We already know that Fox News viewers are much more likely to be misinformed about the science of climate change. Now, a new study from Media Matters (h/t Kate Sheppard) provides some numbers about the kind of biased coverage that produces this type of result.
Media Matters didn’t look directly at scientific statements–instead they looked at the number of guests, across TV news, who were either for or against EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. Still, presuming that the anti-regulation guests also made misleading scientific statements (no big assumption, given the way this debate tends to go), the result is closely related. And even if they did not, the strong bias with respect to policy vies hints at the likely bias with respect to science:
Media Matters analyzed television news guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011. Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, results show that in 76 percent of those appearances, the guest was opposed to EPA regulations while 18 percent were in favor.
Drilling down on Fox in particular:
81% Of Fox Guests And 83% of Fox Business Guests Opposed GHG Regulation. Fox News hosted 52 guests who criticized the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases. In that same period they featured only 10 supporters and two guests who took a neutral stance. Fox Business hosted opponents 65 times, compared to seven appearances by supporters. MSNBC hosted four times more supporters of EPA’s action than opponents, but had far fewer guests commenting on the issue than did Fox.
Fox swayed the total so much because the other channels studied were less likely to feature opinionated guests.
Full study here.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is teaming up with Scholastic (which makes bajillions off textbooks and Harry Potter) to produce an “energy” curriculum–one that neglects environmental consequences and climate change, at least in the materials presented so far (PDF).
Scholastic also offers the “United States of Energy,” another lesson plan/educational program “brought to you” in part by the American Coal Foundation.
Meanwhile, in state after state, anti-evolutionists are arguing not only that we should “teach the controversy” around evolution, but that the same goes for other controversial topics as well–and then global warming inevitably gets roped in. And the strategy has been working.
In the most infamous case, legislators in South Dakota called for “balanced teaching” about global warming in their state. In one version, their bill justified this assault by noting, “there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena [and] the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative…”
Yeah. They did write that.
Is it time for the creation of an organization, like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), that will be capable of countering these many and varied attempts to torque what children learn about climate and energy? Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. Here’s Eugenie Scott, of NCSE, discussing the idea:
As the midterm election nears, Sheril has been doing some great blogging about Christine O’Donnell’s wacky views on science, religion, and the constitution.
On Friday, I’ll be mining this vein some more on Point of Inquiry. My guest: Top climate blogger Joe Romm, who will discuss the Tea Party movement’s anti-science and anti-environment tendencies, with particular respect to climate change.
Romm never pulls any punches, and for this show, um, he didn’t either.
So stand by….with the PZ Myers debate last time around–which is on track to be my most downloaded show–and now this one, I think we’re going to have a pretty popular run of programs.
This is a NASA image from the start of hurricane season, showing the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and especially in the main hurricane development region.
I got the image from this great analysis over at the WWF Climate Blog, which is mainly devoted to summarizing a recent congressional briefing on why we very likely have a really bad hurricane year to look forward to.
Some observations that emerged from that meeting:
* We’ve never had a pre-season forecast of 23 storms before. Let’s hope that is an overshot, rather than an undershot.
* The Atlantic is even hotter than it was before the devastating 2005 hurricane season.
* Oh yeah, and there’s oil out there. (The title of the briefing was “Hurricanes and Oil Will Mix: Managing Risk Now.”)
How much of the Atlantic’s current, alarming temperature has to do with global warming? Well, listen to Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
When asked about the degree to which rising greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere were contributing to the trend of rising sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Holland said the temperatures could not be explained without accounting for rising GHG concentrations. He said that while some researchers thought the rising GHG levels might account for 60-80% of the temperature anomaly, he estimated that about half was due to rising GHGs.
I get the feeling we may have a summer for climate change coming, just as 2005 was, and just as 1988 was.
Andy Revkin has the scoop on a letter from the IPCC (very misguided, to my mind) advising its scientists against having media contacts. An IPCC scientist, Edward R. Carr, also thinks this is a very bad idea.
More specifically, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri wrote this to researchers:
I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.
What Pachauri’s letter should have said is the following:
I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. For this reason, the IPCC has developed a number of tip sheets, trainings, and other content to help scientists who may receive queries from the media. We also have several trained media consultants available at any time to answer your questions about the press, and to manage any journalistic contacts that you may have or help set up interviews. For more detail and to avail yourself of these resources, please see our new science in the media website….
Courtesy of Rick Piltz, I learn of a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that powerfully demonstrates just how convinced scientists are that global warming is real and human caused. Indeed, this paper, entitled “Expert Credibility in Climate Change,” looks at the relationship between scientific prominence, amount of work published in the field, and acceptance of the scientific consensus. Findings:
(i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and
(ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
Those of us who follow this issue closely won’t be surprised–but the results mean that journalists who have given a lot of weight to climate “skeptics” have some ‘splaining to do. Essentially, this paper seems to be suggesting that they got the wrong “experts.”
