Richard Black tells the BBC reporting team what to think

David Whitehouse: Biased BBC Advice Based On Sloppy Statistics. From the GWPF: The Observatory, 4 November 2011

Whatever you think about the BBC’s actual performance in reporting climate change, they are supposed to adhere to the highest standards of impartiality and be able to efficiently gather, assess and represent the state of the science. Only if one starts with a realistic and up to date understanding of the subject can one hope to put into a proper scientific perspective all its developments and weigh the many opinions held about this fascinating and often controversial topic.

The BBC should be, or at least aspire to be, the gold standard. So it is depressing to come across such a skimpy analysis, and sloppy use of statistics as in this briefing given to BBC staff by their Environment Correspondent Richard Black.

I will leave Black’s analysis of Climategate, with its several errors in the dates of some of the investigations into it, and the timing of “Glaciergate,”which he says took place before the 2009 Copenhagen meeting, and his crude analogy, and go onto the point in his briefing when he addresses the widely debated topic of the past decade’s pause in the rise of global temperatures.

Tomorrow’s World

“Did it stop in 1998?” Black asks.

Is he really unaware of the implications of skewing the data by starting at the warmest year the Earth has experienced in the instrumental period, due to a super El Nino. Most analysts of recent temperature trends would never ask that question. He then goes on to say, “by any common sense definition it ought to be true it stopped in 1997 or 1999.” This is not a logical statement. Even a cursory look at the temperature data shows it is increasing up to 1998, after which there was two cooler (la Nina) years. It is what happened then that the debate is about.

Black performs what he describes as a “simple, non-statistical exercise” that first appeared on his blog. He plots decadal trends to show that there has been no reduction in the rate of warming in the past ten years. He takes annual data from NasaGiss and looks at ten-year differences with incremental start points beginning in 1991 showing that only in 1988 – 2008 does it show a negative trend (due to the super El Nino inflating 1998). Note he gets 1999 -2009 increment slightly wrong.

As Black admits it is a simple test, but he clearly thinks it is appropriate to show such an analysis as part of his briefing to a room of BBC editors, producers and journalists. The problem with it is that it makes the rudimentary mistake of ignoring the short-term variations and noise in the data resulting in spurious trend estimates that, as statistics often does in the wrong hands, obscures more than it illuminates. A more scientific and statistically preferable approach is to start in 1991, using monthly data, and plot ten-year regression lines. It is obvious that they are converging on zero for the past decade – the exact opposite of what Black told his audience.  Whatever it means, and whatever its cause, the pause in global warming is a real effect. Black says that variability in the annual data means one probably shouldn’t do such an analysis. I concur.

A Kick Up The Eighties

After this amateurish display things get a little more confused. When describing the data (HadCRUT3v Global data this time) Black spoke of a “relative plateauing” in the past decade, even though his crude trend analysis given a moment before didn’t show it. He then said, “you could make a case that global warming has plateaued, but if you are going to say that you would also have to say global warming has plateaued there, and there and there.”

He was pointing at the much shorter standstills seen in the data in previous decades. These are well understood, and not comparable to the past decade. In two cases they are due to volcanic eruptions (Mt Pinatubo in 1991 is obvious in the data, and there have been no such eruptions in the past decade). It is highly misleading to compare apples and oranges in this way. Science can explain the slight pauses seen in the two decades before this one, though it has a harder task explaining the 1940-1980 standstill.

The point is that previous flat periods, the cause of which is debatable, occurred before the date given by the IPCC at which mankind’s influence on the global climate was dominant (sometime around 1960 – 80). A hiatus in warming is nowadays is a somewhat more important part of understanding what mankind’s influence on our planet is, hence the current considerable discussion about possible decadal influences on climate.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue

What Mr Black with his “non-statistical exercise” did not do is what one would have expected a BBC correspondent to do. That is, reflect the scientific literature concerning the temperature pause of the past ten years. The are many, many examples, and it is not now widely contested in scientific circles. Only a few months ago the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a peer-reviewed article that began: Data for global surface temperature indicate little warming between 1998 and 2008. Robert K. Kaufmann, at al., “Reconciling anthropogenic climate change with observed temperature 1998–2008.” PNAS, June 2, 2011.

