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« Another devastating indictment of energy policy | Main | Peter Lilley on shale »

No let-up for the Met Office

Doug Keenan writes:

A new session of parliament began yesterday, and already parliamentary questions about the statistical analyses of Chief Scientist Slingo have been tabled in both houses.

In the House of Lords:

Lord Donoughue to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Baroness Verma on 14 January (WA 110), 5 February (WA 31–2), 21 March (WA 170–1), and by Lord Newby on 23 April (WA 359), whether they will give their numerical assessment of the probability in relation to global temperatures of a linear trend with first-order autoregressive noise, as used by the Met Office, compared with a driftless third-order autoregressive integrated model and ensure that that numerical assessment is published in the Official Report; and if not, why not. [HL62]

(Background posts include “Questions to ministers” and “Advisers advise politicians to look in the peer-reviewed literature”.)

In the House of Commons:

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, with reference to the Answer of 15 April 2013, Official Report, column 261W, on climate change, what statistical models were used in any analyses done to calculate significances. [153909]

(Background posts include “Not answering the question” and “More from the Beddington FOI”.)

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    [...]- Bishop Hill blog - No let-up for the Met Office[...]

Reader Comments (33)

Didn't Doug McNeall say the time series couldn't be analysed statistically and invented "scientifically significant" which means I know not what, and nor did Doug when pressed.

May 9, 2013 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

what does 'tabled" mean in this usage?

May 9, 2013 at 11:47 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

Doug, how much do these questions reflect your own advice and input? 'Driftless third-order autoregressive integrated model' rings bells and may not, with all due respect, be a phrase that would have tripped off the tongue of Lord Donoughue. Thank you for sticking with this and for keeping us in the loop.

May 9, 2013 at 11:49 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake


It means "asked".



May 9, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

In this context "tabled" means that the question has been formally asked.

May 9, 2013 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

This example of intellectual audit of the climate assertions of the Met Office is very welcome. It would surely be a feature of any Royal Commission on the climate activities of that body.

A financial audit would also be welcome. Take this glossy leaflet from 2007 for example: . Some of the predictions in it are too vague to be of any practical value (but what did they cost to produce?), but some are more specific. For example:

We are now using the system to predict changes out to 2014. By the end of this period, the global average temperature is expected to have risen by around 0.3 °C compared to 2004, and half of the years after 2009 are predicted to be hotter than the current record hot year, 1998.

And this claim would be well-worth investigating from a costs and benefits perspective:

Man made climate change means that the past will not be a good indicator for the future. Forecasts for the next season, year and decade will take on a higher priority. In particular, our ability to forecast extreme climate events a season ahead will enable vital short term actions to be taken.

There is also the desirability of extending the cost-benefit type of analysis to developing countries who have purchased or been given Met Office climate products such as those mentioned here:

Two major initiatives currently being undertaken are the production of a new set of climate scenarios for the UK Climate Impacts Programme in 2008 (UKCIP08), and making available the regional climate modelling system PRECIS (Providing REgional Climates for Impacts Studies) to scientists from developing countries. These will enable stakeholders to obtain the climate information they need in order to understand how changes will affect their interests on a local scale, and to form relevant adaptation plans.

In general these countries have less money to waste than we can afford to get away with, and their poverty also makes them more vulnerable to setbacks due to adverse weather. Directing their more modest resources into actions that subsequently turned out to be the wrong ones is therefore liable to be a far more serious business.

The broader, general picture is also relevant. We have wasted, and will continue to waste, large sums on windfarms for example. I daresay we would have been better off building advanced coal-fired power stations as is happening in Germany. Although we have blundered into windfarm subsidies, and they are a loss of opportunity for more sensible projects such as schools or hospitals or better roads, we shall be able to cope with this error far better than those living in more fragile economies would.

So, while these parliamentary questions may seem arcane and marginal to some, they are actually pioneering efforts to try to make more sense of how well our money has been spent, and on how we came to such lunacies as the Climate Change Act.

May 9, 2013 at 1:24 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I very much like Donoughue's "... whether they will give ... and if not, why not?"
There's very little wriggle room in this and the civil servants have to give the answer or make themselves look shifty.

May 9, 2013 at 1:57 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Clearly a pincer movement to flush out the protection in depth for those who might have been misleading Parliament.