Incidentally, given how closely this study hits home, I would expect it to be attacked–just as Naomi Oreskes’ famous paper “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” was.
The latest episode of Point of Inquiry just went up, with Bill McKibben, the author most recently of Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, a truly intense read (as I say on the show). You can download it here, and stream it here. Here’s the show’s description:
Global warming, we’re often told, is an issue we must address for the sake of our grandchildren. We need to cut carbon because of our moral obligation to future generations.
But according to Bill McKibben, that’s a 1980s view. As McKibben writes in his new book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, the increasingly open secret is that global warming happened already. We’ve passed the threshold, and the planet isn’t at all the same. It’s less climatically stable. Its weather is haywire. It has less ice, more drought, higher seas, heavier storms. It even appears different from space.
And that’s just the beginning of the earth-shattering changes in store—a small sampling of what it’s like to trade a familiar planet (Earth) for one that’s new and strange (Eaarth). We’ll survive on this sci-fi world, this terra incognita—but we may not like it very much. And we may have to change some fundamental habits along the way.
Eaarth, argues McKibben, is our greatest failure.
There is a powerful letter, signed by 225 National Academies members, in the latest Science. Not only does it explain why we accept the consensus of mainstream climate science (or mainstream evolutionary science, or planetary science, or cosmology), but it denounces Cuccinelli-style tactics:
We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.
Read the whole statement. Bravo to the these scientists for taking such a stand.
UPDATE: I now see that these scientists explicitly state they are not speaking on behalf of the National Academies. So I may have erroneously attributed the existence of the statement to the Academy in an earlier version of this post. It has been modified to remove this unwarranted assumption.
I missed this late yesterday in Slate, but it is priceless. Among other things, Lithwick shows that Cuccinelli’s investigation holds no benefit for Virginia taxpayers:
…State Sen. Donald McEachin estimates that the Cuccinelli lawsuit will cost Virginia taxpayers between $250,000 and $500,000 if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Spending half a million dollars of taxpayer funds to possibly recover some part of half a million dollars of misspent grant money doesn’t even begin to make sense.
But it’s not just Mann on the hook here. “With a weapon like this in Cuccinelli’s hands, any faculty member at a public university in Virginia has got to be thinking twice about doing politically controversial research or communicating with other scholars about it,” says Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors. UVA environmental science professor Howard Epstein, a former colleague of Mann’s, puts it this way: “Who is going to want to be on our faculty when they realize Virginia is the state where the A.G. investigates climate scientists?” If researchers are really afraid to do cutting-edge research in Virginia, the state’s flagship university is in enormous trouble.
Well, yeah. But is UVA standing up for itself and its scientists? Two important new points from Lithwick’s piece are 1) even many of Mann’s critics think Cuccinelli is going way too far and 2) UVA is not defending itself, or scientific inquiry, strenuously enough. On the latter point:
In March, when Cuccinelli tried to revoke legal protections for its gay workers, UVA responded with outrage. University President John Casteen said that he was “alarmed” by Cuccinelli’s reading of the state anti-discrimination laws and that the attorney general’s letter “cuts to the core of our common claims to the most fundamental kinds of personal security under the rule of law.” About the Mann investigation, thus far what we have heard from the university is muted. UVA has “a legal obligation to answer this request and it is our intention to respond to the extent required by law,” said Carol Wood, a UVA spokeswoman. Well, yes. But it’s probably time to point out that harassing the faculty for thousands of 10-year-old e-mails from a respected former colleague cuts to the core of intellectual and academic freedom as well.
Yes indeed. The University of Virginia is a massive institution and not without power. It should defend itself, and its scientists, much more vigorously.
See here. I am glad this story is being covered and that people are starting to denounce the investigation in suitable terms:
Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”
“It would be incredibly chilling to anyone else practicing in either the same area or in any politically sensitive area,” she said.
Cuccinelli’s “civil investigative demand” sent to the University of Virginia can be found here in PDF, so you can see just how extensive it is. In the space of a month, the idea seems to be that UVA must vomit up pretty much anything in any way related to Mann’s science, including all his emails with fellow scientists, his computer codes, data, “structured or unstructured information,” etc.
Cuccinelli’s defense of what he’s doing, to the Post, doesn’t remotely cut it:
“In light of the Climategate e-mails, there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion,” he said. “Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.”
It doesn’t merely require honesty, it also requires massive stress, work, and legal advice. And in light of the Climategate emails, no such argument holds up.
Moreover, if we were going to have such an inquiry into everyone ever suspected or accused of “steering a course to reach a conclusion”….well, that would be the end of research, I would think.
P.S.: The Union of Concerned Scientists has more.