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Who are you calling a charlatan?

Here's the quote:

I define a charlatan as someone who won't show you his records. This looks to me like a good [example]:

George Monbiot tweets for openness

George is sort of right. In fact he's talking about Piers Corbyn, the independent weather forecaster rather than Joelle Gergis. Now it seems to me that since Mr Corbyn is a private citizen, whose livelihood depends upon the forecasting methodology he has developed, he has a perfect right to keep it secret. Is Monbiot really suggesting that all commercial secrets should be forced into the open?

Piers Corbyn may or may not be a charlatan. That's frankly not an issue for George Monbiot or me. If the paying punters think Corbyn has got something, then they can buy the services he sells. They are under no obligation. Monbiot and I can keep our hands in our pockets.

There are much better targets for Monbiot's ire. Publicly funded scientists for example - those who keep their data secret and who refuse to release their code. For Monbiot to call Corbyn - a private citizen - a charlatan while keeping silent on publicly funded scientists seems...opportunistic.

I wonder if George Monbiot would care to call Dr Gergis a charlatan? Lonnie Thompson? I'm sure readers can suggest other taxpayer-funded examples.

George? What do you think?

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Reader Comments (61)

It may well take one to know one.

Moonbat certainly seems like a charlatan to me. As a rule of thumb, most of the things he claims and/or predicts are nonsense.

Corbyn's forecasts are not perfect but seem better than the MET Office. If they weren't, Corbyn would go broke.


Jun 3, 2012 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

My comment below the Leo Hickman article Monbiot links to:

It's funny that Leo Hickman should choose weather forecasting as a means to discredit AGW scepticism. I find weather forecasts so unreliable, I rarely listen to them, preferring to take each day as it comes. He has only written this article because the last week or so of May suddenly got warm and cancelled out the unusually cold 1st 3 weeks of May which the Met did not predict. First, it shows the power of using statistics to show what you want them to show. Second, it reflects the human nature of short term memory, whereby the depression many of us were feeling from the appalling cold weather is quickly forgotten with a few hot days.

It would be nice to see Leo apply the same level of journalistic probing to the REAL AGW debate - do the proxy temperature studies really show that the late 20th century warming is something to be alarmed about?

Jun 3, 2012 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

On the face of it I would agree with Monbiot, if Corbyn just can’t lay down his past predictions, warts and all, for any to track with past records then why bother giving him what little attention, kudos and influence he gets?

Trouble with Gergis is she will get the huge amount of attention, kudos and policy influence via the IPCC. What Gergis omits when getting her results may not play into the same easy to ridicule grandstanding arena of Corbyn, but I think the significance should be raised to a larger concern for serious journos than Corbyns track record. The fact these guys go after these distracting side shows and play the game like this always convinces me they don’t take this any more serious than a battle of egos.

Jun 3, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

"On the face of it I would agree with Monbiot, if Corbyn just can’t lay down his past predictions, warts and all, for any to track with past records then why bother giving him what little attention, kudos and influence he gets?"

Perhaps the same rule should be applied to climate change reporters? Put all their past "predictions" in a big list so we can see just how good they were. You can't just rely on Tom Nelson!

Jun 3, 2012 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

At the Guardian debate I sat on the front row next to some reserved seats, then ended up getting surrounded by journos. When Monbiot graciously allowed Corbyn to speak, the one next to me (making the assumption that I was a fellow journalist) whispered to me: "you know what he's going to say before he even opens his mouth". So it looks like some journos are good at forecasting !

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterHyperthermania

ha ha - this is the same George Monbiot who predicted that white winters would be a thing of the past, and in 2002 that there would be worldwide famine in ten years time. By his own lights Monbiot was wrong about nuclear power, and wrong about genetically modified crops ... it seems that Piers Corbyn's 'charlatanry' is a better guide than Monbiot's sanctimony

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Heartfield

I have noticed that high-minded, possibly arrogant "experts" such as James Annan like to pile in on what they call the "cherry-picking" of Piers Corbyn - but they say nothing about misdemeanours on their own side. I wonder why?

