Can the BBC’s ‘Weather Test’ project be impartial?

It was interesting to read Roger Harrabin’s email comments to Dr Benny Peiser about John O’Sullivan’s recent artice in the Canada Free Press, covered here on this blog.

Harrabin’s email references a project he is running for BBC News called the Weather Test.  As those of you who have heard about it will know, the aim is as Harrabin explains below:

This project will compare the long-term performance of several forecasters. It is being carried out in conjunction with the Royal Meteorological Society, the Royal Statistical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

A comparison of forecasters is not currently available, and indeed our steering group is having difficulty agreeing a protocol to compare different forecasters. But if (as we hope) it does go ahead it will be guided solely by journalistic and scientific curiosity.

OK.  This sets out the official line about the aim of the project.  But Harrabin appears to be selective in explaining the involvement of and relationships between parties who have not been mentioned above. More of that in a moment. Harrabin goes on to say of the Weather Test project in his email:

It is not influenced in any way by any corporate relationship between the corporate BBC and the MO [Met Office]. Once the project is underway it will have a life of its own, overseen by the royal societies, myself and a senior editor on the Today Programme. It will be judged statistically by Leeds University.

Again, interesting.  Harrabin probably didn’t want to cover previously trodden ground, but there is no mention here of what Dr Benny Peiser describes as the ‘active involvement’ of the Met Office in the project.  So as an aid to understanding, this is what Harrabin said of the Met Office’s involvement in the Weather Test on the Radio 4’s Today programme web site:

It was agreed that a forecaster could offer a deterministic forecast if he or she wanted – but this strategy would risk winning or losing everything by dumping all the tokens into one bin.

Then there’s the question of who would provide the verification data for the forecasts.

The independent Philip Eden had volunteered, and I liked this because Philip is regarded as genuinely independent.

But then others objected that the Met Office is the official provider of World Meteorological Organisation statistics and it would be ludicrous to reject their highly sophisticated statistics smoothed by computer models just because the Met Office forecasters were amongst the contestants in the Weather Test.

There are a few things worth noting from Harrabin’s two separate comments. First, with respect to Philip Eden. He is the former the Chief network weather presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live who is now Director of the Chilterns Observatory Trust. Some might question how independent he could have been considered as a result. 

Second, it is incredible that the Met Office gets to act as competitor and judge in the same project when their forecasts are being compared, and that Harrabin specifically omits metion of the Met Office from his email.

Third, in a piece titled ‘Understanding Climate Change’ BBC Devon & Cornwall announced last week that:

The Met Office and Exeter University are to form a world class academic partnership to tackle the problems of climate change.

Along with two other British Universities they’ll try to understand the impact of extreme weather.

The other two universities, we learn from watching the video clip, are… Reading (former home of the Met Office’s Julia Slingo) and Leeds – the statistical judges of the Weather Test (mentioned in Harrabin’s email further above). We only need someone from Exeter added to the management of the project to complete the climate change advocate set. Surely Harrabin knows Leeds and the Met Office are partners, so how can Leeds continue to be involved?

So to sum up, we have a mutually supportive corporate relationship between the BBC (whose project the Weather Test is) and the Met Office, who act as both competitor and judge. We have the Met Office’s mutually supportive new world class academic partnership, which includes Leeds university who are part of the project management. We have the Met Office’s unofficial PR man from the BBC, Harrabin, leading the project. And that project leader has a sideline in speaking at or chairing meetings of climate change advocacy groups who share the Met Office stance on AGW.

In all honesty, can the BBC’s Weather Test to compare weather forecasters be considered independent or its results impartial when there are so many conflicts of interest behind the scenes involving the Met Office? Could you imagine any of these parties undermining their partner’s (the Met Office) forecasting reputation further if the outputs show other forecasters enjoy greater accuracy?

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7 Responses to “Can the BBC’s ‘Weather Test’ project be impartial?”


  1. 1 JohnRS 14/01/2011 at 5:14 pm

    Surely you never thought a fair test was even a remote possibility, did you?

    With the B-BBC and the data-corrupting, eco-cultist Met Office on the same project the playing field would be tilted firmly towards “the right answer” from the very start.

  2. 2 Anoneumouse 14/01/2011 at 5:28 pm

    I have said it before but there is no harm in saying it again Harribin is a duplicitous shyster.

    The problem with all of the establishments mentioned, is that two thirds of their staff have been trained by the Fabian organisation ‘Common Purpose’.

  3. 3 Ben M 14/01/2011 at 6:49 pm

    And yet if the other forecasters don’t join in, they’ll be accused of peddling pseudo-science which they won’t subject to verification.

    Sounds like a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of idea to me.

  4. 4 jameshigham 15/01/2011 at 4:17 am

    Second, it is incredible that the Met Office gets to act as competitor and judge in the same project when their forecasts are being compared,

    I find it astounding that these people can’t even lie straight in bed. It’s very simple – just forecast the bloody weather.

  5. 5 right_writes 15/01/2011 at 6:40 am

    Well, well, well….

    Here is Harrabin, not knowing the difference between weather and climate again.

    Weather is about local specifics, and climate seems to be about regional generalities.

    Anyway, he has thrown down the gauntlet, albeit with a rigged challenge. So I would just like to throw in a little side bet to make things interesting.

    Jo Bastardi has issued a challenge to his US counterparts here:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/257040/bastardi-s-wager-matthew-shaffer

    It’s a bit of showboating admittedly, but I have cut and pasted this and will keep it in my “politics” database (where else?) until 2021…

    Hopefully, I won’t have joined the great smoker in the sky by then.


  1. 1 Can the BBC’s ‘Weather Test’ project be impartial? « Autonomous Mind « Imogene Cuiper's Blog Trackback on 16/01/2011 at 5:00 am
  2. 2 Harrabin achieves aim despite BBC Weather Test unravelling « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 12/02/2012 at 10:32 am
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