Monday, August 07, 2006

A True Lunatic

Via Bush Telegraph EoR was alerted to today's featured 'scientist', Ken Ring.

Ken Ring believes he can predict the weather in Australia for 2007 and estimated rain trends up until 2012.

Mr Ring's website provides further information. It appears he's willing to make a weather prediction for up to 200 years (that should be a safe bet, since suing after 200 years would be a pretty pointless exercise for all involved). Sadly

Due to the greater time-scale involved allow a 24 hr possible error, and at certain times slightly more.

This past week in EoR's boggy corner (in a part of the world where it's currently winter) has been alternately rainy and fine. Thus that error range (whether it's 24 hours or the less well defined "slightly more") would accurately ensure that a guess for this week of "rain", or a guess for this week of "fine", for any particular day would work.

Mr Ring is willing to sell forecasts to you, ranging from $NZ5 to $NZ105. Strangely, some forecasts only work for Australia and NZ, while only rain can be predicted for the UK (which would be a remarkable event - rain in the UK!).

He also sells scientific books.

It is not voodoo, not superstition; just basic commonsense science.

How does Mr Ring determine his forecasts? Sophisticated meteorological equipment way beyond the understanding of science? No. He looks at the moon.

We all know the Sun radiates heat to the ground and causes evaporation, from the puddles on the footpath to the oceans and rain forests, yet there is no way the Sun can cause the evaporation to fall back to the Earth. Moreover, it can rain at night, when there is no Sun in the sky. The Sun cannot make it rain or snow, something else must be responsible. There is only one other thing in the sky capable of exerting the necessary huge forces that would be required.

Does this sound like astrology to you? Then you're in Mr Ring's camp.

It is the old principles of Astrology that we should be turning back to to re-examine, the subject that people with Higher Learning imagine to be at worst the stuff of the Devil or at best only a silly party game. When it comes to the Old Astrology, the Moon was the central player, the Moon established the pivot from which everything else related. Etymologically speaking, our word measurement came from moon.

And what about all the small influences Mr Ring fails to take account of? Entymologically speaking, there are countless butterflies in Australia flapping their wings.

In Mr Ring's worldview, it's not just the gravity exerted by the moon that affects Earth's weather patterns.

Each Moon phase has a changing effect on the weather, whether it be droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes or lightning. [...] Every New moon time, for two or three days, the Moon shields us from the solar wind.

Earth's magnetic field presumably has not effect, and doesn't come into his considerations since the "Old" astrology never mentioned it. Just like all selftaught scientists, Mr Ring has suffered the slings and arrows of outrage. As he describes it himself (saving EoR from the onerous task):

I have good-naturedly been called a "lunatic" in TV interviews and on radio, a gentle fobbing off. The labels 'snake oil', New Age, voodoo, hocus pocus, lunatic etc become par for the course amongst skeptics who, rather than investigate the orbits and behaviour of the Moon and correlate that to weather events in any scientific way, find it easier to guffaw and smirk - a process some might call job protection. Well, I suppose everyone has to eat.

Including, of course, Mr Ring. Mr Ring provides a free shortterm forecast for Sydney. Of course, this is not meant to be taken literally and, in fact, elsewhere he gives nine reasons why his forecasts are not 100% accurate including that postmodernist chestnut

Bearing in mind all the above will lead to a fairer analysis, but the interpretation is still the responsibility of the analyser and not the method.

What is the purpose or use of the "method" then? Ensuring Mr Ring is able to eat?

Bearing in mind that Mr Ring absolves himself from all responsibility for accuracy in his forecasts (a fundamental requirement, EoR would have imagined, for a forecast to be any use would be accuracy at least), and that EoR's not going to go on at any length (so he's deliberately only selecting a small sample), here are Mr Ring's 'predictions' for Sydney for the first few days of August, and the actual records from the Bureau of Meteorology.

