Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bad Weather: Must Rant on Scientists

UUID: 42bea053-2a40-4be6-93d0-dd3e17142907

This the current NOAA weather forecast. Note the absence of blue sky. People whom I respect have fled to San Diego. Why? I'm guessing that it's because they are much smarter than me.

Somewhere between the last week of October and the first week of November, the weather always goes to hell, from Puget Sound to at least the south end of the Willamette Valley. I don't need NOAA to tell me that, which is A Good Thing, as I have already mentioned that NOAA Can't Predict Weather, Can't Secure Their Systems.

I'm still annoyed with NOAA, not least because when they have clearly blown a forecast, as in whatever they predicted is obviously wrong, their updates just ignore it. High temp of 80° F, but it's already 87° by 1130 and climbing fast? Screw it. Keep predicting 80°. Perhaps people won't notice that they are baking.

That's a really bad example, given the time of year, but the frequency of this sort of thing has led me to log at least some of the more egregious examples into daily notes file. So, worth a minor rant-by-example.

I tend to follow the weather fairly closely. I'm out in it a fair amount, though I do tend to back off when it's really rotten. So I follow some weather blogs, and a bit of research. One of the more popular blogs is http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/. He's a University of Washington scientist, and is often spot-on. When he isn't spot-the-FUBAR-off.

Problems? Yeah, I have some. Appeal to Authority flaws, sometimes in the same post that he denigrates those authorities, inconsistency of message, and more than a little hype about certain topics. Again, sometimes in the same post in which he denigrates hype.

Perhaps my biggest problem is that he is a scientist. I am very far from being some sort of anti-science Luddite; I am a heavy consumer of science. But there's a corner case involved, in his field, which seems to be ignored. Mostly, it's about where the money goes. As taxpayers, how are we to judge whether we are receiving value? Why is NOAA not quantifying errors, so that we might judge when forecasts are most likely to be erroneous?

The other axis in that corner case is this.

http://www.probcast.com/ is about probabilities and ensemble forecasting, from UW. It's an experiment, with a useful 'about' page. But still no indication of the circumstances under which it wanders off into left, and it's run by scientists. Who are often the most security-clueless people imaginable. It's somewhat understandable, because they are all about generating new knowledge, and sharing it widely.

Still, having even half a security clue is useful. There is a reason that Linux directories under /home are private in most modern distros. Despite UNIX being historically rooted in research environments.

Now and then (very occasionally) I report a problem to a Web site owner. Not often, because as often as I find them, it would burn too much time. In this case, I got on the phone. The UW person I spoke with had no idea what I was even talking about. She knew of no such site, who to contact, etc. The issue was fixed in fairly short order (do not remember exact timing) but in terms of appropriate response, it was a miserable failure.

Scientists mostly don't do operations. The concept of domain squatting (excuse me,  'cybersquatting') completely escapes them. I'm fine with that, actually. Different fields of endeavor, and I'd rather scientists were paid to do science.

But I get annoyed as hell when some scientist writes about something that is way outside their area of expertise, expecting to be considered an authority.

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