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19 May 2007

The continuing debate over climate intelligence

Weather intelligence (Wx) is one of the oldest continuously practiced forms of analytic prediction and forecasting. It has morphed over the years from something deeply and firmly entrenched “behind the green door” to an integral part of operations planning (an interesting evolution that may mirror future shifts coming in other forms of embedded intelligence support to the warfighter.) Wx forecasting is of course also a famously inexact blend of the art & the science, despite significant advances in sensor technology, modeling and simulation tools, and distributed real-time reporting sources.

Wx has also provided a fascinating comparative look into the evolution of analysis across cultural and organizational contexts, as US weather products (at least those available to the civilian world) are more timely and accurate than their European counterparts. The reference has escaped us, but we recall one research study that attributed this in part to the difference in meteorological publications processes between the peer-reviewed journal – preferred in the US - and the edited volume – preferred in Europe.

It is equally fascinating to see that the continuing debate over Wx in the form of the assessment of the potential for long term climate change has not yet abated. We have weighed in on this matter ourselves, but we continue to find new material surfacing throughout the community, mirroring a number of internal discussions. It seems that the prospect of institutionalizing this account has struck a nerve amongst practitioners. Additional references can be found at Politics & Soccer (the blog of a Georgetown University student) and at the Weekly Standard (where one can find a longer variant piece by the author usually featuring at Haft of the Spear.)

To this end, we note that there has been an apparent divide in the reactions between newly minted professionals (and their aspirant counterparts of equal age and similar experiences) versus the veterans and those that have been substantively engaged in the Long War for some time. Interesting enough, the younger generation is frequently eager to pursue such studies.

Whether our initial impression dismissing this difference as coming from a mindset imprinted by the media-generated cognitive biases (the results of decades of politically correct environmentalism targeted at the younger generation in the schools) will prove correct over time, we cannot say. There may also be more balanced and apolitical reasons for the interest of the younger set, perhaps even including the desire to find new accounts not yet dominated by the gray beards and talking heads of the community – and conveniently, one that does not require extended deployments but rather travel to the nicer places of the world for conferences, etc. (No one should ever think the new kids are stupid when it comes to angling for the right travel opportunities. One of our long ago bosses once noted that even the most inexperienced analysts could be divided into groups based on their native inclination towards cunning and self-interest in selecting assignments. The best and brightest would surge to the most difficult account of the day, and commit themselves utterly to it with no regard to personal sacrifice. The smarter, and usually quieter, ones would select the accounts most likely to bring them to the “chocolate” countries – nice European posts in places renowned for their confectionary and other cuisine.)

Once again, Wx provides a truly unique window into the practice of the craft, and the professionals' perspectives of the craft, cutting across the generations. It is however now become an entirely too political debate for our taste - and one that is being explicitly politicized by many of the participants.

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