Climate Change Media

The Tetchiness of Richard Black

[ UPDATE : More science on solar irradiation change and how it cannot explain the high levels of recent Global Warming : ]

Some people have been asking why I’ve been so picky about Richard Black, the BBC environmental journalist.

I found fault with a blog post of his that had a lot of good, illuminating stuff in it, yet still managed to misdirect people, in my opinion.

What we read in the papers, online and watch on the television has a longlasting effect on us. If the news is skewed, and if it continues to be skewed, we are being manipulated.

This has been shown by a very clever experiment :-

“Does Biased News Have a ‘Time Bomb’ Effect? : A European study shows that, over time, even the most sophisticated readers can be manipulated. : By: Melinda Burns : November 09, 2009 : Even the most hardened Europeans may succumb to media manipulation and change their political views if they are bombarded long enough with biased news. There’s nobody more cynical about the media than your average European. Only 12 percent of Europeans claim to trust the media, compared to 15 percent of North Americans, 29 percent of Pacific Asians and 48 percent of Africans, the BBC has found. Yet new research out of the London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that even the most hardened Europeans may succumb to media manipulation and change their political views if they are bombarded long enough with biased news. Michael Bruter, a senior lecturer in European politics at the school, fed a steady diet of slanted newsletters about Europe and the European Union — either all good news or all bad — to 1,200 citizens of six countries over two years. Over time, Bruter found, and without exception, the readers subconsciously adopted the bias to varying degrees and changed their view of the EU and of themselves as Europeans, a few of them in the extreme. Surprisingly, they didn’t register any change right after the newsletters stopped — not until full six months later, when they had obviously let down their guard. Bruter calls this the “time bomb” effect of one-sided news. His study paints a blunt picture of how cynicism, far from inoculating citizens to resist political persuasion, merely delays the impact. “We know that an increasing proportion of citizens distrust the media and that some explicitly claim to discount bias in the news that they receive,” he wrote. “However, we show that despite this qualified reading strategy, the effect of news resounds over time…”

It is for this reason that we are duty-bound to point out bias in news, and to ask for it to be eradicated.

It’s not censorship. It’s preventing the communication of error.

Here’s my original complaint :-


Official Complaint

Subject: Established science is excluded from account


It appears to me from the following blog post :-

that Richard Black is either (a) entirely ignorant of the relevant science or is (b) deliberately not including the relevant science.

He does not include the well-known counterpoints to Piers Corbyn’s theories on Global Warming.

He poses a challenge to Climate Change scientists that has already been answered in the literature.

In order to restore accuracy to the piece, people would need to contribute comments that informed Richard Black of the relevant science, that he should know about anyway, and should have cited.

Richard Black is thus wasting peoples’ time in my view, either intentionally or accidentally.

He has a position as a senior environmental writer for the BBC Online team, and so in my view, he should have at least some understanding of why Piers Corbyn’s theories are not mainstream science, and how they have been already discredited.

If he does not know this kind of information, he should at least be conscious that it might exist, and he should at least make an attempt to find out, and report his findings.

I remain perplexed that people without any relevant scientific training are writing for the environmental reporting section of BBC Online.

They are good writers, but they appear to lack a depth and range in their knowledge of the state of the science.

I am surprised that Richard Black bothered to attend the presentation by Piers Corbyn, as he should have easily been able to find out why it could be counted as pseudo-science.

My demand is that environmental writers for the BBC Online should undertake a course in Climate Change science, so that it is clear that they understand what they are reporting on, and recognise which views are non-science.

The section I am concerned about is this :-


…Now, doubtless many of you will have views on the science and everything else in this post, and I look forward to reading them.

But the responses I would particularly invite are from working scientists – physicists, climatologists, and those in related fields.

At the beginning of this post, I suggested working scientists might like to read to the end – and here’s why.

Piers Corbyn hasn’t given you a scientific paper here but I hope I have relayed the main elements, and you can see his presentation for more details.

So please – have a look around. Some of you know about this stuff – orbital precession, solar cycles, Fourier transforms, magnetic dipoles – far, far better than I do. When you have a free moment or two, don’t turn to Tetris, but have a play with this box of toys.

The datasets Mr Corbyn used are publically available, as is information on cycles of lunar nodes and such like.

Do the numbers and mechanisms stack up? Is the theory plausible? Compelling? Completely nuts? What do you think?

As of now, does it even qualify as a theory?

I’m certainly not qualified to pronounce judgement – but some of you may be.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with… and so, I’m sure, will everyone anxious to make sure that negotiators in Copenhagen are armed only with the best scientific evidence.


Although Richard Black asserts that he is not qualified to pronounce judgement, which appears unbiased, he has not made an attempt to explain alternative viewpoints or report them.

He is also laying out for the reader the position of Piers Corbyn, and asking the reader to put some effort in to either confirm or deny this.

However, a simple perusal of the literature would show that Piers Corbyn’s views on Global Warming are easily challenged, and have been done so quite regularly and successfully.

Thus, this blog post for me is biased, unreasonable and provocative and I would call it unacceptable.


Here’s Richard Black’s rather testy, tetchy reply (well, you would expect him to be a bit miffed : it’s his voice-of-the-nation status he is trying to protect) :-


Subject: Complaint – news blog?
Sent: 19 November 2009 14:24:51
To: Jo Abbess

Dear Ms Abbess,

Thank you for your comments.

Having written literally hundreds of articles over the last years dealing with (or directly concerning) the IPCC’s analyses of climate science, I am very familiar with what they contain.

A regular reader would find that this school of climate science forms the basis for virtually everything we report on the issue.

Frankly I am surprised that a reader should take one blog post (note – not a news story) in isolation and try to make deductions from that alone about how the subject is covered on our website.

