HEPEX should ban members from indecisive terms like ‘probabilistic’

Contributed by Dr. McFools

Inspired by the recent decision in a State of Florida agency to discourage its public employees from using the term ‘climate change’, I propose that HEPEX should officially ban its members from using non-actionable and confusing words like ‘probabilistic’, ‘uncertain’, and ‘unreliable’ in any official communication. This will ensure that the HEPEX activities are seen as decisive and taken seriously, and prevent members from losing even more scientific credibility.

I propose a simple style guideline to the HEPEX community:  simply replace words such as ‘probabilistic’ by words such as ‘deterministic’ or ‘high resolution’.  For example: “Probabilistic forecasts have a higher skill than deterministic forecasts” becomes “High resolution forecasts have a higher skill than deterministic forecasts”, which is clearly a superior wording. And many would in fact agree that the key to improving skill is quite simply through adopting ever finer model resolutions! Technical solutions to safeguard HEPEX members from everyday danger have been developed and can be installed here. I call on everybody to take a no tolerance approach and ruthlessly stamp out any use.  (Here we may learn from the example of one man’s heroic efforts to extinguish the incorrect use of the phrase “comprised of”).

Based on the initial reaction from several astonished HEPEX members, it’s worth reminding all that the negative impact of such fuzzy, non-committal and hedging terminology regularly appears in contexts even broader than hydrological ensemble prediction.  As recently as June 2014, heated discussions arose at the 10th Anniversary Hepex workshop — and precisely, while Germans were playing against USA for the World Cup 2014.  Many experts watching the game predicted deterministically that the Germans would win, while weak-minded HEPEXers would only concede that this was a probable outcome.  As the game commenced, the error of the latter group became clear to all:  Germany winning was, like death and taxes, absolutely guaranteed, and it would have been more useful to just say so from the get go. Indeed, despite a few tentative fist pumps and hopeful chanting by Americans of ‘USA! USA! USA!’, the match verified at …

No need for probabilistic predictions!

HEPEX co-chairs contacted earlier this week could not be drawn for comment on the controversial new style guidelines: “I probably…er, I mean I definitely…couldn’t say much about that, désolée”, demurred a Paris-based co-chair (with two first names) who prefers to remain anonymous.

What do you think?


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  1. good to see McFools has received a doctorate in the past year – they must be doing something right!

    1. good memory!

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