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Funny how George Monbiot uses his own definition of "charlatan".

According to the Wikipedia

"A charlatan (also called swindler or mountebank) is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception."

I fail to see how George Monbiot can claim Piers Corbyn is a charlatan just because he does not explain his predictions. As a member of the public who does not receive any public money, surely he is allowed to say whatever he wishes. It is up to the public to bother about what he says.

However, publicly funded scientists who hide their data and methods in order to stop people verifying (or otherwise) their published statements, well that's a different matter. The public have a right to know how well their money is being spent and also scientific methodology requires reproducibility of results.

I seem to recall a certain Trofim Denisovich Lysenko who didn't like reproducibility and spend most of his time denouncing people who had views at variance to his.

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

I understand the UK book makers stopped taking bets from Piers Corbyn many years ago. That tells me more than the opinions of some hack journalists. At least in the case of the bookies both parties had some "skin in the game" !!

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

George is mistaken. As usual he thinks he's clever and few others are.

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Piers Corbyn made a dramatic call about Britain's May Weather.
He predicted in early April that the next few weeks (mainly May) would be colder than average.
Also that the wind direction would be mainly Easterly.
Its like coming up with a double at the Derby, both were long odds yet spookily accurate.
All this from a laptop, some Astrophysics and ignoring greenhouse gas theory.

Jun 3, 2012 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Two Grauniad journos attacking Corbyn in so many days? He must be doing something right!

Jun 3, 2012 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Corbyn sells his opinions, Monbiot sells his opinions, those that buy can judge.

I don't buy, I have enough opinions of my own to start a high street chain. That way no need for records and/or sources!

Edit: data is totally different, without full disclosure of all sources that can lead to falsification it is merely only opinion, which I don’t buy.

Jun 3, 2012 at 11:22 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Personally, I believe that for word definitions one should use a consensus of the leading experts in the field. My Shorter OED has the following definition that is more apt.

An empiric who pretends to wonderful knowledge.

Like John Cook's definition of "skeptic", Monbiot's definition is narrower and partisan.

Jun 3, 2012 at 11:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

If you are consistently wrong on all but astrology you go out of business.

In the real world.

Jun 3, 2012 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

To judge the accuracy of Piers Corbyn's forecasts with those of the Met Office would take a thorough, systematic investigation. As far as I know there has been no such investigation. My impression, for what it is worth, is that Corbyn is better at forecasting fairly extreme weather events that do not occur very often. On the other hand the Met Office is probably better at day to day predictions - it certainly should be with all the resources at its disposal.

The science of meteorology would be advanced if Corbyn would publish full details of his methods but, if he did so other people could use them and he would lose his business. Perhaps a sort of compromise could be reached. Suppose a long-term experiment were undertaken and Corbyn, the Met Office, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, were invited to make predictions of the weather beyond the usual horizon for forecasts, i.e. more than a week ahead, and that they also made longer term forecasts, e.g. a month or a season ahead, and the results were monitored over a period of about 10 years. Then, if there were any respects in which Corbyn (or anyone else) significantly out-performed the Met Office then they could be offered a really substantial sum of money for disclosing their methods, and given some remunerative position, e.g. as a consultant to the Met Office on the use of astrophysics in long-term forecasts.

Society would benefit from a rigorous assessment of rival forecasting methodologies and the developers of those methods would also benefit from public money if their methods proved to be useful.

Jun 3, 2012 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

"Who are you calling a charlatan?"

All of them.

Jun 4, 2012 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Three cheers for George Monbiot and openness! Hip-hip! Hypocrite!

Jun 4, 2012 at 12:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterBill Sticker

The formula of the world's most popular soft drink is secret. That hardly makes the manufacturer a charlatan. Keeping a process secret is often a better way to protect it than a patent.

Jun 4, 2012 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterNik

Definition of charlatan: someone who forms Strident Opinion B on the basis of information that was both readily available and bleeding obvious when he formed Strident Opinion A.