The pause has been discussed in Nature Climate Change, Science, and acknowledged by the Royal Society and the UK Met Office, here and here. Even Mr Black himself has previously written about the causes of the past decade’s hiatus.

Black also shows a graph he used in a 2007 article, ‘No Sun Link’ to climate change. The sense of triumphalism in this article, as well as its inadequacies, I have gone into before.

The point is that even when it was fresh and not four years old, the graph of cosmic ray intensity and of rising temperature was out of date. Can it really have escaped Mr Black the considerable debate, the uncertainties and new assessment about the sun’s influence that has been taking place following the Sun’s very unusual behaviour in the years after he wrote his 2007 article.

My experience is that BBC Editors are as intelligent and as fast-thinking an audience as you could get anywhere. Quick to pounce on strained logic and inconsistency, especially in a news report. That is why they are usually the gold standard. But they are not scientists.

This is a dismaying standard of scientific literacy from a BBC correspondent. Following Black’s presentation the BBC audience went away with the opposite impression of what is the case. Given the severe cutbacks the BBC is experiencing at the moment it would be like saying there will be more jobs, not less. I do hope that when those cuts are explained to the staff that a somewhat more sophisticated use of statistics is used.



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Ken Hall

Richard Black is not a an impartial journalist, as he should be at the BBC. He is a believer and advocate of a political and sociological argument which perverts science to achieve a political objective.


As I remarked on Black’s recent article, he is to journalism as Michael Mann is to science.
Put more succinctly: He’s a shyster.


Painful to watch somebody from Journalist school talking about time series.


What a Richard.

It is important to remember who David Whitehouse is: holder of a PhD in Astrophysics, author of science books, and the former Science Editor for the BBC, before the cuts meant that science and environment became the realm of humanities graduates with extremely little grasp of their subject.
No wonder Black can’t get almost anything right about climate.

Alea Jacta Est

What do you expect?, it’s the BBC.
Almost without exception Black reports from a left wing politicized standpoint and from the AGW songsheet at every turn. Why let facts get in the way of political polemic?
I have no faith in the impartiality or reporting quality of the BBC and unfortunately I still have to pay for these imbeciles.


Black got a good kicking over this at the Bishop’s and also on his own blog. Strangely all the comments at his blog have been disappeared.

He lost me in the first four seconds when he proclaimed the Jones report as “quite empowering”. That in and of itself is quite biased.

Geoffry Simkins

Throughout my life I have trusted the BBC to be an honest and unbiased source of information.
In the past decade it became increasingly clear that their people no longer bothered to obtain and check the facts, ‘dont let the facts get in the way of a good story’..
Fair enough. I was very worried about global warming and assumed that I was still getting more or less the right story. Because I was so worried, and being a Chartered Environmentalist who wanted to know for himself, I reasearched. Very quickly indeed I realised that ‘climate change’ was a free for all for iffy ‘scientists’, those who hope to prosper from ‘green’ taxes, and those who want a neo-communist revolution.
About that time I began to lose all faith in BBC. At best these people appear to be supporting ‘the establishment’, but they dont seem to care whether what they say is correct, and dont bother to find out.
A child with a computer and a little thought can reason that ‘climate change’ is a hoax – why cant Mr Black ?
I doubt I shall ever believe anything the BBC tells me again. I am really sad to say that.


The narrative cannot be allowed to change. If temperatures stop increasing while mankind’s presumed degree of influence is increasing, that destroys the alarmist narrative. It directly implies that perhaps weather can do what it wants despite man’s influence. I suspect their self-imposed ignorance of truth will actually continue to grow.


