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More short stories and a novelette by Brian Staff are available in No man is an island. Click here to go to Amazon to get it.

Scientists Get it Wrong (Again)

One of a series of pieces that exposes the faulty theories that scientists have derived as a way of keeping themselves in jobs and keeping the rest of us in the dark. Other pieces cover subjects such as Relativity, Yawning, and PMS.

Scientists Get it Wrong – the Weather

By Dr. Brian Staff

Scientists tell us the weather is brought about by the interplay among all sorts of entities including air mass, sea currents, the eruptions of volcanoes, the movements of celestial bodies, and other factors. Those who dabble in Chaos Theory will add that a butterfly flapping its wings in some remote Amazonian rain forest has an effect on the weather, however minute, because everything is related to everything else, in one big universal blob of interdependent coexistence.

“Hogwash!” cry the truth-seekers at the International Institute for Demonstrating that Scientists Get It Wrong and Constantly Reminding Them of That Fact (I.I.D.S.G.I.W.C.R.T.T.F. for short).

The weather isn’t anything like as complex as self-interested meteorologists take delight in pretending. In fact, it isn’t complicated at all. The weather is simply the weather, a thing, just like a Ford Mustang is a thing, and it’s just as predictable and reliable as Microsoft Windows - well, perhaps that’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the point. In fact, the weather is determined by a “rule-based” system, similar to the legal system (i.e. it always manages to do the thing that you least expected and least wanted it to do).

For example, if your worst enemy has an outdoor wedding, the weather will be spectacular, whereas if you have an outdoor wedding, the temperature will drop, the heavens will open, and everyone will have to run indoors, soaking wet, where they will proceed to get drunk and argumentative, will engage in fist-fights, hurl gross insults at the bride’s mother and engage in rowdy discussions regarding the groom’s pre-marital chastity and the likelihood of his post-marital fidelity.

Another rule dictates that if you have a week of glorious weather which you can merely observe through the window of your stuffy office, it follows that the weekend will see storm clouds roll in, prefacing torrential rain that leads to power outages and local flooding, which will coincide with a hole appearing in your roof, which just so happens to be over the kitchen range, so that when the power comes back on it causes your electricity to short circuit, starting a fire on precisely the same weekend that the local fire department has lost use of it’s telephone system (due to the weather, of course) thereby making them unable to hear of your emergency or respond to it.

Another rule dictates that if you live in a notoriously rainy place, and decide to go to the Caribbean to catch some sunshine, your trip will coincide with the period when your home territory has the best weather it has experienced this century, whereas the place that you visit will unexpectedly suffer the worst weather that any place in the world has experienced in the past five thousand years. In your place of vacation you will constantly be reminded by the locals that “normally it’s beautiful here at this time of year”, and when you get home you will be confronted by your sun-tanned neighbors who will delight in telling you that the good weather was great, but now they’re glad it’s come to an end so that they can avoid watering the garden every day - needless to say, your own garden now resembles the Sahara desert, complete with the carcasses of dead wildlife and cracks in the earth that you could fall down and never reappear from.

Another rule comes from the Theory of Relativity (see Scientists get it Wrong – Relatively Speaking). Weather is relative, which means that from your relative viewpoint, a rainstorm in your area on a day you are planning a barbecue = a severe storm that causes car crashes in an adjacent town = a tornado that rips off roofs in an adjacent city = a monsoon in an adjacent country that leads to minor devastation = a five year drought in an adjacent continent that results in major devastation = a meteorological catastrophe in an adjacent planet that brings about the end of a civilization = a hailstorm in New York that causes postponement of a World Series baseball game.

One of the most familiar rules is that if the weather looks threatening and you decide to take an umbrella with you when you go for a walk, it most surely won’t rain. Whereas if the weather looks as if it’s set in for a million year drought and you decide that an umbrella is about as necessary as a thesaurus when watching the Playboy Channel, then it most certainly will rain like the clappers and you will end up as wet as a bottom-feeding fish that has never ventured more than a few inches from the floor of the deepest oceanic trench.

It’s all about perspective. One man may welcome continuous sunshine so that he can sunbathe every day and transform himself from pale nonentity to bronzed nonentity, whereas another will curse it because the lack of water leads to postponement of a much-awaited mud wrestling contest between Madelaine Allbright and Condoleezza Rice.

So, what part do meteorologists play in all of this? It’s simple, the rule system is designed to ensure that their predictions will always be wrong, and on those odd occasions when they get it right, nobody will notice.

In Great Britain in the late 1980’s, the weathermen famously failed to notice that a major hurricane was creeping up on the country. In fact, one particular weather forecaster (ominously named ‘Michael Fish’) had the temerity to deny the approach of the hurricane on the BBC just before it caused millions of pounds worth of damage as it swept across the country a few hours later. Nor did weathermen manage to forecast the snow that fell on a cricket match in London one June. (Note: People wear white to play cricket so that they contrast nicely and noticeably with the green grass. When it snows the players effectively disappear from sight, leaving the audience to witness the seemingly magical movements of the red ball as it flies from one invisibly player to the next, making cricket a much more amazing sport even than the Quidditch played by Harry Potter and his contemporaries.)

There are those who believe that God controls the weather. This, too, is wrong. Why would he bother? God is up there somewhere, above the clouds where it’s always sunny and dry. I live in California. Do I care whether it’s raining in Seattle? No, why on earth should I? I don’t even care if it’s raining in my neighbor’s back yard, just as long as it doesn’t creep over the fence and spoil the garden party that I’m planning for this afternoon.

But how would we feel if the weather was perfectly predictable? We would probably feel somewhat deflated, as if one of the remaining certainties of life had been lost to us and was now in the same category as death and taxes. The unpredictability has led to some marvelous inventions that have stretched humankind’s imagination to the limit. Inventions such as the wind-proof umbrella (well, actually we’re still working on that one), and the no-repair roof (well, we’re still working on that one as well), and the no-smear windshield wipers (and that one is still not quite perfect), and the… well, I can’t think of any more, so let’s turn to the matter of ‘weather myths and fallacies’.

For example, we’re told that ‘lightning never strikes in the same place twice’. This can’t be true – if it were, there would be a great market for cheap, disposable lightning conductors and no market at all for the expensive, ugly, more durable variety that stick up all over the place atop buildings and monuments that could frankly do without them. Also, we’re told that lightning and thunder are connected and are both caused by the electric discharge from cloud to earth. Again, this is nonsense. The lightning is caused by the discharge, but the thunder stems from the nervously grumbling stomachs of all the living creatures that witnessed the strike at close hand and are of the opinion that they’re about to meet their maker.

And then there’s the whole myth surrounding ‘La Niňa.’ Well, sorry to disappoint you, but it simply doesn’t exist. La Niňa is simply a catch-all explanation that meteorologists use to explain all the things they don’t understand. Every branch of science has something like this, the reason being that scientists hate to show any weakness or gap in their knowledge and they prefer to give the impression that they understand everything. So what happens when the forecasters are having a bad run in predicting the weather? Well, surprise, surprise! Good old La Niňa crops up and gets blamed for every uncertainty. Physicists have quantum theory mumbo-jumbo to disguise their ignorance, and black holes into which they can pour the things they don’t understand, whereas for meteorologists it’s some mysterious sea current with a cute name.

Ha! Well, we’ve seen through your trick Mr./Ms. Meteorologist, so now you just have to go away and think again. And before you try your usual maneuver (i.e. adding a long name to something to sound very complex, such as re-naming La Niňa as pseudo-inter-synergistic-oceano-mega-cyclo-comperdoodleroodleratum), let me tell you that we’ve got there before you and we demand a proper explanation and not just another piece of jargon to wrestle with.

So there you have it, the weather is as exciting as a Korean motor car, as philosophically profound as Country and Western music, as visually stimulating as an ad for a hemorrhoid remedy, and as outrageous as George W. Bush’s choice of clothes. But where would we be without it? Actually, we’d be very happy without it, just as long as we could find some form of cheap labor to come and water the garden every evening.

© Brian Staff, WordisWorth, 2005

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Scientists Get it Wrong by Brian Staff

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© 2006