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Discussion > What should replace the Met Office?

Suppose, in some parallel universe, the UKIP had a landslide win and formed the new government. What should the new government do to sort out the Met Office?

Here are a few thoughts. First, some background.

Origins

The Met Office has a long history, with its origins dating from 1854 when a meteorology department, with a staff of four, was established in the Board of Trade. Captain Robert FitzRoy, on the recommendation of the President of the Royal Society, was appointed its chief, with the title of Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade.

A recent detailed and comprehensive history of the Met Office is available. (History of the Meteorological Office, Malcolm Walker, 2011.) For the greater part of its existence, the Met Office was devoted to applying systematic methods and scientific principles to observing and forecasting the weather.

Margaret Thatcher and Climate Change

Fast-forward to the 1980's.

Margaret Thatcher listened to John Houghton and became convinced that CAGW was a real danger.

So the Met Office Hadley Centre was set up, with, as its aims "To use models to predict climate change (...)", "To advise government policy on the mitigation of (...) climate change", and so on.

Its management built a team dedicated to delivering evidence for dangerous human caused climate change. They also sponsored complementary work at the Climatic Research Unit at UEA, with the same understood agenda. They played a leading role in the IPCC. The culmination of these efforts was the passing of the Climate Change Act 2008 by a government and by MPs mostly unqualified in science and reliant on the advice of the Scientific Civil Service and, above all, the Met Office.

Coaching of government ministers and their advisors by the Met Office lead to politicians saying such things as

"...What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases, (...), is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable (...). And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence...." (Tony Blair, 2004).

The Met Office had completed the transition of its core skill from weather forecasting, to advocacy and propaganda production.

Ironically, Mrs Thatcher eventually became sceptical of AGW as a danger; see her memoir Statecraft, which has a chapter titled "Hot Air and Global Warming".

The Met Office Today

The propaganda generating mindset, plus the use of models tuned to predict the desired global warming, unavoidably spilled over to the Met Office's weather forecasting function. It came to believe that it could predict weather months ahead, using the same computer models as used for predicting climate change. The outcome is that the Met Office now suffers from confusion between reality, and what it would like the reality to be, throughout its activities, not just in its predictions of climate change.

It is unrealistic to expect people to audit themselves, above all in a propaganda organisation which, by its nature, has to believe its own propaganda. The Met Office has commissioned consultants to estimate the value of its services but with the obvious fallacy of not including the costs and losses incurred through errors and inaccuracies in its forecasts. And without even a mention of the hideous present and future costs consequent on the Climate Change Act, which would not have been proposed, let alone passed into law, without the advocacy of the Met Office.

So now we have an organisation that is bloated, costing around £½M per day, and unfit for purpose. The weather forecasting function is overstaffed by a large factor. The Hadley Centre is hopelessly permeated by groupthink, oblivious of the distinction between physical reality and the output of unvalidated computer models. The self-delusion extends to a firm conviction that their computer models have in fact been validated, logic and evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. There is no realistic prospect of changing the mindset of an organisation of around 1500 where, for decades, staff have been selected and rewarded for their active belief in the CO² threat.

The Way Forward

The Met Office should be closed down. Senior staff can be offered early retirement, with lottery-win scale financial packages. Other staff can be retrained for productive activity, such as call centre management, teaching Fortran programming to art students, and so on. Alternatively, it could be privatised as a centre of scientific expertise in a range of subjects

Clearly there is value in having accurate weather forecasts and the Earth's climate warrants proper scientific study. Here are a some initial thoughts on how a replacement for the Met Office can be established.

Weather Forecasting:

- Appoint a team of no more than 20-30 competent meteorologists and statisticians expert in time series analysis, with adequate support staff, to do weather forecasting. Software development, data acquisition and other non-core activities to be outsourced.

- Set up an independent group of five or six statisticians, in a different location and forbidden to fraternise informally with the weather forecasters, to audit and evaluate the weather forecasting results, their analyses being published for all to see free from any re-writing or effacement of history. Possibly based in the National Audit Office, where the appropriate attitudes and work practices prevail.

Climate Research:

- Establish a small research centre with a team of no more that 20 - 30 physicists, engineers (such as former nuclear weapon designers) and statisticians, all with proven records of rigorous and original research in other fields, and untainted by any previous involvement in climate science.

