In my previous post, I had commented on a recently produced (and, as of Feb. 12, twice updated 29 page “briefing” from a “jewel in the crown, of British science and global science” (aka the U.K. Met Office) entitled The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK – in which I had asked a few (to the best of my knowledge, still unanswered) questions.
I had also noted the following word counts (in what I now call “version one”):
[…] four mentions of “anthropogenic greenhouse gas*” (and five other “anthropogenic” mentions which might be balanced by the five instances of “natural variability”), I did notice that there’s nary a carbon* to be found – nor for that matter, a “CO*”.
There are, however, a respectable two mentions of “IPCC”; while the “top dog”, so to speak, seems to be “extreme*” at 28 instances. Only one of these “extremes”, btw, derives from an “extremely likely”.
Some time later, over at Andrew Montford’s Bishop Hill, I happened across an “Unthreaded” comment from fellow congregationalist “Green Sand” in which he had provided a link (and some excerpts) from the (then) latest and greatest from the Met Office blog. His comment [Feb 11, 2014 at 10:29 AM] included a link to the posting. Following the excerpts, Green Sand had appended:
Document updated to give a more complete assessment of sea-level rise.
Last updated: 11 February 2014
Because it wasn’t entirely clear to me whether the “Last updated” date referred to the blog post or to the “briefing” report and because it wasn’t apparent to me for whom this “briefing” report might have been prepared, my mouse and I decided to follow Green Sand’s link. Here’s what we found:
February 2014 – This winter the UK has been affected very severely by an exceptional run of winter storms, culminating in serious coastal damage and widespread, persistent flooding. This paper documents the record-breaking weather and flooding, considers the potential drivers and discusses whether climate change contributed to the severity of the weather and its impacts.
The severe weather in the UK coincided with exceptionally cold weather in Canada and the USA. These extreme weather events on both sides of the Atlantic were linked to a persistent pattern of perturbations to the jet stream, over the Pacific Ocean and North America.
What a peculiar choice of title! A “global perspective”? YMMV, but with such a title, I would expect to see a document containing the “views” or “research” of non-U.K. scientists on the “recent storms and floods in the U.K.”. Not a document which attempts to link such U.K. weather events with other weather events thousands of miles away.
Oh, silly me! This is a Met Office blogpost. And precision in post titles has not exactly been this organization’s forté, has it?!
The last time an arm of this “jewel in the crown” posted a document with a misleading and highly inaccurate title, it took the better part of two months to get it fixed (prior to eventually disappearing all the evidence). But I digress … Back to the word counts …
As we were scrolling through their “Recent_Storms_Briefing_Final_SLR_20140210.pdf” which – believe it or not – is really version 2 of their “Recent_Storms_Briefing_Final_07023.pdf”, both of which are 29 page documents bearing the same title and date on the first page, the first thing that jumped out at me was the number of “Figures”: 29. And I also noticed some words occurred with greater frequency than others – while other words were (to my eyes, at least) rather conspicuous by their absence.
Here’s a summary of what I found in the “update” to version 1:
I think it’s also worth noting that (coincidentally, of course) not unlike the practice of “traceability” of changes in the Policies and Procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – or in any of their respective reports and/or “briefings” – there is none, nada, zip. How “scientific” is that, eh?!
This lack of traceability – and not even a hint in the Title page date, “February 2014” in all three versions, led me to wonder if there might have be some increasingly dense fog rolling over these two versions. And I also began to wonder what the target audience of this “briefing” might be.
So, just for the fun of it, I thought I might find a clue by running versions 1 and 2 of the two paragraphs containing the alleged (but not sourced) “With the warming we are already committed to over the next few decades, […]” through the Gunning Fog Index which is a:
weighted average of the number of words per sentence, and the number of long words per word (sic). An interpretation is that the text can be understood by someone who left full-time education at a later age than the index.
If Wikipedia is to be believed (which is not always the case, I agree) the following provides additional enlightenment:
In linguistics, the Gunning fog index measures the readability of English writing. The index estimates the years of formal education needed to understand the text on a first reading. A fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a U.S. high school senior (around 18 years old). The test was developed by Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952.
The fog index is commonly used to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8. [emphasis added -hro]
Here’s a summary of the results from my runs (for actual texts, please see my previous post):
Just in case the above might have been a fluke fog, I decided to conduct a reality/validity check by running 554 words from the page 2 “Summary” of version 2. And, well, it’s not quite as bad as I thought. Fog Index: 15.60.
Nonetheless, this Summary was not intended for a “wide audience” – and it’s way out of the communication ballpark if Dame Julia and her ten co-authors were aiming for “near-universal understanding”.
In light of the word counts and fog index, some might conclude that the main purpose of this “briefing” was simply to have something in the way of pseudo evidence to which Dame Julia – and others of the advocacy persuasion – might point if, Gaia forbid, push came to shove and they were actually challenged while flogging the unscientific extreme meme. But I couldn’t possibly comment ;-)