV weather broadcasts but are quite common on the Internet.  No doubt many people look at these on a regular basis, most without any suspicion that they're being sold a pig in a poke - such an extended range forecast includes a fundamental dishonesty.  Here's the crux of the problem:  if anyone gives the topic even a few moments of thought, it should be obvious that the farther ahead the forecast product extends, the skill and accuracy of that forecast diminishes.  It's a well established principle in meteorology that every self-respecting meteorologist knows - it's an indisputable fact of the science.  A 3-day forecast is less reliable than a 1-day forecast; a 7-day forecast is less reliable than a 3-day forecast.  By roughly 10 days, the forecasts are essentially without any skill: they're no better than simply forecasting the long-term average conditions.  At that range, if you know the local climatology, you know as much as the forecast can offer.

There are scientific reasons for this growth of error with forecast time - basically, in about 10 days, any very small errors at the start of the forecast will grow to the point where they have contaminated the resulting forecasts.  And small errors at the start are inevitable - we don't know atmospheric conditions well enough to eliminate those small errors.

Furthermore, the detail contained in the forecast becomes less and less reliable with increasing lead times (that is, the time from the start of the forecast to the time when the forecast is valid).  A 1-day forecast has one day of lead time, for example.  The farther into the future the forecast goes, those details (such as the location of a front, or the region where precipitation might occur) become "fuzzy" - it's sort of like looking into a crystal ball, where the farther ahead you look, the cloudier the crystal ball becomes.  In the example above, the day-7 maximum (57) and minimum temperature (39) simply aren't known to a precision of 1 degree Fahrenheit, despite what's shown.  At 10 days or so, none of those details can be trusted beyond what you would expect from climatology for that location and time of the year.

Presenting this information with attractive graphics but without any indication of decreasing reliability is just not being honest.  It's a misrepresentation of the information.  Where does that "detail" come from?  For all practical purposes, these forecasts are derived from numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, where the equations governing the atmosphere determine the values on a grid of points in space (and time).  These models not only provide the forecast data used in those pretty graphics.  They also have been used to determine the limits of reliable forecasts I've referred to previously - roughly 10 days or so.

Any source of forecast information that doesn't let the user know about these limitations on extended forecast skill and accuracy is misrepresenting the science of meteorology.  In my view of things, the meteorological community should rise up in protest over this fraudulent practice.  The only hope to reverse this situation lies with the professional meteorologists, who need to stand up for what is right.  My blog can only reach so many and has little influence by itself.  If professionals can somehow muster the courage to speak out against this egregious practice - yes, it takes courage, as many feel their jobs are at risk when they speak out for the truth - we can change the way our forecasts are presented to the users, for whom we can have no expectation that they will figure this out for themselves.  It's our professional duty!

... more to come ...