The centre should be commissioned to re-do climate science rigorously from scratch, ring-fenced from what has gone before. In addition, they should have a programme of re-reviewing/auditing papers in the climate science literature. The few that pass this audit would form a corpus of papers whose rigour is beyond doubt and which could be used as the foundation of further work.

Jan 19, 2013 at 9:17 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

It doesn’t need replacing; it needs strong, professional, objective business management.

It should be a public service organisation and not, as it is at present a support vehicle for the management’s idealistic beliefs.

A decade or two ago being a “world leader” in “climate science” was seen to be a win, win, business model, the USP deemed to be compelling. Marketing predicting an ever growing need for the “killer product”, the ability to save the planet!

Trouble is, as every hard bitten business man knows, if you are over reliant on a single product you are vulnerable to changes in the market place some of which, especially when your USP is sweeping all before it, are very difficult to envisage.

Such a situation has hit the Met Office, who foresaw The Planet cancelling all “saving the planet” contracts? This decision was regretfully taken by The Planet’s management team when it became obvious that all necessary actions were well within the scope of its in-house capability.

The Planet’s spokesperson was reluctant to comment further on speculation that the future of the recently placed “weird weather” contracts were also under review. However he did not deny that they were disappointed with the performance to date.

Don’t close it, fix it!

Jan 20, 2013 at 12:34 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

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

Greensand's remedy is, I fear, no remedy at all.

Government should be and largely has become confined to areas where for every policy there must necessarily be an equal and opposite policy. Civil service organizations lacking such an objective should be and generally have been taken out of government.

Strong objective business managers perform well where there is a simple objective (make shareholders rich by ...) and are therefore seldom appropriate in civil service organizations. Where such persons have been imported their record has been notorious, rather than successful, almost certainly because they have reverted to type and pursued a single uncluttered objective (probably personally selected) rather than of the clutter of objectives that characterize civil service organizations. Then, the civil service is unlikely to attract top class strong objective business managers. Most such folk will know they are unsuited to the life because of the confusion of objectives and in the event few, I believe, stay for long.

Next, if Greensand's remedy, as it appears, leaves the organization a straight forward part of the civil service, it will remain an organization subordinate to political will. Accordingly, Greensand envisages a Met Office that uses strong, objective business management the better to perform its role of serving its political masters.

If that were to work, which I hope I have made clear I doubt, it would be fine if the political process has ensured that the policy is rational. But currently it is the politicians that have their knickers in a twist: they have their policy (CAGW), irrespective of lack of merit, and will pursue it so long as the consequences of so doing (future energy costs will be but a distant burden on the electorate) are less unwelcome than performing a U-turn. So in current circumstances Greensand's remedy, if it achieves anything, seems likely to make things worse, rather than better, for the sceptic.

In the end it is the politicians who have inflicted their flawed policy on us and it is they who have to be persuaded to change it. A Met Office that has long served its political masters and has as a result staffed itself with CAGW devotees is hardly going to assist in this process irrsepective of the sort of transformation envisaged by Greensand.

Jan 20, 2013 at 7:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Martin A. I tend to agree with you, we have lost our weather forecasting service to activists, despite their good intentions they have shaped the weather forecasts to their own global warming agenda. To the extent that the Chief Scientist of an organisation that forecast one month of rain and eleven months of drought, when the one one month of rain turned out to have 50% of its average precipitation and the 11 months of drought gave us the wettest year on record, informed us that the rain was to be expected because of global warming. Leaving the question hanging, "Why didn't you expect it then?"

I have to say I wonder if we need the Met Office at all, there are plenty of universities who would take on the climate research role, and there are plenty of organisations willing to take on the weather forecasting role. I now use weather.com, which I have so far found to be very accurate in their 10 day forecasts. I used to use the Met Office 5 day forecasts from the BBC but they were pretty inaccurate. I note the Met Office has slagged Delingpole off for implying their 5 day forecasts were inaccurate, which he didn't. My own experience was that I would look on day 1 and day 5 would be forecast as "Hot and Sunny", on day 2, day 4 would be Sunny with showers, day 3, the third day out would be Cloudy with showers, day 4, day 2 would be pissing down rain, and heigh presto on day five we'd have pissing down rain, which five days ago was forecast as Hot and Sunny, but which the Met Office now claim as an accurate forecast because the day before they'd forecast PDR.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Uncle, I fear it's worse than you think, the politicos are worried about global warming because the scientist at the Met Office have made them worried about global warming, it is a deadly embrace, and no one can get out of it. The scientists, as we are witnessing with the warming hiatus, cannot possibly say, "We're not sure now", because they have committed the politicos to embark upon massive expenditure in providing, so called, renewable energy. The politicos can't change course because the best evidence they have comes from the scientists. It will end in tears, but not for some time.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:27 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"It doesn’t need replacing; it needs strong, professional, objective business management."

