Roger Harrabin plays watch the birdie on WUWT

Over on the excellent Watts Up With That blog, Anthony Watts posts a response to an email he sent to Roger Harrabin.  Following the post here on this blog ‘The Met Office winter forecast lie is finally nailed’ Anthony contacted Harrabin to offer him ‘a chance to respond, to tell his side of the story’.

Harrabin has replied.  But if you were hoping he addresses the points raised about the Met Office forecast and Harrabin’s role in reporting about it, you would be disappointed.  As an exercise in fluff, puff and self aggrandisement it is a masterpiece.  As a number of commenters on WUWT have pointed out, Harrabin has employed a deflection strategy to take the discussion off somewhere else.  He is trying to make people watch the birdie.  Given a chance to rebut the points made here, Harrabin has demonstrated he has no come back.  As I said at the time, caught cold.

In fact Harrabin has used his response as an opportunity to raise the profile of his ‘Weather Test’ project.  A number of the commenters think it sounds like a very good idea to compare the forecasts of various forecasters against the actual weather conditions.

However it is unlikely they understand how the ‘Weather Test’ is put together and that they would have read my assessment of it posted here earlier this month.  So I am reposting it below for their interest.  It may provide readers with some food for thought…

(For those just catching up with the Met Office/Harrabin saga the whole story in links can be found here)


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?

7 Responses to “Roger Harrabin plays watch the birdie on WUWT”

  1. 1 GeorgeGR 01/02/2011 at 9:15 pm

    Again, thanks! Great digging work and analyisis AM.

  2. 2 A Lovell 01/02/2011 at 9:24 pm

    Most interesting. I have been following the story on WUWT, and it seems the prevailing mood is not to trust Harrabin one little bit.

    I mentioned in the comments about the letter Harrabin wrote to the Daily Mail, denying he caved in over the Jo Abbess business. It might be worthwhile highlighting the outright falsehood. I got the tip from Neil’s comment at Bishop Hill.

    I’m running (virtually!) back and forth between all the sites discussing this.

    Riveting stuff!

  3. 3 Anoneumouse 01/02/2011 at 9:26 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’.

    Roger Harrabin responce at WUWT, is a typicle BBC ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ opening gambit.

    ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
    Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
    Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

    There is only one ‘whether’ test and thats whether Harrabin could ever be an honsest brocker

  4. 4 Autonomous Mind 01/02/2011 at 9:31 pm

    To A Lovell, Welcome to the blog. I have addressed the Jo Abbess business earlier on here –

  5. 5 A Lovell 01/02/2011 at 9:50 pm

    Whoops! Sorry, I missed that.

    Thanks for the welcome.

  6. 6 Uncle Badger 01/02/2011 at 9:58 pm

    Excellent work, AM! I followed this earlier today at WUWT but it’s good to see you’re not letting it rest – unlike the supine MSM!

    Harrabin’s response was, as has been pointed out repeatedly, a clear attempt to divert attention from the central issues surrounding his Radio Times piece. We should treat it with contempt or pity but not seriousness.

    He has questions to answer and trying to divert us with this glove puppet is simply insulting our intelligence.

    As for the contest, I doubt the Met Office has any proper notion of accuracy any longer. A few years ago I was living by the South Coast of England and paid very close attention to the BBC’s online version of the Met Office’s entrail prodding. And entrail prodding must have been the method they were using as it was lamentably inaccurate.

    In fact it was so inaccurate that I wrote to complain about it, only, of course, to be fobbed-off with some ridiculous claim about a ‘high level of accuracy’.

    The only way the BBC/Met Office axis can claim this ‘accuracy’ is by cooking the books and the way they do it is by constant adjustment to the forecasts so that, eventually, they are more or less right. But that latest adjustment is close to merely opening the window to have a look outside, that it is worthless as a prediction.

    Why this is relevant to the present case is because I believe the person with whom I corresponded quite genuinely believed his claim. I am sure such a level of self-belief permeates the entire organisation.

    They have, in fact, lost all contact with notions of accuracy. They simply don’t know how bad they are.

  7. 7 Marko 03/02/2011 at 3:05 pm

    Hello, interesting blog and article. I’m curious as the why the idea of Harribin is deemed necessary. Surely the prediction versus the reality is a matter of public record and some invetigative journalism along with objective analysis would give you all you need to know about whose tea leaves are most accurate. But that’s going to happen anytime soon from Harridin.

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