Monday, November 13, 2006

The role of the weatherman

Unlike news based on the words of "opinion-makers", "news-makers", "pundits" and "leaders", weather news (and to some degree sports news) is based on tangible evidence -- reality, which we all review, in person. The weatherman collects more data than we do, but we know the nature of the data, more or less, and he presents his thinking, to a certain degree, and his experience, both of which we judge on its own merits.

His presentation is popular, amateur science. Any of us could do it, if we had the time. In the past, when we were farmers, everyone did it.

Everyone knows the difference between "news" presentations, and evidence presentation.

So let me propose ... that the role of the weatherman needs to expand.

Pollen counts, air pollution, water pollution, tide levels, traffic reports, number of soldiers & civilians killed ... this increasing evidence presentation moves, I believe, in the right direction.

So how about estimates of how many miles were driven today? Or, how many people left town on holiday? Or how many people are in town for conventions? Or how many people rode bicycles today? Or where people go during spring break? Or the effect anything had on local retail sales today? Or on how many people went to a dance or concert? Or, what's the estimate of kids who didn't go to school today? Or today's local homeless count? Or, the number of animals killed locally today, for varying reasons? Or the number of people who died in various ways, or were injured? Or births? Or the local average personal debt, broken down by income? Or, the number of people locally without health insurance? Or the number of people who weren't able to pay bills today? Or, the amount of money made by people of varying income? Or the amount spent by government, for different purposes?

Then, if you have a "weatherman", it would be someone who could begin to tie together some of this data ... and poll data. Like "the number of homeless passed the 1,000 mark in this week's count, and in a poll 30% of the homeless said that paying medical bills prevented them from paying rent. On the same topic, the hospital reports that it treated 500 uninsured patients this week."

We could get a computer to point out some of these possible correlations. But we need timely research, and transparency, to get the data. If there was a public demand, via "weathermen" in the media, such data would be forthcoming.

Note that this role (commentator, weatherman, traffic reporter ...) can be helpful for any specific non-profit project, any city, and any public activity. It can shift consensus and focus public effort upon reality.


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