  • 1st: Mainly fine, but turning to rain developing later in the day/evening, moderate breezes.
    Rain: 0; wind: W 20km/h to E 13km/h, cloud: 1/8th
  • 2nd: Morning showers likely, cloudy, moderate breezes, thunderstorm potential.
    Rain: 0; Wind W 20km/h to WNW 7km/h, cloud: 7/8th
  • 3rd: Showers, threatening rain, partly cloudy, (storm brewing).
    Rain: 0, wind W 20km/h to E 13km/h, cloud: 1/8th
  • 4th: Moderate to high winds, thunderstorms, occasional heavy rain.
    Rain: 6.8mm, wind: SSE 22km/h, cloud: 8/8th

So, does that indicate any accuracy, other than guessing? EoR suspects not, though Mr Ring's very vague language covers a lot of ground (but also means his 'forecasts' are also pretty meaningless). What, exactly does "partly cloudy" mean? Yes, there was 1/8th cloud cover that day, but then, this is winter, and some cloud cover would be expected. His rain forecasts were less than chance. Wind forecasts range from "moderate" to "high" over the period, but the actual figures show no real differences. And what is "thunderstorm potential"? How can he get that wrong? Either there was a thunderstorm (in which case, the "potential" was fulfilled) or there wasn't (in which case the "potential" wasn't fulfilled). It's like the psychics predictions that "you may be having a minor operation in the future".

In the grand tradition of repressed geniuses, Mr Ring also denies global warming (which must be why his Links page seems to consist solely of commercial links to ski resorts) and the nonsense that is ozone depletion.

The Auckland Astronomical Society provide three pages of refutation, pointing out Ring's totally unscientific approach (data mining, inaccuracies, ignoring inconvenient data, his total denial of atmospheric effects on Earth affecting weather, misunderstanding of physics, ignoring the effect of the sun and so on). Mr Ring also employs a method beloved of "real" psychics:

To increase the hit rate the definition of a hit is made as broad as possible.

And, like the "real" psychics, he's always ready to grasp on to any disaster, post-hoc, and claim that he "predicted" it:

On 26 December 2004 a huge earthquake occurred under the ocean near Indonesia causing a tsunami (tidal wave) that caused massive devastation on nearby coasts and loss of life in the hundreds of thousands. The next day, 27 December, Ken Ring breathlessly announced his explanation to the world in a National Radio interview with the radio host Brian Crump. Ring’s statement was somewhat incoherent, but he implied that the earthquake was caused by the close coincidence of full Moon and lunar perigee (Moon closest to Earth). Having learnt long ago not to trust anything Ken Ring says I quickly checked the facts. Full Moon was indeed early on 27 December, but perigee was on 13 December. The quake actually occurred much closer to lunar apogee (Moon furthest from Earth), which was on 28 December.

And, like the "real" psychics, the media is not interested in refutations or fact, since they're much more boring.

Our Roving Mole column in February put a finger on a real worry. The fringe theorists won’t go away. We are dealing here with a growing trend. These people are exploiting modern information and publishing technology, and freedom-of-speech principles, to spread fabrication posing as fact. They go largely unchallenged. The Ken Rings of this world are purveyors of falsehood with the gullible collusion of the news media. The whole process increases public ignorance - the exact opposite of what the information explosion is thought to be doing.

Mr Ring demonstrates his thinking and argument skills on a page written in response to the Auckland Astronomical Society called "Witch-hunting returns" which, in EoR's opinion is a precisely correct self-description. Mr Ring's retorts consist of statements such as his belief that his guessing is fine, since all sciences are inexact and "guesses". He also, in a masterstroke, fulfills Godwin's Law in his final statement:

Oh dear. One can visualise the Hitler stiff-arm salute.

Funnily enough, just like the usual altie disclaimer in small print ("This woo product doesn't actually cure or do anything, other than make us a lot of money") all the pages on his website carry this disclaimer:

The forecasts herein are made on a best-of-endeavour basis and carry no claim of 100% accuracy.

Finally, EoR was led from Mr Ring's site to Ancient Celtic New Zealand. So, it wasn't the Egyptians after all? Or the Chinese?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you EoR!

    There is an excellent comparison of Kens 'forecasts' with reality here:

    Great article and good on you EoR....!


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