Blacks little more than the ‘Teams’ BBC bag boy , so you look for the short of value you expect to see in someone of that role and you are hardly ever disappointed . The BBC is currently advertising for a new science editor and of all the requirements the one thing they don’t ask for is any training or experience in science.

I am more bothered by his example of five(5) ‘investigations’ ALL of which CONCLUDED that the science was sound.

Honest mistakes?
Or is willful misdirection more like the thing?
Shameful, I think.

Bloke down the pub

Too much to hope I suppose. that Richard Black would be the first at the Beeb to lose his job?

Colin in BC

glacierman says:
November 4, 2011 at 9:09 am
What a Richard.

Damn near soaked the keyboard with coffee. Nevertheless, thanks for the laugh.


We mustn’t forget that Black is the Team’s inside man at the BBC:
From one of Mann’s Climategate emails:
“It is extremely disappointing to see something like this appear on the BBC. It’s particularly odd, since climate is usually Richard Black’s beat at the BBC (and he does a great job).”

lol, the BBC journalists are advocates. I wouldn’t worry about them skewing data to fit their world view, they’ve been doing it for years. When people like Black try to make the case that the warming hasn’t abated, just point and laugh.


>>glacierman says: November 4, 2011 at 9:09 am
>>What a Richard.
A Richard Cranium, to be precise.

Green Sand

From the “College of Journalism – part of the BBC Academy”
“Ethics and Values” page:-
“Truth and Accuracy”
A guide to the importance of truth and accuracy – and how to apply the value in practice.
Explore the meaning of impartiality
and other things that they preach but do not practise


According to Richard Black, here, one piece of evidence for CO2 AGW is cooling in the troposphere. I thought that the Greenhouse Effect predicted warming in the troposphere.
This is how the CO2 ‘warms’ or ‘insulates’, does it not. By warmi in the troposphere, and re-radiating that energy back to the surface.
Any other thoughts on this?

Al Gored

This just fits the pattern of Black’s relentless propaganda in his blogs. Relentless. But no depth. Just relentless repitition of what appears to be Greenpeace talking points. So having Black provide this commentary to the BBC staff is beyond absurd unless the objective was to create still more propagandists at the BBC.
Maybe, just maybe, this presentation and the feedback will finally get him sent to where he belongs, Greenpeace.

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

Decadal trends mean nothing in such a short time frame. Averaging out data, smoothing it out, interpolating it on graphs and heatmaps – it’s all just magic tricks to win arguments. It’s no different from photoshopping Jane Fonda to make her look easier on the eyes of her fans.

The myth that the BBC was a gold standard has held long, but passed a decade or two ago. Now it is known to be like any other, just prejudiced. has many striking examples of very very blatant bias and morphing of facts and fiction.
If you want some measure of a gold standard you’ll have to read multiple news sources and make up your own mind.


I never did understand how adding energy to a system would lead to parts of the system getting colder. I think the warm-earthers are totally confused. Parts of a system can warm faster or slower than other parts of that system until equilibrium results where energy (heat) is equal throughout. I think the warmistas misinterpret their own “teachings” that parts of a system do not warm as fast as other parts, a reasonable assumption. That is completely different from parts of a system getting colder as a result of more energy being provided. When I start heating my oven, areas near the coils get hotter at once until equilibrium. The corners of the oven do not first get colder, just relatively less warm!


The 10-year linear-regression trends using GISS data, which as mentioned, is a preferable method to the differencing method which Mr. Black presented, produces this graph. As stated, the latest 10-year trend approaches zero. However, GISS is not the only dataset; performing the same analysis using the HadCrut dataset, yields the following. The trend nears zero for the interval 1998-2008 (because it starts with an unusually elevated temperature due to the 1998 El Nino), but with this dataset, low [10-year] trends go back further. Showing GISS data, and not HadCrut, appears to be cherry-picking data sources; moreover, Mr. Black misses the opportunity to make an excellent teaching point, about the equivocation of the evidence.
Mr. Black goes on to state that there have been plateaus in the past. He’s correct, of course. Extending the 10-year trends for the duration of the GISS record, we have this. The 10-year trend reached zero (or close to it) for the interval 1987-1997, and before that 1977-1987, etc. On those last two occasions, the trend reversed and resumed being positive. Not so much the times before. Why is Black so confident that this is just a hiatus and there isn’t a decline coming such as the 1940s saw? [Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting that a decline will happen. It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.]

