Who's Monsoon is it Anyway?

From Nature (Since access might be required, I am posting the most relevant paragraphs):

' ... Researchers at a climate institute in India have voiced concern at what they see as attempts by the government to curb their scientific freedom after they were forced to remove monsoon forecasts from their website. The government says the move is necessary to stop the public being confused by conflicting forecasts. But the scientists are worried that it could prevent researchers in a range of disciplines from communicating their results..." '

'... but the monsoon season is notoriously difficult to predict. The country's official forecast comes from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), which is run by the government's Department of Science and Technology (DST). To predict rainfall, it uses a model based on statistics of past monsoons.

In 2002, scientists at the Center for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation (C-MMACS) in Bangalore began forecasting the monsoon with a more sophisticated global-climate model that uses equations to describe Earth's atmosphere. Since 2003, the researchers have been posting the results on their website, and the Indian media have been reporting them.

Last month, the DST issued a directive prohibiting the publication of any results that differ from its official forecast unless they have been peer-reviewed and cleared by the head of the researchers' agency. The DST will in future collect and disseminate monsoon data produced by research institutes to avoid confusion, DST secretary Valangiman Ramamurthi told Nature. "Monsoon forecasting is sensitive for the Indian economy," he says. "It's not a free-for-all..." '

What a shame that C-MMACS, among the few scientific research institutions, is having to deal with problems like 'territory' than concentrate on scientific problems. It appears that scientists who work from the government mutate into complete different creatures once given power. It can be justified if the DST was right - though I disagree, since there should be always freedom of expression? - but they were WRONG!

'In its 27 June bulletin, the IMD admitted that June's rainfall was 35% below average — as forecast by the C-MMACS. Heavy rains in Gujarat over the following three days reduced the deficit to 20%, and the IMD insists that this will be made up in the next few months to make 2005 a normal year, as it predicted. '

A longer comment appeared in the Hindu a few weeks ago. It highlights the larger question at the end: Can Indian scientific institutions ever get along with each other?

5 comments:

nipun said...

u gotta a point here,but therz another side to it.as the DST guy put it,"Monsoon forecasting is sensitive for the Indian economy".ppl were expecting the sensex to fall when a bad monsoon was predicted.but since rainfall is slowly getting to normal levels,markets are still soaring!scientific freedom is all fine,but for the avg investor,itz a question of who do u believe?therz a long list of arguments of 'how do u ...'s and pros n cons of free for all V centralised control,whether this is a big brother kind of behaviour,how the markets should react,etc,but we'll save it 4 another time :)
anyway,just went thru some of ur other posts,-santana concert,cool!hey n selfish gene is 1 helluva book!also read blindwatchmaker n unweaving the rainbow,pretty interesting reading..
anyway,blog on...

Sumedha said...

The weather forecast in Indian newspapers simply extrapolates from the day before. If it was sunny yesterday, 'twill be sunny today.
If it rained, we 'may have thunderstorms in parts of the city'.
What a huge hoax!
Forecasts here seem to be ten times more accurate.

Hirak said...

Nipun:

Since 'Monsoon forecasting is sensitive for the Indian economy' isn't the average investor better off when he gets a forecast that uses the best available technology?
Yes, having 10 forecasts is quite confusing of who to believe. But if the DST continues to get things wrong and C-MMACS gets it right, people won't take long to figure out who to trust. This assumes that people at least have access to information in the first place. The principle of Efficient Markets works only if information is available to all. Right?

Would it not make more sense for the DST to collaborate with other agencies who have better methods? The purpose of the DST and other organizations is to serve the public in the best way possible and not act like bullies.

Paddy said...

Good One. Regardless of what DST thinks : If a model is precise in its predictions ultimately its going to be accepted (albeit with resistance because of this territorial things)

Ashutosh said...

Good one. Weather prediction in India is pretty lousy, but the really big issue is the almost complete negligence of Earth Sciences in our country, the GPS technology et. al. notwithstanding.