Totally agree with Greensand but the only way that it is going to be effective is to cut it's umbilical cord to mother government.

The MO has to go fully private and compete against the others for all of its contracts, no public funds.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

LB
Not quite. It's the umbilical cord connecting it to climate research that needs cutting.
As geronimo says, there are plenty of university departments that will do climate research for you, though it may be that that situation will change soon as more and more people understand the implication of the IPCC's own admission that you cannot forecast the future of a chaotic system like climate.
Stick to forecasting weather. Leave climate to the soothsayers.

Jan 20, 2013 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

When is state science wedded to state policy? Almost always.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:12 AM | Registered Commentershub

Keep the weather forecast bit. Close down the climate part.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

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

Geronimo. Not worse than I think, just as bad as.

A truly deadly embrace and the politicians will have to be persuaded to do their U-turn against Met Office advice. Gird the loins for a long fight as the more savvy politicos limit energy price rises to amounts that do not cause protest and loose the extra costs the public will certainly have to pay for energy in chains of taxation and energy company subsidies, etc etc.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

Talking of energy price rises, the French government has decreed that the increase in gas and electricity retail prices for 2013 will be 2.5%.
You can make your own decision about whether the competition in the UK has brought about any reduction in prices (or limited the increases) or indeed whether private enterprise or government control of utilities is to be preferred but at least I know what my bills are going to be for this year assuming I use the same amount of power as I did last year and there are not going to be any nasty surprises along the way.
Whether the constant jiggling with prices in the UK is necessary or not I wouldn't care to comment but if the French can set a price for 12 months you would have thought it was not beyond the wit of the Brit to try to organise something similar.
(Of course, one of the reasons that French and German companies have invested heavily in UK energy is the fact that they can make better profits than in their own, more regulated, countries.)

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike

I still think that the >5 day prediction can be improved dramatically to match others in the private sector. There is no reason why weather forecasting should be a public institution inherent with the inefficiencies of scale that go with it. Cut it loose, make it lean, force it to compete for survival, the validation of forecasting, sink or swim, will reap benefits in general for weather forecasting industry. Climate will then become as it should be, an accademic endeavour for those who dedicate their time to it without the constraints of producing weather forecasts.

Jan 20, 2013 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Martin, staffing your research centre with climate science neophytes seems naive. This stems from the fallacy, common here, that because you are an engineer, you necessarily have something useful to say about climate change; engineers of course don't need many years of training in climate science to understand its intricacies. But it is like expecting a chemist to rewrite the book on bridge design because he knows something about the chemistry of concrete, or a programmer to have a valuable perspective on engine design because he knows how to write a CAD system.

What would be the first thing your neophytes would do? They would get some training from the people who do know climate science in universities and they would read the literature. You imagine they would then come to different conclusions, but why should they? If the science is so wrong that 20 or 30 new hands can demolish it, then why hasn't that already happened? There must be hundreds of clever people entering the field each year who would love to make a name for themselves in that way.

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Separate the climate and weather bits. Then, slowly, starve the climate thing to size (because people's lives and careers are tied up).

Wow, bitt, that is quite a contradiction wrapped up right there. two dozen chemists can't demolish climate science because they are outsiders, but hundreds of newcomers entering the discipline from outside would?

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:37 PM | Registered Commentershub

No contradiction. I imagine you misread it...

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

BitBucket
You are making several assumptions all of which are open to challenge
First off, what is climate science and is there in fact any such thing? As Martin has pointed out it's a fair bet that any discipline with "science" in its name isn't. When these guys started on their attempts to demonise CO2 (say, about 1990) from which universities did they get their BSc in "Climate Science"?
The answer of course is that no such qualification existed then and I'm not sure how many universities offer any such course even now.
Secondly, how do you carry out any sort of scientific study on a chaotic system such as climate? Even the IPCC admitted — several years ago — that trying to work out what the climate was going to be 50 years ahead was impossible.
On the other hand if anyone has so much spare cash that he can afford to pour it into research into the future of the earth's climate — or how to nail jelly to the ceiling or how to breed dodos for pleasure and profit or how to herd cats — then let him endow a Chair at .....LSE, perhaps! But please, not with taxpayers' money.
I would argue that the existence of "climate scientists" (self-described since there isn't any such discipline per se) opens the door to virtually anyone else to call him/herself a climate scientist provided he/she is prepared to put in a bit of effort in trying to understand what the subject entails, which I think applies to most people on this site for a start!

