Prediction: A Mug’s Game

So as snow continues to cause traffic chaos/mild inconvenience here is an actually topical reminder on the wisdom (or otherwise) of making predictions. Way back in 2000 a senior research scientist made this bold claim;

within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

That’s not really worked out well for him has it? But to his credit he was still banging away on it as recently as the start of the year;

‘We’ve had three weeks of relatively cold weather, and that doesn’t change anything. ‘This winter is just a little cooler than average, and I still think that snow will become an increasingly rare event.’

Marvellous consistency and standing up for his beliefs. If only his grasp of the facts was as strong. People aren’t saying he’s wrong because of the last few weeks. They’re saying he’s wrong because of the last decade. Just a quick BBC search reveals heavy snow in 2000, 2004 and 2009. There will be more, I remember there being more. Hell just a few days after that article came out and he said ‘it was just a few cold weeks’ this was published saying Scotland had the coldest winter ever in 2009/2010 and the rest of the country had the coldest and snowiest for decades.

The point here isn’t that snow is getting rarer, it’s that it’s getting more common. The Indie article itself says there hadn’t been any significant snow in London 1991-2000, yet since then it’s been snowy more often than not. It’s not just that the prediction is wrong, it’s that the exact opposite of his prediction has happened and yet he has not adjusted his prediction.

So in summary he’s a ‘scientist’ who refuses to pay attention to what’s going on and instead doggedly sticks to his theory in the face of the data that proves him utterly incorrect. That doesn’t sound very scientific to me I must confess. Oh wait a minute, he works for East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit. That explains a great deal…

However to end this post on less controversial ground I think there is one lesson everyone should be able to agree on; making very confident predictions about something you don’t fully understand is at best arrogant, at worst foolish and generally both.


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