Jun 4, 2012 at 12:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

I appreciate the difference between public and private efforts. In the case of the global warming game though, the seriousness of potential effects and the harsh effects of the recommended cure on the world economy which would adversely affect every individual, demands that if a researcher is to be taken seriously, total transparency is required. The highly political nature of the effort to make man-made global warming as gospel serves to only place an exclamation point here. To do otherwise is a tip-off of hidden agendas or the desire to make a buck off a global disaster.

The only difference between public and private here is that the private researcher has a choice whether or not to enter the conversation. Publicly funded work should have the mandate to make the totality of his work available for public scrutiny. Since when are the validity of one's work based on trust and not careful, thorough, and unbiased peer review? The fact that the data used is unavailable makes it very difficult for researchers, other than the original authors to follow up.

Which raises the question: If the original data were "lost," what value does the author's future research hold?

Jun 4, 2012 at 1:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterjack

Dictionary and Wikipedia definitions aside, I have always taken a charlatan to be someone who knows that what he is selling is total crock.

On the other hand, those who genuinely believe in using and selling supposedly useful tools and remedies that wouldn't pass a basic scientific test (prayers, premonitions, horoscope, climate models and so on) are not charlatans, but ignorant dolts.

Jun 4, 2012 at 1:54 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

George Monbiot has defamed Pier Corbyn with this Tweet.

Jun 4, 2012 at 1:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterScott

Also, any charlatan who is on the public sector payroll is probably a lazy, inept, poorly educated charlatan, right?

The best of the charlatans would try their luck in the public sector where there is so much more money for a smart, talented and hard-working charlatan.

Jun 4, 2012 at 2:10 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Meh Take two.

Also, any charlatan who is on the public sector payroll is probably a lazy, inept, poorly educated charlatan, right?

The best of the charlatans would try their luck in the private sector where there is so much more money for a smart, talented and hard-working charlatan.

Jun 4, 2012 at 2:12 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

people who get professorship stints in oxford (or any other univissitti for the matter) without being able to add 2 numbers together or put something coherent on paper, they can also be called charlatans

hmm i wonder who falls in that category

Jun 4, 2012 at 2:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterptw

What is the secret formula for Coca Cola? Why are journalist's mobile cell call transcripts and news sources not openly available to the public?

Piers as a private business man has every right to protect his privately funded trade secrets.

Publicly funded research needs to be available to the public.

Jun 4, 2012 at 3:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in Sweden

[Snip - raise the tone please]

Jun 4, 2012 at 4:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohn miller

"On the other hand the Met Office is probably better at day to day predictions..."

Roy, on the 25th March the Met Office forecast three months of drought with April being the likeliest dryest month of the three. On the 30th April we'd had the wettest April in 100 years. It's heart warming to see our taxes spent to such effect.

Jun 4, 2012 at 6:21 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

[Indeed - I've snipped the offending comment and your quotation of it!]

Jun 4, 2012 at 6:30 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Re-reading Hickman's article in the context of 'who is the charlatan?', it becomes clear that it is Hickman.

The reason he chooses to attack Corbyn is because he "is a climate sceptic who frequently berates climate 'alarmism' ". (I don't recall him condemning the Met for its 'barbecue summer' or other regular mistakes.)

He implies Corbyn is responsible for the Express headline: "Coldest May for 100 years". Even writers in The Guardian have often blamed the editor for alarmist or over-enthusiastic headings. The Express is a tabloid. As such, exaggerated headlines is normal behaviour. Anyone who takes them literally is a fool.

Anyone who takes any weather prediction as a certainty is a fool.

Corbyn was bold and relatively accurate in predicting exceptionally cool weather in May. We all remember how awful and depressing it was.

Instead, Hickman uses the Met's spin of referring ONLY to the averages for May to claim Corbyn was wrong. And that only works because the final week reverted to being warmer than average.

