It’s nearly Winter again, and if you look at the headlines in the papers, you’ll notice that the silly season has started again, particularly regarding weather stories.
Every winter now it seems certain newspapers are spouting stories of Snowmaggedon, with 3 months of blizzards and record low temperatures. They claim links with Solar activity, El Nino, and other pseudo-scientific links that are at best dubious and at worst complete and utter garbage.
There also appears to be a small hardcore of characters feeding the papers with this rubbish. The newspapers lap it up, because it sells copy, and that is their business. Most of the stories aren’t based on fact, and some are completely fabricated by the writers.
The three main protagonists of the fake weather stories seem to be:
James Madden (owner of Exacta Weather)
Nathan Rao (freelance journalist often seen posting as a Science Writer in the Daily Express)
Piers Corbyn (Weather Action owner and brother of Labour Party leader Jeremy)
James Madden/Exacta Weather
Now, as a seasoned amateur weatherman, these three make my blood boil. The first of them, James Madden is the main driver of the rubbish predictions we see in the tabloid newspapers every other day. There’s always a quote from him. If you read a weather story and James Madden/Exacta Weather is included, please discount it as complete hogwash. He tries to give the impression that Exacta Weather are a huge company, with banks of computers generating their own model output for James to interpret, but in fact Exacta Weather isn’t even registered at Companies House. No, James is a one man operation running from a flat in Lancaster.
He was lucky enough to guess (NOT forecast) the cold December of 2010 and has been trying ever since to replicate that luck, but it has deserted him. In fact, if you want to know what the weather is going to be like, presume it will be the opposite of what James predicts.
Nathan Rao has somehow weedled his way into the celebrity forecasting slot. He likes the sound of his own voice and is one of the new breed of people who’ll do anything to be on TV. He is accepted into the celebrity fold because he fits perfectly into the mould. All teeth and no substance. He is a professional journalist who writes sensational copy to sell newspapers. In that respect, he’s an Editors dream, but his stories contain very little science and sometimes I think he’s submitting a script for the latest Hollywood disaster movie. He should know better, but he’s more concerned with letting the World know he’s the biggest Madonna fan. Enough said I think.
I first came across Piers Corbyn when he was invited to speak at a Meteorological Society meeting at Durham University in the early 1980’s. He looks like a typical mad professor type and for a while I thought he had an interesting product. He claimed to have bet on the outcome of his own predictions with a great deal of success, but like the other two, he’s a fanatical self publicist and believes he can declare his own success rate.
It is a common factor that these people all believe they can verify their own methods and results. They claim high levels of success rate, but strangely, independent analysis of their methods would reveal actual success rates are worse than chance. That means that an average chimpanzee could produce results just as good or even better.
My advice if you are a discerning reader of weather stories, dismiss these people as charlatans and instead listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Read weather reports from our own Prof Tim Burt (Durham University), Roger Brugge (University of Reading), Trevor Harley and the Royal Meteorological Society.
What are your own thoughts about these people? Leave a reply below.