Jeff Todd

You must remember that the entire BBC pension fund (£8.2 Billion) has been invested in the Green Bubble and that the BBC also receives £50 million from the EU each year.
One of the pension actuaries is Helen Boaden – the BBC head of news.
The EU see Global Warming as a way of controlling & taxing the population.
You will never hear any story that calls into question “Global Warming”, nor criticises the EU from ANY reporter/journalist at the BBC.
The BBC is also too stupid to realise that by shutting the BBC down the UK could remove a large power user, reduce “emissions” and give every UK household a £145.50 perannum tax-cut.


Clearly this was a PR stunt and the warmists are smarting badly. In the eyes of the British, the BBC has long since lost it’s authority, fairness and charm. What a pity that the rest of the world still hold the BBC in some esteem. The man himself gives away his fanaticism with his tone and body language, I felt slightly ill watching the performance.

More Soylent Green!

Journalism, like climate science, is overflowing with activists. Call it post-normal journalism, if you will.


My god, what a bunch of narrow minded skeptics you are!


“The 90’s were cooler than the 00’s” argument convinces a lot of true believers but it is sloppy thinking.
That does not prove warming hasn’t stopped even if true.
It is true because 90 91 92 were part of the admitted 78 to 98 warming. It could have cooled during the 00’s as long as the rate was slower than the 78 to 98 warming and the phony argument would still be true but meaningless.
From 2000 to 2010 the temperature was flat as anyone can see.
[The trend function is missing from woodfortrees.]


One can just imagine the announcement of Richard Black’s successful elevation to the job he desires at the BBC: ‘Here is the news. Richard Black, or Dick, as he is affectionately known to us here at the BBC, has just been promoted to lead the BBC’s Environmental/Science reporting. Ladies and Gentlemen, please give it up for [SNIP: Sorry, but that is rather crude and demeaning. Can we lift the tone a little? -REP]’ (I leave the reader to parse the last clause).


I thought Blacks presentation was fine, don’t understand what David Whitehouse is really arguing about.
For example: “Is he really unaware of the implications of skewing the data by starting at the warmest year the Earth has experienced in the instrumental period, due to a super El Nino. Most analysts of recent temperature trends would never ask that question.”
I think the key word there is “most”. We all know a *lot* of skeptic analyses have deliberately started in 1998. There are lots of claims that global warming stopped in 1998, or 1995, etc. I find it bizarre that David Whitehouse would complain that Richard Black is addressing a common skeptic argument.


This is brilliant. It means that cracks are starting within the BEEB. The guy has put his neck on the block. Its a sign the dumb journos at the BEEB are feeling stupid blaming everything on climate change. That’s why this dumbo has come out with this climate change for execs/dummies lecture.
For any dumb beeb execs reading:
We know the world is warmer we just do not think it is due to CO2.
For any dumb execs reading:
Ask Dick Black why Hansen has a paper explaining the cooling?
Ask Dick Black why Trenbeth has a paper explaining the cooling?
Looks like Dick Black has missed the monthly does of cool-aid. All the warmists now agreeing the world has cooled, apart from Dick. I mean he’s even behind his own sides curve.
This guy couldn’t catch a cold.

Peter Miller

To be fair, most of the BBC documentaries on science and nature are excellent.
However, it has become almost mandatory to slip in one or two crass comments about ‘global warming’ and/or ‘climate change’ into every one of these programs.
The BBC has long been top heavy with too many overpaid bureaucrats, who are obviously concerned about the maintenance of the pleasant lifestyles and realise that means kow-towing to their political masters.
So, in the UK where there is a totally insane energy policy, there have to be constant journalistic nudges to justify its huge expense. Step forward the BBC, willing and able to distort climate facts in order to please their masters.