May 9, 2013 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecm

Re: May 9, 2013 at 1:24 PM | John Shade

Thanks for the link, John,

Typical propaganda hype from the Met Office - particularly like their "Forecasting the next decade" page and their claim that

"On a timescale of several decades the prediction of global warming is now robust"


"The Met Office Hadley Centre has pioneered a new system to predict the climate a decade ahead. The system simulates both the human driven climate change and the evolution of slow natural variations already locked into the system.....By starting this system in the 1980s and comparing the results with obseravations from the 1990s we have already demonstrated its skill at predicting the global climate"

But best of all -

"We are now using the system to predict changes out to 2014. By the end of this period, the global average temperature is expected to have risen by around 0.3 degrees C compared to 2004, and half of the years after 2009 are predicted to be hotter than the current record hot year, 1998" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And an interesting accompanying graph showing it getting hotter and hotter. Nor do the 'hindcasts' on this graph show any particular skill despite their claims.

And interesting to compare it to their latest forecast slipped out on Christmas eve....

Perhaps the word 'robust' is another that has had its definition changed ???...............

May 9, 2013 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarion

....... and the word 'skill' of course, another that seems to take on a completely different definition in Met Office terminology!

May 9, 2013 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarion

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Bishop, can I rant?

What is the purpose of this? Here we have two parliamentarians who should occupy themselves with the great issues of the day asking hapless ministers employed for the same purpose about tiny detailed corners of a government policy. Neither questioner nor answerer will understand the words their bureaucrats or advisers write for them. The press will ignore the whole business.

Our parliamentarians should represent - and lead (?mobilize) - us, and an energy crisis looms. So putting the knife in on energy cannot be faulted. So why not be more direct and ask the government if they are aware that their policies are leading to wartime blackout conditions and unnecessary deaths from hyperthermia, etc, etc? At least the question would mean something to questioner, minister and the press, and could be asked with passion. Maybe the exchange would be reported and so lead us, the proletariat the parliamentarians ostensibly represent, in the main now basking in comfortable ignorance of a comfortless future, to realise that change is required but is being needlessly resisted. We might then, in greater numbers, bestir ourselves and protest - and maybe even get things changed.

No doubt the questions, as put, are pertinent. But they should be the business of wrangles between bureaucracies that have the interests of the country at heart rather than a sovereign parliament.

May 9, 2013 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesistical Uncle

How long has the word "skill" been used to indicate the ability of a prediction algorithm to predict accurately? Is it a Climate Science neologism? Or is it now also used in other areas?

Perhaps one day we will have a Climate Science glossary.

"robust" = ???
"projection" = ???

May 9, 2013 at 5:54 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@ Ecclesistical Uncle

A brief explanation is that the Met Office has claimed that there is observational evidence for global warming, but has not substantiated the claim—and the Questions are intended to force the Met Office to either substantiate the claim or withdraw it. It would be great if the Met Office would answer such questions when the questions were put to them by advisers; the Met Office, however, refuses.

The apparent looming energy crisis has been caused by certain government policies. Those policies were adopted largely due to alarmist claims made by the Met Office. Hence, to get those policies changed, it much helps to show that the bases of some of the claims are bogus.

Understanding the purpose of the Questions does require background. That is why the links to background posts were included: you should have read those posts before criticizing.

May 9, 2013 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

May 9, 2013 at 5:24 PM Ecclesistical Uncle

The Devil is in the detail and it only by focussing on the detail that the Truth will eventually be exposed.

Here is my understanding. If I've got it wrong, I'd like to be corrected by someone.

The Met Office told the govt at the time that human caused warming was "statististically significant". Result: the Climate Change Act.

But to have stated that a thing is "statistically significant" they needed to have done a statistical analysis. To do this requires that they had a statistical model to analyse. But it turns out that, even today, they don't have a statistical model - at least they don't have one capable of being validated.

This means that the information they were giving the govt of the time and its scientific advisors was - at the very best - pure bullshit. This is something well worth exposing to the light of day.

May 9, 2013 at 6:06 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@Ecclesiastical Uncle

Expected copy of Hansard - sometime next week.

..."to ask the Minister if he is are aware that his policies are leading to wartime blackout conditions and unnecessary deaths from hyperthermia, etc, etc?"

Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP : " I thank my honourable friend for his comments, which bring to mind that noble period of our history when we were standing alone against a horrendous threat to the democratic world. (drops into Churchillian accent) And now we are in no less of a perilous position, for we are fighting against one of the gravest threats humanity has had to face since the last Ice Age. My technical advisors assure me that, unless we cut our output of CO2 sharply, the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted consumerism. But if we can succeed, all Europe may be freed from the thread of extreme weather and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands, safe from rising sea levels.

The way may be dark and uncomfortable. But in this time of tribulation it is surely incumbent on Britain to lead the way, as she has done so many times before. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our savings, and so bear ourselves, that if the British sector of the European Union were to last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour!"

