I am who I am!

Simon Jenkins is opposed to forecasts in general. He thinks they are surrounded by too many caveats:

We hear much talk about those who study English needing to be taught science. In my view, it is those who study science who need to be taught English. What is the point of public predictions so smothered in caveats and qualifiers as to be drained of significance? The same scientists who lecture ministers on the exactitude of their calling – on the purity of “the science” – use qualifiers that any English student could see render nouns worthless.

Fish excuses his colleagues with weakening words such as chance, might, could, possibly, probably and even pot luck. Yet he is supposed to tell us what is going to happen

He also thinks there are too few caveats:

The office now claims that it is “66% certain” that next winter will be warmer and wetter than last. The figure is an ominously precise advance on the 65% certainty of a warm summer. The information is useless without knowing the likelihood of the “66%” being correct.

He thinks the weather forecasters always say it will be sunny when in fact it rains:

This is from the same people who said that both 2007 and 2008 would be “warmer than average”, when they were cooler and wetter.

He also thinks the weather forecasters always say it will be rainy when it is sunny:

There is rarely a weekend forecast that does not stress rain (or that curious synonym, showers) at the expense of sun, even if the rain falls, if at all, for a mere hour a day. Nor do forecasts favour coastal microclimates, which are mostly sunnier than inland and are where most holidaymakers go.

A pub in my Welsh coastal village used to print out the BBC weather forecast each Friday – invariably “rain in Wales” – and put it on a board so visitors could hurl darts at it. The Scottish village of Carrbridge once threatened to sue the Met Office for a continually inaccurate forecast of rain that was ruining its tourist industry.

Strangely, the two cheapjack silly season tabguff anecdotes above are the only factual evidence produced in the whole piece. You might think a slightly more, ah, numerate and forensic approach, cold accountancy as Corelli Barnett liked to say, would be appropriate for such a statistical matter as relative forecasting skill. One explanation is that his nibs didn’t touch this bit of work – does it taste of unpaid intern, perhaps? The Lord’s Test and Goodwood are behind us.

But Jenkins, Lord of the Manor by purchase, seems to take the worst version of any calculation the IMF or the Conservative Party comes up with as gospel writ. When it agrees with him. Curious, that. And he likes to impute treasonable motives; not as hard as the Craven Heffer, but it’s there.

Yet whenever criticised, the Met Office pleads for more staff, more research and a bigger computer….The purveyors of British weather forecasts are relentlessly upbeat in the long term and gloomy in the short, in other words they are probably political

This is kinda noticeable, no? He thinks voices on the TV weather forecast are plotting against the Conservative Party. If you live in the Elthorne Estate, London, N19, or close equivalent, this gets you a prescription likely to make you gain 60 pounds of weight and give up independent life forever. Jenkins, though, not so much.

He also imagines that the Met Office is a serious problem in terms of the public finances. Now this is where it gets serious. There is only one bit of that institution that has been investing urgently in high performance computing; the Hadley Centre for Climate Research, proud owners of one of the most powerful computers in the world.

Jenkins is working his way towards coming out as a climate change denier; he’s not on the dancefloor yet, but you might spot him looking shy at the Carbon Bar when his wife’s out of town. He’s hanging out with the landed knobber set that make up the denier group in the Tories. Mark my words.


  1. Jenkins has form, previously regarding HIV-AIDS (in 1993!) and currently offering equally unorthodox medical advice on swine-flu.

    The best sentence, tho’ has got to be:
    “The information is useless without knowing the likelihood of the “66%” being correct.” Either that, or (for the first link, “Most of the predictions have proved wrong”.

    “Jenkins is working his way towards coming out as a climate change denier; he’s not on the dancefloor yet, but you might spot him looking shy at the Carbon Bar when his wife’s out of town. He’s hanging out with the landed knobber set that make up the denier group in the Tories.”

    Based on form, this seems likely, though at this stage it’s a bit like going over the Wall to East Germany in 1983. I don’t know it’s the landed aristos who are mainly deniers; it seems to be urban types (c.f. Delingpole) and now perhaps Jenkins. Both the NFU and CA have policies on climate change that don’t involve pretending it doesn’t exist.

  2. hellblazer

    2008 a few years ago? but yes, Jenkins was remarkably proud of his ignorance. It’s as if someone was satirizing C. P. Snow’s account of non-scientists in The Two Cultures, by acting out a cartoon caricature.

    Though as I understand it Jenkins is an equal-opportunity Philistine, in that piece doesn’t he reiterate an old hobby horse that what the plebs need is market-driven relevant training for their role in the Glorious New Economy?

  3. 2008 a few years ago?

    I clearly need to work on *my* numeracy.🙂




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