Furthermore, the blog post makes several reference to mainstream climate science so I am amazed that a reader can think the writer is unaware of the wider context.

If you wanted to contribute, it would be useful to post a comment giving details of the scientific papers that show Mr Corbyn’s ideas have been discredited.

Richard Black
Environment Correspondent
BBC News


Here is a rather crudely sketched draft reply from me (see below). Do let me know if I should add any other research resources to back up my central points :-


Dear Richard,

Although you may be aware of a wide range of the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, it seems that you are not fully cognisant with the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC.

There is a very easy, visual way with which you can engage with the facts. If you care to take a look at the Figure 6.13 of the Chapter 6 of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Working Group 1, you can see quite clearly that solar irradiance changes do not correlate with the changes in temperature anomalies :-

“ Solar Forcing : The direct measurement of solar irradiance by satellite began less than 30 years ago, and over this period only very small changes are apparent (0.1% between the peak and trough of recent sunspot cycles, which equates to only about 0.2 W m–2 change in radiative forcing; Fröhlich and Lean (2004); see Section 2.7)… There is general agreement in the evolution of the different proxy records of solar activity such as cosmogenic isotopes, sunspot numbers or aurora observations, and the annually resolved records clearly depict the well-known 11-year solar cycle (Muscheler et al., 2006). For example, palaeoclimatic 10Be and 14C values are higher during times of low or absent sunspot numbers. During these periods, their production is high as the shielding of the Earth’s atmosphere from cosmic rays provided by the Sun’s open magnetic field is weak (Beer et al., 1998)…The cosmogenic isotope records have been linearly scaled to estimate solar energy output (Bard et al., 2000) in many climate simulations. More recent studies utilise physics-based models to estimate solar activity from the production rate of cosmogenic isotopes taking into account nonlinearities between isotope production and the Sun’s open magnetic flux and variations in the geomagnetic field (Solanki et al., 2004; Muscheler et al., 2005). Following this approach, Solanki et al. (2004) suggested that the current level of solar activity has been without precedent over the last 8 kyr. This is contradicted by a more recent analysis linking the isotope proxy records to instrumental data that identifies, for the last millennium, three periods (around AD 1785, 1600 and 1140) when solar activity was as high, or higher, than in the satellite era (Muscheler et al., 2006)… In the previous reconstructions, the 17th-century ‘Maunder Minimum’ total irradiance was 0.15 to 0.65% (irradiance change about 2.0 to 8.7 W m–2; radiative forcing about 0.36 to 1.55 W m–2) below the present-day mean (Figure 6.13b). Most of the recent studies (with the exception of Solanki and Krivova, 2003) calculate a reduction of only around 0.1% (irradiance change of the order of –1 W m–2, radiative forcing of –0.2 W m–2; section 2.7). Following these results, the magnitude of the radiative forcing used in Chapter 9 for the Maunder Minimum period is relatively small (–0.2 W m–2 relative to today).”

This is a polite scientist-to-scientist way of saying that changes in solar irradiance, both electric and magnetic cannot be held to account to explain all changes in average global temperatures.

Here’s a more succint and clear rebuttal of the concept that solar irradiation changes are responsible for recent global warming :-

“Solar variability does not explain late-20th-century warming”

This is an old, old much discredited idea that just refuses to die. Way back in 1992, a paper showed that changes in solar irradiance alone cannot explain global warming :-

“Implications for global warming of intercycle solar irradiance variations” Michael E. Schlesinger & Navin Ramankutty : Nature 360, 330 – 333 (26 November 1992); doi:10.1038/360330a0

This short article by Paul E. Damon reveals that mistakes have been made by those who claim the Sun is entirely responsible for Global Warming :-

“Pattern of strange errors plagues solar activity and terrestrial climate data” (2004)

Fred Pearce does a nice overview :-

The Register mentions that Piers Corbyn will not share his so-called “new” theory, so even if he thinks he’s had a revolutionary new insight, if he’s still basing his ideas on changes in solar irradiation, he is in error. They also mention a possible reason why Richard Black went to Piers Corbyn’s presentation.

Nobody has yet explained why the BBC published the advertisement for Piers Corbyn’s presentation in an article by Paul Hudson, which has been much dismissed and chided :-

“What happened to global warming?”

Let us focus on two areas where Piers Corbyn demonstrates a clear denial of the facts :-

1. Ocean acidifcation

Piers Corbyn denies that the oceans are acidifying. It would be sufficient for you to read this paper to understand the true nature of the problem :-

“Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms”
Nature 437, 681-686 (29 September 2005) : doi:10.1038/nature04095; Received 15 June 2005; Accepted 29 July 2005

What does the IPCC uber-review say ?

“10.4.2 Ocean Acidifi cation Due to Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide : Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations lower oceanic
pH and carbonate ion concentrations, thereby decreasing the saturation state with respect to calcium carbonate (Feely et al., 2004). The main driver of these changes is the direct geochemical effect due to the addition of anthropogenic CO2 to the surface ocean (see Box 7.3). Surface ocean pH today is already 0.1 unit lower than pre-industrial values (Section In the multimodel median shown in Figure 10.23, pH is projected to decrease by another 0.3 to 0.4 units under the IS92a scenario by 2100. This translates into a 100 to 150% increase in the concentration of H+ ions (Orr et al., 2005). Simultaneously, carbonate ion concentrations will decrease. When water is undersaturated with respect to calcium carbonate, marine organisms can no longer form calcium carbonate shells (Raven et al., 2005).”

2. Weather forecasting techniques cannot be applied to Climate projections

Piers Corbyn continues to maintain that weather forecasting techniques can be applied to projections of the Climate. He is mistaken. Weather is not the same as Climate.


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