(Prolonged cross-party cheers, throwing of Order Papers, climate sceptics escorted from the floor of the House...)

May 9, 2013 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Ecclesiastical Uncle
I would like to agree with you, and I do in principle since I have been banging on about fuel poverty and deaths from hypothermia for years.
But I think Doug Keenan and Martin are right. If we followed your course, Lilley and Stringer would stand up in the House of Commons and give their best and the sound of the yawns and shuffling of feet would be audible at the other end of Whitehall after which Yeo or Davey or someone would trot out the party line and we'd all go back to sleep.
The questions are designed to elicit (if we are right) that the Met Office has been lying through its collective teeth and has been briefing ministers in a way that causes them to mislead parliament. As Martin says, that is something well worth exposing and will get the attention of MPs and the media a lot quicker than the "usual suspects" riding their hobby horses regardless of how right they may be.

May 9, 2013 at 6:45 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I agree with the responses to Uncle. If you sound like you've got sincerely held passionate opinions, it is all too easy for the establishment politicians to condescend to you, and treat you as unbalanced. See for instance how Bill Cash is treated over Europe. You get the I know that this is a matter on which my honourable friend feels very strongly, but I have to say I don't agree with him. End of debate. The forensic line - what is your evidence etc. is ultimately the way that will succeed.

May 9, 2013 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

@Martin A,

The concept of "forecast skill" is, I think, fairly standard and long standing in meteorology. I assume climatology took it from there.

May 9, 2013 at 9:21 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

JJ - thank you. Years and years back I studied and used prediction theory but never came across the term then.

May 9, 2013 at 9:42 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

the guys in general...and you get an answer that says that "leading statistical advice was taken from professors in Cambridge and Massachussetts and it was agreed that blah blah blah...." and you are precisely how many inches further forward on yiour pilgrimage?

May 9, 2013 at 11:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Dodgy Geezer - that is very good and very funny in a sad sort of way. Since a lot of the output from the UKMO is used to justify equally stupid climate and energy policies in other countries, the answers provided may have utility outside the UK.

May 10, 2013 at 12:02 AM | Registered CommenterGrantB

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.

Again Bishop, can I rant? Five replies all supporting the status quo in a political environment that has long since ceased to perform! The questions and the reasons behind them are relevant to climate, greenery and the like, but just not important enough for the sovereign parliament of a country in decline. Bother the advisory bodies with them.

I doubt the answers will be substantial - just flannel, as no doubt over the decades answers to similarly technical questions have been. But even if they substantial, what chance is there that meaningful change will occur either at all or in good enough time?

And the questioner who cannot deal with the suggested derision would be typical of the parliamentarians the present system accommodates and manifestly unfit to represent anybody but himself.

The present parliamentary set up has developed in a way that leads it to preserve the status quo - which maybe is why greenery is proving so difficult to dislodge - and so we ask our government questions about climate statistics with some confidence that we will get some sort of answer, however anodyne, rather than about the consequences of delay to accommodate interminable arguments over such details, which might apply political pressure and lead to red faces, resignations, U-turns and other -heaven preserve us -change. No one there, it seems, is in a position to try to achieve this and it is this that is wrong with the system. Very very deep systemic reform is absolutely required. And maybe will be forced.

And in the meantime, the cognoscenti here ... ...

May 10, 2013 at 8:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

"The questions and the reasons behind them are relevant to climate, greenery and the like, but just not important enough for the sovereign parliament of a country in decline."

Do you really think the stuff they would be doing otherwise is any more important? I thought we were run from Brussels, anyway?

The reason it's important is that it's a presently testable statement. All the other stuff is opinion and projection and extrapolation. People disagree and nobody cares - they each just say the other is wrong and nobody can tell which of them is right. But answers to mathematical questions can be shown to be definitively right or wrong fairly concisely, which means you have a chance of nailing them down on something where you're definitely right and they're definitely wrong, and then once that principle is firmly established, you can start asking all the other questions, which now they cannot wave 'experts' at and must instead actually answer.

And the reason for asking in Parliament is that you're not allowed to not answer a question, you're not allowed to mislead with it, and as it's the official position of the government you can't dismiss it as mere personal opinion. Being the official government position lends it weight amongst authority-minded people. And if the official government position becomes "there is no statistically significant scientific evidence of anthropogenic global warming" a lot of other stuff gets cast into a different light.

But even if it doesn't work, (which it probably won't), I say 'Why not?' It's no less pointless and ineffective than anything else we can do. There's room for many different lines of approach in the debate.

