Observatory's science rules

| Siu Sai-wo 17 May 2018

I visited the Hong Kong Observatory at the invitation of director Shun Chi-ming. Located at the end of a secluded uphill lane off Nathan Road, the facility is like an oasis in the urban concrete jungle.

The Victorian-Colonial-style building that houses the observatory is a declared monument. Shun showed us equipment from different eras - from the old Indian thermometer shed to the modern intelligent lamppost that carries monitoring devices.

In them, we saw the change in meteorological observation practices over the years.

Now, the observatory leverages on cutting-edge equipment and big data to obtain instant micro-district-by-district weather information to keep people abreast of latest weather conditions.

With people becoming increasingly concerned about extreme weather and global warming, the government has set up a special task force, led by the chief secretary for administration, to study related issues.

These include the highly relevant question of whether torrential rain or the spring tide would affect our railway system.

Weather observation is in the domain of science, but as weather has a direct bearing on economic activities as well as lives, the exercise has been politicized in many places around the world.

In the US, where policies encourage privatization, there are commercial entities that provide weather service for transportation companies.

These operations make use of government data to add value to their service, but for self-promotion, they are critical of the public meteorological service, harming the latter's reputation.

In Taiwan, weather research and forecasting is the job of the Central Weather Bureau, but decisions on whether to cancel school or close work places during typhoons rest with politicians.

This situation of politics dictating science has left meteorologists there shaking their heads helplessly.

By contrast, the observatory enjoys an enviable level of credibility. It is because, in Hong Kong, we rightly leave scientific matters in the hands of the scientists.

In recent years, the observatory has been emphasizing public communications and has pro-actively responded to weather-related rumors whenever they arise.

By keeping in close touch with the public to foster mutual trust, the observatory hopes to maintain its hard-earned public confidence.

Siu Sai-wo is publisher of Sing Tao Daily

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