One of the examples of “the media being the message” is the annual release of the Farmers’ Almanac predictions of the coming winter. The mass media treat this as a story worthy of being reported. This is in spite of the fact that the Almanac’s predictions are — in the words of magician-comedians Penn & Teller — bullshit. Yet like so many other outlets, the Hartford Courant dutifully and helpfully informs us:
People worried about the high cost of keeping warm this winter will draw little comfort from the Farmers’ Almanac, which predicts below-average temperatures for most of the U.S.
“Numb’s the word,” says the 192-year-old publication, which claims an accuracy rate of 80 to 85 percent for its forecasts that are prepared two years in advance.
The almanac’s 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, says at least two-thirds of the country can expect colder-than-average temperatures this winter, with only the Far West and Southeast in line for near-normal readings.
Unfortunately the people who publish the Almanac either cannot or will not divulge their prediction method. But fortunately, we can test their predictions’ accuracy … and they fail. Meteorologists have taken on the Farmers’ Almanac (and the similarly-named and similarly-themed Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is in the same business of spewing baseless weather predictions) and have found them to be — well — unimpressive might be the kindest assessment.
Some of their predictions are too vague to be testable … others have been shown to be downright wrong. The bottom line is that the Almanac’s claim of 80 to 85 percent accuracy is exactly and only that — a claim. They can claim to be able to flap their arms and fly to the moon, too, but that wouldn’t be any more correct.
Oh, and that the Almanac has been in print for so many years, also does not give it veracity. Lots of things are old but that doesn’t make them right.
The Courant article obligingly consults an NOAA meteorologist on the matter, who also obligingly
wouldn’t comment specifically on the almanac’s ability to forecast the weather two years from now, but said it’s generally impossible to come up with accurate forecasts more than a week in advance.
It would have been nice if the NOAA scientist had been a little more forceful and stated the truth more clearly and succinctly: “The Almanac is bullshit!” But I guess someone in government can’t afford to be undiplomatic. The Courant wraps up its
advertisement for story on the Almanac by giving it a fashionable “green” endorsement:
If there’s a theme to this year’s almanac, it’s environmental awareness, frugality and living a sustainable life. There are articles on water conservation, gas-sipping motor scooters, natural cures and preventions for colds and other illnesses, and on growing food without a yard.
Sorry but I don’t buy bullshit, even if it meets the politically-correct standard of being “green.”
Update: A lot of folks have checked in on this post of late, but it’s not my only one on the subject of the Almanac‘s B.S. I’ve had more to say since, including citations of how and why meteorologists — i.e. people who’ve actually studied the science of weather, as opposed to whoever cranks out the two Almanacs — say these so-called “predictions” are B.S. I’m baffled by how the mass media still continue to take the Almanacs seriously, when in truth, they have no reason to do so.Tags: farmer's almanac, illogic, meteorology, weather forecasting