Hickman has dishonestly been selective in his information in order to discredit a weather forecaster who is often more accurate than the Met, simply because he is a declared AGW sceptic. Hickman is not an honest objective investigative reporter, but instead a biased advocate of a single viewpoint on AGW, distorting the facts to make his case – in short, a charlatan.

(BTW, I am a lifelong Guardian/Observer reader, with political views broadly in line wither theirs. As such, I feel I have more of a right to be irritated by them for routinely aligning AGW scepticism with right-wing politics.)

Jun 4, 2012 at 7:27 AM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

My browser cannot find the word "charlatan" on the referenced page.

Maybe the Grauniad's legal adviser suggested the use of the word was unwise and it has been removed?

Jun 4, 2012 at 7:41 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

[Snip - offending comment and quotation of it removed]

Jun 4, 2012 at 7:52 AM | Registered Commenterpeterwalsh

Paul in Sweden:

"Piers as a private business man has every right to protect his privately funded trade secrets.

Publicly funded research needs to be available to the public."

You are of course correct, any sensible person would agree with that, however, if I may point out a small, perfectly understandable, error in your thinking. George is a "progressive" as are many of his colleagues on the Guardian, who are also proud to be called "progressives". One of the major, sub-conscious, assumptions of advanced "progression", is that ALL money belongs to the government (except, of course, the money in the hands of the "progessives"). So it is quite logical for a person in an advanced state of "progression" to see Corbyn's data as belonging in the public domain, and at the same time, see data produced by scientists on the public teat as not belonging to the public. There is no dichotomy there because the "public" in progressionsville are an irritation whose rules should be laid down by the "progressives".

George is also afflicted by believing himself "yummy".

Jun 4, 2012 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"(BTW, I am a lifelong Guardian/Observer reader, with political views broadly in line wither theirs. As such, I feel I have more of a right to be irritated by them for routinely aligning AGW scepticism with right-wing politics."

Not lifelong for me, I started reading the Guardian/Observer in the days of David Astor, just after I'd bought my first cuordoroy jacket, in the pocket of which I carried a copy of Marcel Proust's Swan's Way to read on the upstairs of the bus while smoking my pipe.

Jun 4, 2012 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Anyone (including our dear George) interested in checking Weather Action forecasting skill should visit this page on their site where they will find audited reports up to 2009 on spreadsheets (Why not more recent than that, Piers?).
Has the Met Office been audited in a similar way?

Jun 4, 2012 at 8:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

Ah, George he of Comment is Free if you Agree (n)
George doesn't believe in censorship.
George's blog is heavily censored?
Respect bro?

Jun 4, 2012 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

On the face of it I would agree with Monbiot, if Corbyn just can’t lay down his past predictions, warts and all, for any to track with past records then why bother giving him what little attention, kudos and influence he gets?

You can find past examples of Accuweather's forecasts on the site.

Accuweather's forecasts WERE tested by the UK Metoff on behalf of William Hill the bookmakers.

His method is propriety (IPU)

Moonbat is an arrogant fool with zero credibiity. Why anyone would bother to read his drivel I've no idea.

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

Another blogger who's name I cannot remember was good enough to describe the results of the paper below:

Early Weather Action (Solar Weather Technique) skill was independently verified in a peer-reviewed paper by Dr Dennis Wheeler, University of Sunderland, in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Vol 63 (2001) p29-34.
Essentially he assessed Corbyn's predictions of gales in the UK over a two year period. He used a chi-squared test to work the probability that Corbyn's results might have occurred by chance and found ...
"the all year forecast success rates have only a 1 in 1000 probability of occurring by chance. It must be recalled however that this figure is derived by inclusion of the summer season data when ‘success’ rates are inflated as a result of the marked seasonality in the incidence of gales [ie its easy to predict 'no gales' in the summer]. In comparison the more informative forecast success rates for the September to April period have a random probability of 1 in 125. The corresponding figure for the winter only period (October to March) is much lower at approximately 1 in 5.
Then in the conclusion, he mentions this Yet more compelling is the finding that the system successfully forecast, several months in advance, the four (arguably five) most active and damaging of the storms that occurred in the survey period.

