Last month, the two almanacs, the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the regular ol’ Farmer’s Almanac issued their winter forecasts. A fun and quaint reminder of olden days that no one takes seriously, right? Kind of how a horse-and-buggy is cool to see, but you wouldn’t want to use one for commuting because c’mon, that would be silly, right?
Ohmygoshno…people take the almanac forecasts very seriously. When someone shares them on social media, people will respond as if they are the gospel truth. This year they both are predicting a rough winter, and people are discussing the need to save for energy bills, expressing either excitement or dismay depending on your view of winter, and/or declaring that these here almanacs are much better than them meterologicalists, who ain’t never right.
How do those, uh, meteorologists feel about it? Well, the best way to describe it is a mix of frustration, bemusement, and a source of jokes. A good example is here, written by a meteorologist.
But is it as accurate as many people think it is, and as accurate as the 80% rate that the almanacs claim? In a word, no. Actual studies have found it to be around 45-50%, which is basically a coin flip (although pinning it down is hard because the almanac purposely uses weasel words to make it sort of vague). Seasonal forecasts from professional weather outlets are roughly about 60% accurate, and these are just on above/below/normal generalities (as in, they might predict that the spring is going to be cooler and wetter than average for the Northeast US).
Anything beyond seven days as far as specific details hold about as much value as a drunk on meth telling you a story in a bar. Seven-day forecasts are surprisingly accurate, but anything beyond 10 days is a real crap shoot. So those predictions of a white Christmas issued in the almanac in August? Wouldn’t fire up the Bing Crosby just yet.
Unfortunately, saying any of the above gets people furious. The Penn State-produced 15-minute meteorology show Weather World, a weather nerd’s dream, did a segment on how inaccurate the farmers almanacs are, and they received the most hate mail they’ve ever received. Why would they believe in these forecasts, and with all the fervor of a fundamentalist religious person?
This goes back to the people in the social media comments talking about how it is better than the “so-called experts” who they claim are never right. People now have a deep distaste for any form of expertise, especially when it comes to science. The thing is, though, if you think this and had to defend it in say a court, you would lose because it is objectively wrong based on real evidence. Sorry to say, but “well one day I had a picnic and it rained and the forecast was sunny” is not evidence (which by the way, may not be true, often people hear a forecast that does not exist – no, really). Part of the blame here is confirmation bias: People will remember when forecasts are wrong (yes, they do happen but correct forecasts happen more often) and forget when they are correct.
I haven’t even gotten into how media outlets breathlessly cover the release of these forecasts and take them very seriously. It’s no wonder that people believe in them.
It is really not a leap of faith to wonder if such an anti-expert, hostile-to-science environment led to some of our myriad problems with COVID. Vaccine skepticism is not based in anything that is real, but it is so prevalent that polio is making a comeback.
Congratulations, anti-science people, you brought back a terrible disease that we believed was eradicated decades ago! Yes, this is on you.
It is not just science skepticism. People believe all sorts of myths, often taking the form of moral panics. These moral panics often have very real and tragic consequences, such as what happened during the Satanic Panic in the 1980s. As absurd as the idea that preschools were holding satanic rituals carried out by teachers and involved the children attending them, the accusations ruined good people’s lives.
It is not a leap to wonder if this stuff has led to the equally hysteria claims that pedophile teachers grooming students is common, a completely ridiculous claim being made by mainstream Republicans. It also is not a leap to wonder if the Stranger Danger hysteria that continues to this day has played a role in the rise of QAnon.
There is so much evidence that the pervert in a panel van is NOT the biggest threat in child abductions. In fact, a tiny percentage, less than 1%, of all child abductions are by strangers. And, most of the abductions are by known people, such as relatives. I won’t even link to the evidence here, all you have to do is Google it and look at the people who actually gather the data. There’s a lot of it.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, you still hear about the police called on parents whose only crime is letting their kid play outside alone at a nearby park. While that is bad enough, again, it is not hard to imagine a society that has so many people convinced that there are strangers everywhere hunting their kids would be a perfect environment for something like QAnon.
I’ll close by saying this, and this is for anyone who believes that experts are always wrong, thinks that a groundhog or an almanac is better than science, believes that satanism is widespread in our schools, and thinks that a kid is much more likely to be kidnapped by a stranger than they are by a crazy relative…
None of this is true. I’m not saying this to be mean to you, to hurt your feelings, to say you are dumb, or whatever. But I’m telling you this because a society that has so many people who believe so many things that aren’t real is not good for it. We have already seen enough bad stuff happen based on objectively wrong beliefs that do not hold up under scrutiny.
The last word goes to MC 900 Foot Jesus, whose name is based on another lie, Shyster Minister Oral Roberts, who claimed he talked to a 900-foot-tall vision of Jesus Christ.