May 10, 2013 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterNullius in Verba

I’m with Nullius and others on this one.

The questions may well be fobbed off with obfuscation, or by asserting that the questioners are being vexatious about minor technical issues, or indeed by retrospectively conducting the analyses that should have been done a lot earlier and finding in them some straw to cling to sufficient for the moment. But both the questions, and the perspective I presume to be behind them, are important.

I suspect that one of the most seductive things about being a high priest of climate alarm is the lack of resistance when you descend from the temple to brief the political class about the doom you see coming.

In due course, the politicals turn to us with the same tale, inevitably livened up a bit for a wider appeal, and when the odd one of the benighted masses challenges it all, the recourse is ultimately to authority. The MO, the IPCC, the Royal Society, the 97%, or whatever, say it is so and we must believe them.

So a successful public on-the-record challenge of an article of the faith could be shattering. And that brings us back to why it will be resisted by all means available.

But the foundations of the faith are weak, and questions about them are many, as we know very well. It has taken quite a while for questions as sharp as the ones we are discussing to get to Parliament. If the tide truly is turning on the madness, surely there will be many more.

May 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I'm going to get banned for spamming if I'm not careful since this is my third post from the same essay in not many more minutes. This quote seems apposite here, and I have bolded the key phrases:

If there was a single effective result from those fights, it was wresting the scientific heights out of the hands of the alarmists, which gives the politicians the authority to say the science is far from settled. It simply created that crack in the establishment consensus, that room for manoeuvre, which they will use. The alarmists signally never ever came close to proving their case, and for me that was science at its glorious best. It’s pure Missouri – show me. Proof talks, bullshit walks. Science is a harsh mistress, as the alarmist scientists have found out.

( (h/t

May 10, 2013 at 11:37 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Thanks for pointing to it John. Pointman talks, bullshit walks :)

May 10, 2013 at 1:50 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

How long has the word "skill" been used to indicate the ability of a prediction algorithm to predict accurately?

Martin A

At least since 1998.

May 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

May 10, 2013 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

It is encouraging that Graham Stringer assumes that climate data is parametric.

May 10, 2013 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

EM 9:41 Thank you. Clearly of meteo origin, as JJ said.

EM 10:03 "It is encouraging that Graham Stringer assumes that climate data is parametric."

Excuse my ignorance but what does "data is parametric" mean, please?
[The converse of non-parametric, perhaps, where no particular probability distribution is assumed?]

May 10, 2013 at 10:26 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin A

Parametric v non-parametric

As you describe. See my 9.56 post for a note on the statistical methods used. (summarised on page 4, I think.)

May 11, 2013 at 1:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

EM - well on p4 I saw

The time series data were smoothed by applying a triangular-shaped kernel filter, with 14 terms either side of each target point. At the ends of the time series, only the 14 points to one side of the target point were used, increasing to the full 29 year bandwidth by the 15th year from each end. This non-parametric filter enables the long-term fluctuations in the climate to be clearly seen without assuming that the trend follows a stated model. These time-series plots help to give an impression of the pattern of change over time, as well as the degree of inter-annual variability.

I've no idea what they mean by "this non-parametric filter". So far as I can see "a triangular-shaped kernel filter, with 14 terms either side of each target point" is nothing more than simply applying a 15-point moving average twice in succession. [a rectangle convolved with a rectangle of the same width gives a triangle.]

And when they say "This non-parametric filter enables the long-term fluctuations in the climate to be clearly seen without assuming that the trend follows a stated model." is this anything other than stating (in the immortal words of Basil Fawlty) the bleeding obvious?

Nothing to do with not assuming a particular probability distribution so far as I can see.

May 11, 2013 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

'Model' is a tricky word, capable of more than one meaning very readily. This, and other such words/concepts with ambiguity are discussed in a guest post here at the Briggs blog:

Climatologists often use polysemic terms. Some of these terms are words. Others are word pairs. The two words of a word pair sound alike and while they have different meanings climatologists treat the two words as though they were synonyms in making arguments. Example are (Oldberg):


The post begins with this provocative claim:

No statistical population underlies the models by which climatologists project the amount, if any, of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions we’ll have to endure in the future. This absence of a statistical population has dire consequences. They include:

The inability of the models to provide policy makers with information about the outcomes from their policy decisions,
The insusceptibility of the models to being statistically validated and,
The inability of the government to control the climate through regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than describe global warming climatology warts and all, the government obscures its unsavory features through repeated applications of a deceptive argument. Philosophers call this argument the equivocation fallacy.

May 11, 2013 at 2:40 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

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