I think Corbyn at the moment has every right to keep his technique secret. I wonder how much more accurate his predictions would be if he had say the same budget the met office has. Monbiot's double standards are just silly surly outpourings from a journalist who is becoming more and more of a bad joke to the word journalism.

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:15 AM | stephen richards

Accuweather's forecasts WERE tested by the UK Metoff on behalf of William Hill the bookmakers.

Is there a link for that? ( Other than Corbyns' site I can't follow anything on his site)

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:15 AM | stephen richards

Sorry just been to Accuweather and as far as I can see it isn't associated with Corbyn other than he comments there am I right?

I was talking about Corbyns' WeatherAction predictions.

Jun 4, 2012 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

A simple analogy. A salesman is only as good as his last sale. His sales manager will tell him that there are no reasons for not getting the order; only excuses! It's trite, but true. In sales, it's success or failure.

It's true for Piers Corbyn. If his predictions are wrong, goes to the wall.

It's a great shame that the Guardian does not apply commercial thinking with reference to its scribblers. In such circumstances, Monbiot should now be on the streets looking for handouts. That would be justice.

Jun 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM | Registered Commenterperry

Jun 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM | perry

A simple analogy. A salesman is only as good as his last sale.

This point has been made a few times here and it seems fallacious to me.

I don’t take having a web site as proof of longevity and accuracy myself. Let me be clear about my purely layman position I am not convinced that anyone has shown they can reliably predict long term weather after the Lorenz limit of about a week before chaotic behaviour ensues. The Met office have tried it on and shown to fail but their records are there to be laughed at. Corbyn seems to not live under the same exact scrutiny yet takes advantage of taking the piss out of the Met too. Not impressive.

Jun 4, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Monbiot is thrashing around for targets on which to rebuild his reputation. The problem is that Piers, who I knew at Imperial, is an oddball and easy to attack. The fact that he is a damned good physicist compared with Monbiot's Stowe then Oxford zoology privileged elitism must be galling for Monbiot now he realises that his caste is losing control of Society to the meritocrats.

Jun 4, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

I have a vague memory of a guy at Imperial in 66-7 who was very left wing, organising anti-vietnam war demos and such. Was that Piers? Or his brother Jeremy?

Jun 4, 2012 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

In any case it is the graun that predicted nirvana for all who join them in the marxist gravy train , for 5 decennia. they were wrong. When will they pay damages??

Jun 4, 2012 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Anybody know what became of this?:

I think I have the details on another machine but I can't refind them with a v. quick google.

Jun 4, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Jun 4, 2012 at 11:04 AM | Rhoda

Rhoda, yes that was Jeremy.

Monbiot seems to me to be deeply Narcissistic. He can't bear not being the centre of attention, and his attempts to do so over the past couple of years have seemed to me to be more or a less a public nervous breakdown. Self-appointed (and self-anointed) Evangelists are a pain the neck. Monbiot is, frankly, a grotesque, and he and the Guardian deserve each other. May their circulation continue to collapse, as who would miss either of them?

Jun 4, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Rhoda; that was Piers, one of the many grammar school kids who used Imperial to jump caste.

Jun 4, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

Let's be clear about this: Neither Piers Corbyn nor his supporters have offered any credible evidence that his weather forecasts are superior to those from the Met Office.

A skeptic is a skeptic to all, irrespective of whether the object of skepticism is a state-funded Leviathan that offers most of its services for free, or a plucky little entrepreneur with a laptop and a secret revolutionary idea and a list of customers.

Horoscope scientists have laptops too and a long list gullible customers, but there is a reason why the states won't fund horoscope science anymore. It just doesn't work.

The same goes for the meteorological services around the world that put so much faith in climate modelling. Why should indeed the government spend so much for these services?

I am sure they are perfectly capable of coming up with the same awfully unreliable forecasts for half the public funds currently allocated to them.

Jun 4, 2012 at 5:26 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

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