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:58 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Paul Matthews
Exactly Paul, and close the climate part today. It would be another HMV in the private sector, wrong business model and unable to change. It is an organisation which hasn't improved since Michael Fish's "there is no hurricane" moment. As geronimo says the 5 day forecasts are only good for the next day the other four can be ignored, and not always at that, most reasonably educated/well read people could make a similar guess by looking at the weather charts and radar.

It's a hard world out there, the workers at HMV, Jessops, Honda, and Renault here in France don't have the luxury the shub wants to give the MO staff, sorry shub can't agree with a slow closure. "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly" MacBeth.

Sandy

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Mike Jackson
Re Climate Scientists and qualifications; the no formal training in what they were good at list includes:
Fred Hoyle
Pierre Curie
Michael Faraday
Pierre de Fermat
Ada Lovelace
Blaise Pascal
Joseph Priestley
Thomas Edison (although some might debate his inclusion)

I'm sure you can think of a few more.

When people are trained in a discipline then they all tend to think the same way, a bit of original thought from outside is good. CO2 being the death of us was original thought, and like so many original good ideas it proved to be wrong the problem is, as always, the adherents cling to the wreckage long after in is sensible to get into a lifeboat.

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Add my hero

Oliver Heaviside

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:58 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

MJ as you know "climate science" is an umbrella term encompassing many disciplines. Call it climate-relates sciences if it rings your bell, but attacking it because you don't like its name is lame. On not researching a "chaotic" system because it is difficult, well that is equally inane. Martin suggested such research (by his dirty-double-dozen) so argue with him.

SandyS, nice list. But rather dated, coming from an age when a well educated gentleman might reasonably aspire to understanding all of the sciences. I think you'll find it is rather different now.

Jan 20, 2013 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

"...is rather different now."

Amen to that. Not very much curiosity-driven as much as transnational-bureaucracy-support-mission driven.

Jan 20, 2013 at 3:40 PM | Registered Commentershub

Reposted from another thread:

"The banks are pushed to separate ordinary everyday banking from their more speculative activities. The Met Office should be pushed to do the same. Then, the Met Office weather forecasting function could remain under the MOD and the climate modelling stuff could transfer to DECC. Then, DECC could be split into a Dept. of Energy and a whole new Dept. of Climate Modelling could be founded. Then, we could just get rid of it when they proved themselves to be incapable of forecasting their way out of a paper bag..."

May be relevant to this thread, but not sure. Just got back from the pub, having been stuck there for several hours due to global warming white stuff that I thiought was a thing of the past. Hic!

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

BB
I'm not attacking climate science because I don't like its name. I'm attacking some of those who practice it because they are trying to make out that, whatever their actual qualifications, they are claiming that they are "climate scientists" and disparage other disciplines that might reasonably impinge on that field, like meteorology or geology, unless those practitioners sign up to the paradigm. Or statistics, about which they know precious little but which as we have learnt is vital to the proper study of their subject.
And I used the word 'impossible' where you have chosen to use the word 'difficult'.
Anyway I never said you shouldn't research it; I said don't do it with taxpayers' money.
Describing my point of view as inane and subtly altering what I said doesn't help your case.

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Roger, as a good skeptic, I'm sure you were keen to point out during the last year or so that extreme weather events are not evidence of climate change; they are just weather. I guess it was just a beer induced aberration to suggest that snow in winter in some way disproves climate change... Cheers!

MJ, you said, "...how do you carry out any sort of scientific study on a chaotic system such as climate?" If that doesn't imply that such study is difficult then I'm a Chinaman. You impossibility was 50 year forecasts, not research itself. You like word games, don't you.

Jan 20, 2013 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

I'm great at word games, BB, but I try to use them to enlighten rather than obfuscate. In the context of what we are discussing on this thread my comment made perfect sense but from past experience I should have spelt it out very carefully for you in words of one syllable and with caveats at the end of every sentence.
Perhaps I thought that I was dealing with the same BitBucket who was making intelligent contributions to the Temperature discussion, or do you only reserve your trolling behaviour for those you consider your intellectual inferiors?
One more discussion thread crossed off my list.

Jan 20, 2013 at 6:24 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson