Monday, May 30, 2005

Foul Weather Friends

The mainstream media seem to be noticing - finally - that Rick Santorum received money from the CEO of AccuWeather, one of the nation's largest providers of weather data, before introducing a bill that could restrict the ability of the National Weather Service to provide free weather information.

"I don't think there's any coincidence between the two," Santorum said. "It's just that I happened to have a fundraiser in the town he was in."

Combined, Joel Myers and his brother, Barry Myers, AccuWeather's executive vice president, have donated more than $11,000 to Santorum and the Republican Party since 2003, according to FEC filings compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine, a campaign finance tracking group.
There are a couple of interesting points about this story. First, it's important to remember that AccuWeather uses taxpayer-funded NWS data for its forecasts, and that a good deal of weather mapping and modeling technology comes from research funded by federal grants. It seems rather high-handed for a private firm to suckle so avidly at the public teat, and then complain, as Rick Santorum did on AccuWeather's behalf, that
"It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free...."
Second, AccuWeather has misrepresented weather data for the benefit of the climate-change deniers at the Global Climate Coalition.

New Scientist explains:
[A] weather forecasting company called Accu-Weather published a report claiming that global warming over the past century had been "slight" and there was "no convincing observational evidence that...extreme temperature and precipitation events are on the rise". It turned out that the latter assertion was based on temperature readings from just three American weather stations and precipitation data from one. AccuWeather "shot themselves in the foot", according to Bruce Callander, head of the IPCC scientific unit at the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre in Britain.

The Accu-Weather report was commissioned by a lobbying organisation called the Global Climate Coalition, which was set up in 1989 "to coordinate business participation in the scientific and policy debate on the global climate change issue". Its members include many big American producers and consumers of coal, oil and electricity - such as Dow Chemicals and the National Coal Association - all of whom might suffer from controls on emissions of carbon dioxide.
You can read a description of AccuWeather's scrupulous methodological errors here.

I really see no reason why our nation's laws should be rewritten - yet again - to accomodate a firm that has almost certainly perpetrated scientific fraud.


Eli said...

"I don't think there's any coincidence between the two,"

Mr. Freudian, meet Mr. Slip.

And as for the rubbish about how hard it is to compete with a free government service, isn't that something you're, you know, supposed to factor into your business plan?

Anonymous said...

No wisdom here. I just hope we keep up the clever and creative way we name our scandals, and so call this one Weathergate. Must be done. I mean, Santorum Gate just sounds so diabolical...

Cervantes said...

And I cannot think of a better example of a public good than accurate weather forecasts. It is an enormous benefit to society for the forecasts to be as widely, and freely available as possible. That's why we pay for them. They belong to all of us.

@whut said...

How's this for a scandal name:
"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing"-gate

Anonymous said...

We pay for it, then we have to buy it, and it may not be right. Hey, I live in hurricane country. I want it fast, free, and right. This is insane! And what else is new?