To Science Or Not To Science

Subtitle: Would someone please answer the question.

The question of how science-y to be during our weather segments is certainly not new but it feels like it has come up again. After a period of, “Yes, do more science. People love it,” some are hearing, “Our research shows that people don’t want all that science.” The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other but this clock seems to have two pendulums. This of course revives the back and forth discussion that includes, “People in my market love it,” and “Our viewers are not really interested.”

So, consultants, which is it? Seems like a simple A or B answer.

The problem lies in one of the oldest issues for mass media. Finding the lowest common denominator in order to attract the largest possible audience. This leads to broad brushed statements like, “Do more science,” and “Don’t do so much science.”

Time to let us see behind the curtain on this consultants. What is the methodology on this? You can’t keep changing your mind. Demanding use of more active words like “tracking” with no context leads to tweets like:

“…tracking when we could see some sun…”

“…”I’m tracking some light, patchy fog…”

“…already tracking a crash on 70…”

Stick around and monitor this stuff. We actually want to try and get it right but dropping these mandates and leaving station management to interpret is not helping.

We’ve rolled this around more than a few times on WeatherBrains and I’ve invited consultants to come on the show. They won’t.

I suspect the answer to the science-y question is do it some of the time, when it makes sense. But that will be consulted into “science on Monday, Wednesday and every other Thursday in months with an “r” in them,” and entire staffs will be marched into pen A or B. The real answer is here in this short post from some years ago.

So, ask to see the math when the consultant shows up. There is an open invitation to come on WeatherBrains. We’re all pretty scientific, we like to understand why. In fact, I bet research would show that we would really appreciate it.


About Kevin Selle

Chief Meteorologist, KFDX-TV. Co-host, WeatherBrains.
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2 Responses to To Science Or Not To Science

  1. Great post, Kevin. I promise I will not let my Bronx slip out in my reply. Consultants have to re-invent themselves every few years in order to keep their clients. Sadly, many (most?) TV stations – NDs/GMs let them have the freedom to “state” based on their (consultants research) what “the people want”. TV consultants have become cliche’s just like the wire services and some producers – “the storm hit with out warning” and ” more rain is expected” during a river flood event yet the actual forecast is for an extended period of dry weather.

    In my very humble NYC opinion (is this an oxymoronical statement?), consultants will NEVER give out information as to how they performed their research or how information has been gathered and analyzed. In the very few times that I was privy as to how the “research” was actually conducted and where it as conducted, I just shook my head. Each market (and perhaps even each community within a market is unique) but in many cases consultants research work is done across many DMAs OR in a DMA that is so unique to yours, then the “results” are imposed on your DMA, i.e., one size DOES fit all, “this IS what the people want”.

    Consultants won’t ever share how they conduct research because they consider their research to be proprietary. Then again they also know that most mets are science-y enough to know when the numbers don’t add up or the research just doesn’t make sense.

    • Kevin Selle says:

      All true comments, Andrew. Mine were mostly rhetorical. But wouldn’t it be nice! In my radio days I knew a woman who worked for a guy who did music research, which really can have regional/city bias. Not enough people showed up for one test and when she called him he told her to pad out the sample with results from another market! Thanks for the comment. Onward…

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