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Suspect rain data doesn’t tell the flood story

Sticking to the facts seems increasingly hard for journalists, even in the most respected of establishments.

Even if information conveyed is in its strictest sense accurate, wrapping it in data which is not is dubious practice to say the least.

The BBC published a graph earlier (now mysteriously absent from its website and Google searches) which showed rainfall totals in December for several stations.

Fortunately I included it in today's Look Ahead video (below) , so you can still see it.

The problem was not with the rainfall total shown for each station, but with the additional bars which showed the record rainfall in december for each station and a comparison with the 1981 to 2010 average.

Of itself there is no harm in showing this information, indeed it can be useful. The problem comes when this data is presented as some sort of comparison with the past, when the records for these stations in some cases last for only a few years.

For example, Capel Curig was shown as receiving over 1000mm of rainfall when compared to the previous record of 612mm. However, the station only has records back to 1994, hardly a record breaking length of time.

Glasgow Bishopton was another with records quoted, but the station only began recording in 1999.

Whilst not doubting the extreme nature of the rainfall which has fallen in parts of northern England, northwest Wales and southwest Scotland in December, it is vital that if we are to be able to truly compare any change in climate, land use or environment in order to minimise the impact of future floods (which will surely come again), we need to make sure our statistical arguments are sound.

It is incumbent on those whose information is most viewed (the BBC news website is the most popular news site in the country) that they get both the data and the setting of the data correct.


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