This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Like most of the British public, I don't listen to Radio 4, but I have heard about a kerfuffle over the last few months surrounding a radio programme which dared to criticise the Met Office presented by the Daily Mail journalist Quentin Letts. The programme called "What's the point of.." has been running since 2009 and has covered such subjects as the Methodists, the British liking for lawns, firms that have 'royal appointment' status, the British Board of Film Classification, army reservists, the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, the National Trust and the Tate gallery. A blog post by Quentin Letts describes what happened concerning the specific programme about the Met Office:
"First, an apology. Thanks to me, all journalists at BBC Radio’s ethics and religion division are being sent for indoctrination in climate change. Sorry. In July I made a short Radio 4 programme with them called What’s the Point of the Met Office?, which accidentally sent orthodox warmists into a boiling tizzy. Amid jolly stuff about the history of weather predictions and the drippiness of today’s forecasters, we touched on parliamentary lobbying done by the state-funded Met Office. All hell broke out. Cataracts and hurricanoes! The Met Office itself was unfazed but the eco-lobby, stirred by BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin, went nuts. I was accused of not giving a proper airing to ‘prevailing scientific opinion’. Apostasy had occurred. I was duly flogged on the Feedback programme.
That was the last I thought of it until last week, when I was sent an enormous draft report from the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee. This said I was likely to be found guilty of a ‘serious breach’ of ‘impartiality and accuracy’. The tone was akin to something from the International Criminal Court at the Hague or the Vatican in Galileo’s day. Did my little programme err? I certainly didn’t try to give listeners a reverential précis of ‘prevailing scientific opinion’ — didn’t think that was my remit. But we did have some fun interviewing an engagingly untidy climate-change sceptic called Piers Corbyn. His brother is now leader of HM Opposition. The BBC hierarchy’s overreaction to all this has been an education, as has the activism of Harrabin. Meanwhile, my ethics and religion mates have been sentenced to hard labour on the BBC Academy’s impartiality online training module, with ‘a substantial scenario on reporting climate-change science’. At school they call this detention."
The programme has now been taken off the BBC iPlayer website following the BBC Trust investigation (the BBC Trust is the BBC's regulator). The journalists in the religion and ethics department of the BBC, which made the programme, have been required to undergo impartiality training. This BBC religion and ethics department seems to be headed by someone called Aaqil Ahmed and from his biography it looks his favourite programme is "Top Gear", which must be unusual for BBC management. I would assume that Ahmed is a Muslim, and it looks like the BBC has, in its zeal to appoint a non-Christian head of religious programming, overlooked the fact that he might not necessarily go along with the most important religion of all to many employees of the BBC, the Green religion.
The fact that a programme with an AGW sceptic content managed to be somehow broadcast by the BBC was unexpected, and it now appears that the BBC Trust have shut that route down, but it set me wondering what has happened to the UK's top AGW sceptic and anti-Green documentary maker, Martin Durkin? Durkin's famous "The Great Global Warming Swindle" (GGWS) documentary was broadcast in 2007, and we haven't seen anything by him on that sort of subject matter since, even though AGW scepticism and scepticism of Greenery is more prevalent today than it was in 2007.
I looked around on the internet and I think I found the answer in an article by Durkin, which appears to have been written in 2012, on his website:
Durkin indicates that the main stumbling block to his making further anti-Green documentaries is that Channel 4 are worried about the reaction of the UK TV regulator OFCOM (OFCOM regulates all British TV channels apart from the BBC channels). I remember that the GGWS documentary had a massive complaint file submitted to OFCOM by the Greenies, the like of which OFCOM had never previously seen, and the complaint document was even 'peer reviewed'. The GGWS documentary ended up only receiving a mild rebuke by OFCOM, but the sheer assertiveness of the complaint by the Greenies appears to have rattled them and Channel 4 in regard to further material produced by Durkin.
The context of Durkin's article is that there was talk a few years ago during the Leveson inquiry (the inquiry about phone hacking carried out by tabloid newspapers) that a body similar to OFCOM should be introduced to regulate UK newspapers. Durkin's view was that if an OFCOM-type body for newspapers was created, journalists like James Delingpole would soon disappear.
There is still a route for a limited amount of AGW sceptic and Green-sceptic material being broadcast on British TV, and ironically that is mainly through the BBC in the shape of Andrew Neil's political programmes, where Neil sometimes interviews sceptics and he also tends to give Green politicians a tougher interview than they would normally get from the BBC. Presumably the material on Neil's programmes is OK because it is political comment.
What a very religiously circumscribed society we now live in. Reminds me of the time when as a child, one could not question Christianity without a deluge of personal criticism aimed at you. Plus ce change.
The "What's the point of the Met Office?" radio programme has now been erased from the BBC records, but I managed to find a transcript of the programme:
The transcript is not an official BBC transcript (the BBC apparently doesn't release transcripts for most of its radio programmes), it's available from the mytranscriptbox website which I understand is run by an AGW sceptic blogger called Alex Cull. I don't know how these transcripts are put together - they might possibly be done by hand, listening to sections of the broadcast repeatedly and gradually writing down what has been said.
After reading the transcript, the programme appears to be much less critical of the Met Office overall than I was expecting. It praises the main work that the Met Office does, in providing short-term weather forecasts, but suggests that they might be advised to keep out of the longer-term predictions of weather and climate because their track record in the longer term area is not particularly good.