Crispin in Waterloo

@bubbagyro says:
I never did understand how adding energy to a system would lead to parts of the system getting colder.
Let me try to help. I work with heating systems that often have negative efficiency! For example if you initiate a fire in a fireplace that is otherwise the same temperature as the surroundings in the home, you create an updraft in the chimney (think: thunderstorm, rising clouds). There is likely to be some immediate benefit (a warmer room near the fire).
However once the chimney has started working, and the stones or bricks are hot, it will continue working once the fire is out. This sends warm air from the room up the self-continuing chimney wihch remains warmer than the outside air. Cold air has to enter the home to replace teh warm air that left. The thermal efficency of of this ‘heater’ can be 200% or 300% negative, i.e. a few watts of heaeting can create many watts of cooling. Once the ‘engine’ starts, and punches a hole through the cold layer above, it can continue on long enough to provide negative net heating.
To do this an air transport mechanism has to be established. The same happens in the atmosphere. The quickest and ‘cheapest’ way to do this is to use some soler heat. Thunderstorms are heat driven, vent heat and leave the ground cooler than before the storm started.


bubbagyro said: “I never did understand how adding energy to a system would lead to parts of the system getting colder.”
It works in my fridge.


No changes in low cloud cower is included in the presentation!
This is a big NO NO! Cluod cower decreased 5% from 1984 to 1999 and has been almost stable since then. Scroll down to Second graph
Just think what it would be like if Black was presenting the correlation between low clouds and temperature since 1984… that would make sense!


Ralph says:
“>>glacierman says: November 4, 2011 at 9:09 am
>>What a Richard.
A Richard Cranium, to be precise.”
I usually use Richard Noggin, but we can go with your idea!


Is it just me or do Mann and Black both have that same smug self satisfied look to them?


That nutter actually put up 10 “trends” calculated by subtracting start point from end point, and pretended that it means something.
Hey, dip$#!^, that isnt how trends are calculated. Actually calc the trends over those periods, and you will watch them start high in the 90s, and flatten right out to damn near zero as you converge on the present.


KnR says:
November 4, 2011 at 9:24 am
The BBC is currently advertising for a new science editor and of all the requirements the one thing they don’t ask for is any training or experience in science.

Not quite true: the job requirements say: “Must have detailed knowledge in the science and environment field as well as knowledge and understanding of the political/economic and cultural developments of the UK.”
However, it also says “You’ll have the highest level of analytical and storytelling skills “.
So knowledge in the science and environment field is important, but not as important as the ability to spin a good yarn. I suppose it helps to know a little of what you’re talking about in order to bullsh storytell effectively.

Jim Masterson

Ralph says:
November 4, 2011 at 9:59 am
According to Richard Black, here, one piece of evidence for CO2 AGW is cooling in the troposphere. I thought that the Greenhouse Effect predicted warming in the troposphere.
I think Black said “cooling stratosphere,” which is correct per models of the GHE.

Brad Tittle

Might I suggest a non statistical exercise…
The raw data from CRU plotted on a chart.
The red points are the GISS Anomaly.
The orange points are the simple mean of the monthly data.
The black dots at the bottom are the count of measurements that month. (multiply by 20 to get actual count).
I think a lot of the kerfuffle on this subject is caused by a bunch of people who have forgotten the definition of zero. The are so focussed on the damn anomaly that they have forgotten the rest of the picture. I use to question the GISS number. Plotting it here, I can’t argue with it at all. Looking at this I would guess that the next 100 years are likely to look a lot like the previous 100 years.


