Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Not such a positive solution

George Monbiot's column of 26 January about Positive Weather Solutions (PWS) is well worth reading.

PWS had become favoured weather forecasters by certain tabloid newspapers - both the Mail and Express were quoting them up to a couple of weeks ago. As Monbiot wrote on 2 January:

PWS boasts that it "has made the front page of the Daily Express thirteen times; the Daily Telegraph seven times; and the Daily Mail and the Sun once". Between 26 September and 1 October, it says, it "was quoted every single day in the Daily Express".

In the earlier column, he talked about both PWS and another minor outfit, Exacta (source of the Express' '-20C to hit us in weeks' front page headline), and noted that the scorn poured on inaccurate Met Office forecasts by the tabloids was not repeated when these other forecasters got it wrong:

Unlike the Met Office, the alternative forecasters are neither roasted nor frozen out when they get it wrong. In 2010, for example, the Daily Mail announced that "the country really is on course for a barbecue summer". This time, it told its readers, the prediction "comes from a forecaster with a somewhat better record on the subject than the poor old Met Office". This was PWS – which has no published record at all. PWS told the Mail that "there will be stifling temperatures, making it possibly the warmest UK summer on record". In fact it was an unremarkable summer, but there were no "red faces" at PWS.

Yet it turned out that many of the 'staff photos' on the PWS website were stock pictures taken from elsewhere. When Monbiot asked PWS chief Jonathan Powell if he could speak to a couple of these other forecasters, Powell hesitated. Two hours later, he told Monbiot:

"Quite frankly, the filing system I have is a mess and I cannot put my hands of the information you require … Your column which was understandably critical of us at Christmas made me face a few things about the company and where it was going, and now as I can't find anything to back anyone up then quite frankly PWS is now more trouble than its worth and in debt. Therefore, I have taken the decision after six years to close the business forthwith."

These were not questions the tabloids that so favoured using PWS bothered to ask. And, for once, this is one PWS quote that the tabloids haven't bothered to repeat.

(Many thanks to Mark S)

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