Quentin Letts has also written a more recent article in the Daily Mail about his experience with the Met Office programme and the antics of the Green lobby:
The issue raised in the Quentin Letts programme of the Met Office being pretty good at short-term weather forecasting but not so good at longer-term forecasting reminds me of an activity that Roger Harrabin tried to organise a few years ago called the "BBC Weather Test". This article by Harrabin from Sept 2010 describes the idea:
The idea was to compare the weather predictions for monthly and seasonal forecasts provided by various forecasters and determine who is the most accurate. Harrabin gives his reason for doing this as simple curiosity, but I would suspect that his main reason for wanting to carry out the exercise would be to see if he can use it to discredit long-range UK weather forecaster Piers Corbyn (brother of the current leader of the UK's Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn), who has for many years been a prominent AGW sceptic, and is also much more vocal in describing AGW as being a hoax than the average AGW sceptic. There is a tendency for long-range weather forecasters to be AGW sceptic, and they enjoy some credibility with the news media as at some point weather obviously turns into climate if the timescale is long enough.
The arrangement Harrabin appears to have set up looks rather overmanned - there is a 'steering group', and there seem to be about dozen academics involved rather than the one or two that you might think would be all that was necessary.
If this exercise was carried out objectively I think Piers Corbyn would actually come out as the top UK long-range weather forecaster. I had some familiarity with Corbyn's forecasts through following the Climate Realists blog (previously known as the CO2 Science blog) for several years, which heavily featured Corbyn's work in its blog posts (the blog is still online but has not been updated since 2013), and I came to the conclusion that while he was not as good as he claimed to be, he was moderately accurate and definitely better than the Met Office. However I suspect that the Met Office might come out better than the independent weather forecasters who provide the Daily Express newspaper with their notorious weather prediction headline stories every few weeks. But as Harrabin is running the exercise, there's bound to be some 'fiddle' where the Met Office somehow come out as the top UK forecaster.
Harrabin then provided an update of how the activity was progressing in Jan 2012:
In the update Harrabin announces the shortlist of organisations that will be invited to participate in the exercise. There has now been a major change in the types of weather forecast that are to be provided - there will be 1, 3 and 5 day forecasts and a seasonal forecast, but the Met Office don't want to provide a seasonal forecast (because they're not very good at long term forecasting). If the comparison exercise went ahead in this form the Met Office would come out of it much better, and might even be declared as the most accurate forecaster, because the exercise is now biased to short-term forecasting, and many of the independent forecasters specialise in longer-term forecasting. Harrabin also claims in the article that Piers Corbyn has already agreed to participate in the test.
A few weeks later the exercise seemed to fold up, as described in this blog post from the Climate Realists blog:
Most of the organisations in the shortlist didn't agree to take part, and Piers Corbyn (along with another participant) pulled out because he thought Harrabin was too strongly connected with the Green lobby.
Nice one, Dave
Perhaps they suspected that the results would be "homogenised", as Dave suggests.
"Homogenised." Such a nice euphemism for fiddled or fudged. I must see how it appears as such in a Thesaurus.
Still, whoever would have come out top, they win no prizes with me since the forecasts have been a problem for me this last week.
I have had to re-felt the garage roof and needed a couple of dry days. They were promised but I spent much of each day dragging the tarpaulin on and off. While they may hedge their bets with probabilities they certainly made no reference to the downpour and especially not the hail that fell. But as I understand it the Met office has been losing clients - allegedly since they modified their computer models to include the AGW model influences.
The BBC was one of the contracts they lost which adds something else to this Harrabin scheme.... any connection I wonder? Oh, and it is the BBC online forecasts I have been following so perhaps they have the most AGW of forecasts?
That's an interesting point J. In Harrabin's shortlist there are two weather forecasting organisations of substantial size, MeteoGroup and Metra, who could potentially act as replacements for the Met Office. The Met Office has lost its long running contract with the BBC, but the successor has not been announced as yet. It will be interesting to see if the new provider turns out to be MeteoGroup or Metra.
The other four weather forecasting organisations or individuals in Harrabin's shortlist - Piers Corbyn's Weather Action, Joe Bástardi, David King (not to be confused with the former UK Chief Scientist) and Positive Weather Solutions, are all small-scale forecasters who specialise in long-term forecasting and are probably all inclined towards AGW scepticism.
One of the four long range weather forecasters in the shortlist, Positive Weather Solutions (PWS), actually ceased trading only a few weeks after the shortlist was announced, as a result of adverse publicity inflicted upon it by another Green activist in the news media, the Guardian's George Monbiot.
Monbiot noticed that PWS was pretending to be a bigger organisation than it really was, in the form of inventing employees for its website who did not really exist. He is unlikely to be familiar with the business world, but it is not unknown for small businesses to do that. One of the humorous "Bluffer's Guide" series of books, "The Bluffer's Guide to Small Business", explains this issue as follows:
"Of course, the title 'Small Business' is something of a misnomer. No bluffer particularly wants to head a small business. He or she would probably prefer to own a big business. Alas, it is a great social injustice that few are able to go straight in at their preferred level. For most, the best way to own one's own big business is to start with a small one and make it bigger. And the best way of doing that is to convince everyone that the small business is already a big business.
Indeed, if a small business is to stand any chance at all, it is not merely desirable, but essential, that it appears to be what it hopes to become."
I believe the owner of PWS, Jonathan Powell, started up another company called "Vantage Weather Services" a few months later, but any 'reputation' that he might have been able to establish through PWS was ruined by Monbiot.