Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Wisdom ? of Parliaments and the Case of Weather Forecast Pioneer Admiral Robert FitzRoy

How misled can your average politician or scientist be in thinking what is right?
today and yesterday?

Consider the story of the fate of weather forecast pioneer
Admiral Robert FitzRoy,
captain of the HMS Beagle for Charles Darwin's famous voyage.

Peter Moore at BBC News relates that story to us in
The Birth of the Weather Forecast
where we read informatively that:
"When one MP suggested in the [House of] Commons in 1854 that recent advances in scientific theory might soon allow them to know the weather in London "twenty-four hours beforehand", the House roared with laughter."
As amazing as it may appear to us in our modern world today, the idea of the possibility of "weather forecasting" was considered a lunacy by most people in mainstream politics and science as late as the 19th century.

Indeed, weather forecast pioneer Admiral Robert FitzRoy, "the father of weather forecasting", met with vast resistance in his era, but as Moore tells us:
"[T]oday his vision of a public forecasting service, funded by government for the benefit of all, is fundamental to our way of life. 
His department, which began with a staff of three, now employs more than 1,500 people and has an annual budget of more than £80m.... 
Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office's current chief scientist explains: "FitzRoy was really ahead of his time. He was not mistaken or eccentric, he was just at the start of a very long journey, one that continues today in the Met Office."
Little has changed in people, politics or science in the intervening 161 years.

Mankind remains as difficult to teach to rise above its biases, ignorance and superstitions as it was in the Commons of 1854 where weather forecasting was literally laughed out of the House -- by the unfit.

Paradoxically, Darwin is famous
but who knows about FitzRoy?

And yet we all should daily thank FitzRoy, and not Darwin.

FitzRoy was right -- weather can be forecasted.
Not perfectly, but enough to be of a very big help to mankind.

Darwin on the other hand told us that the "fittest" survive.
When we view the daily news, however, we are not sure about that.

Things appear to be more chance than merit,
and probabilities seem to guide survival outcomes more than fitness.

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