In ancient Rome, augurs were a special class of priest who foretold the future by examining the flight patterns and sounds of birds. I quote from wiki:
Only some species of birds (aves augurales) could yield valid signs whose meaning would vary according to the species. Among them were ravens, woodpeckers, owls, oxifragae, eagles. Signs from birds were divided into alites, from the flight, and oscines, from the voice. The alites included region of the sky, height and type of flight, behaviour of the bird and place where it would rest. The oscines included the pitch and direction of the sound. Since the observation was complex conflict among signs was not uncommon.
The BBC now has its own very augur in Richard Black, whose brief is a bit wider and adapted to the religion of climate change. His technique is to scour selectively special journals (rather than the sky), and find stories from “researchers” about creatures that are doing strange or different things. He then grandiloquently pronounces what will happen in future: a message from on high.
His topic today is crustaceans in the Palmer basin off the west Antarctic penninsula. Already, Mr Black has augured that this ice is disastrously melting. Now, it seems, “researchers” have found that the area has been invaded by 1.5m king crabs. Woe! Doom! He solemnly intones they are doing what king crabs do – voraciously scoffing other marine creatures – but this, he warns, is a very bad sign. It will cause “profound damage” to the ecosystem because verily, they are nasty invaders that can only survive because of the catastrophic warming.
The snag with augury, of course, was that it was a whole belief system based on a few snippets of truth. Some birds do gather before a storm – but their behaviour is much more complex than that. In exactly the same way, Mr Black – in his haste to spread alarm – ignores the key facts. The Antarctic is not getting significantly warmer.