It must be remembered that Mr Black was actually mentioned in the original leaked e-mails that started the climategate scandal, another BBC chap had done an article that got people hot under the collar entitled
Whatever happened to global warming?
In this he queried why warming had seemed to come to a halt, Michael mann and others it seems thought it right to react to this heresy
Michael Man wrote the following e-mail
“We may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here?”
Richard Black has never explained why Mann thought he was the man to talk to or wether Mann had in fact contacted him
The BBC by the way received the e-mails weeks before the rest of the media got hold of them but supressed publication – FACT


Like the negative reviewers of all the skeptical science books and literature on Amazon. It is amazing how a handful of names keep cropping up. I never took conspiracy theories seriously but this is what we have. A small group of influential people in influential positions all pushing the CAGW agenda.
So what is behind them?
The multi-BILLION a year WWF, Sierra, Greenpeace, David Suzuki and many others environmental activist groups.
So what is behind them?
United Nations and left wing political movements globally.
What is their aim. Control through advancing “Agenda 21”. The concept is quite simple: we humans are a danger to the entire planet and ourselves and we need to be controlled by those who know what is best for us. Ultimately only a “world government” can tackle the crisis.
Meanwhile: Many millions are still starving, dying of malaria and have no clean water. If only a fraction of the money spent on environmental activism were spent on helping the poor one cannot even begin to imagine what might have been achieved!


John says:
November 4, 2011 at 10:33 am
My god, what a bunch of narrow minded skeptics you are!

Please do stick around John. We could really do with someone of your obvious wisdom to set our little minds on the correct path, if such constructive and erudite observations are your modus operandi.
Perhaps you could teach Bob Tisdale about ocean thermodynamics? Share with Leif Svalgaard your knowledge of astrophysics? Show Roy Spencer where he’s going wrong with remote sensing? Guide Anthony Watts (and Joe Bastardi, Joe D’Aleo and Piers Corbyn) in meteorology and how to put together both a hugely successful blog and a crowdsourced research project? Demonstrate your skills in analysing complex datasets and hitch-hiking up the Pacific Highway to the narrow-minded Willis Eschenbach? Maybe you could compare your model of a coupled solar-atmospheric-oceanic climate system to that of Stephen Wilde?
I humbly and eagerly await your next guest post.


nomnom says:
November 4, 2011 at 10:48 am
I thought Blacks presentation was fine, don’t understand what David Whitehouse is really arguing about.
For example: “Is he really unaware of the implications of skewing the data by starting at the warmest year the Earth has experienced in the instrumental period, due to a super El Nino. Most analysts of recent temperature trends would never ask that question.”
No matter which year you start your analysis the RATE of warming has gone to almost ZERO.
Claiming that the warming of 1978 to 1998 has continued at the same rate is silly.
The alarmists are in DENIAL of this simple fact.
#Least squares trend line; slope = 0.00201553 per year


The headline saying Dr. Black tells the BBC people what to think is spot on; most of them can’t think for themselves, and the ones that can aren’t allowed to, they have to toe the Government line on AGW (and most other things) or lose their jobs.
If any of them are reading here and can refute this I will be extatic.


John says:
November 4, 2011 at 10:33 am
My god, what a bunch of narrow minded skeptics you are!
Naaa naa naa naa naaa, “I know you are but what am I?”, John.
Now go tell your Mommy Mr. Alinsky hat the old meanies are saying all you throw-backs Progressives are still stuck back in pre-KindergartenEnlightenment times, “before the advent of real scientific method and principle science”!


While a lot of the criticism has focused on the details of the material presented during the ‘lecture’, often the context has been missed. This isn’t some meeting at FoE or a Goldman Sachs carbon traders expo this is how the publicly funded media is kept ‘on message’ (at least in the UK). That lovely mix of truth, lies and, of course, half truths. All kept alive by Government funding.
Who among you, if your income, position and career depended on it, would stand up and call ‘BS’ on some ‘factoid’ that Blackwhite had just presented?
I have a problem with the video above and it is that, in the UK at least, I am forced, by law, to fund this fantasy world.