Mainstream Media and Science: Climate Change, 1995-2004

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Thus, by way of the institutionalized journalistic norm of balanced reporting, United States television news coverage has perpetrated an informational bias by significantly diverging from the consensus view in climate science that humans contribute to climate change. Troubles in translating this consensus in climate science have led to the appearance of amplified uncertainty and debate, also then permeating public and policy discourse.

The above quote was taken from the abstract of an interesting paper recently published in Climatic Change (Boykoff, 2008; subscription required), which arguably deals with ASIC 200 related material: the influence of popular media on the perception of science among the general public.

Briefly put, there exists a problem in science journalism – not for journalism, but rather for the science being reported on – and that is balanced reporting. A fundamental ingredient in ethical reporting is objectivity, and integral to this is balancing opposing points of view for any controversial event, idea, etc.. For example, if someone worth reporting on (sarcasm) happens to say something to the effect of, “Abortion/Gay marriage/Equal rights/Stem cell research/Genetic engineering/etc. is right/wrong because of reasons x, y, and z” then a good reporter will counter x, y, and z with the appropriate opposing arguments.

However, what appears to have plagued the global warming (pseudo-) debate in the mainstream media is the supposed conflicting viewpoint of “100’s of scientists” and that of a consensus that “begs to be placated”. Indeed, as Boykoff puts…

[…]a 2004 study found that of 928 journal articles on global climate change that were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none refuted the consensus position that humans contribute to climate change. Thus, IPCC findings and reports effectively articulate a dominant and legitimate global environmental management discourse.

What did Boykoff find?

These analyses showed that 70% of U.S. television news segments across the four networks [CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN] have provided ‘balanced’ coverage regarding anthropogenic contributions to climate change vis-a-vis natural radiative forcing over the study period of 1995 through 2004. On each network, analyses demonstrated that coverage was significantly different from the consensus view in the climate science community regarding human contributions to climate change.

However, “natural irradiative forcing” has arguably been thoroughly ‘debunked’ as the cause for modern warming (for more on the science, see these articles at RealClimate – this, this, this, this, and this – written by practicing climate scientists).

“So what!” you might be thinking, “I know what’s going on, its a conspiracy/the truth/nothing to worry about/worth changing the way I live/yea, whatev’s!” Well, mainstream media plays a very important role in shaping public discourse on scientific matters. Indeed, most adults (especially those less than net-savy users) acquire their knowledge of science and technology from television (although the internet comes in a close second, and exceeds 50% when specific topics are being actively investigated; source-NSF).

Reference: Boykoff, M.T. Lost in translation? United States television news coverage of anthropogenic climate change, 1995-2004. Climatic Change 86: 1-11.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice:

3 Responses to “Mainstream Media and Science: Climate Change, 1995-2004”

  1. Casper Hauser

    You seem to have trouble discriminating cosmic radiation from solar radiation. This is unsurprising, since the Real Climate website takes pains to confuse the distinction. The Real Climate website is by no means a neutral scientific platform. It is patently a political soapbox, which assembles an echo-chamber from a self-selected group of antropogenic climate change theorists. Their arguments are often bizarre in the extreme.

    Anthropogenic factors may play a role in climate change, but that role is likely to be much smaller than the role of vastly larger influences — no serious scientist can doubt, for example, that the role of ACO2 is 2 orders of magnitude less than the role of atmospheric water — and the notion that this can be corrected by immediately reducing fossil fuel consumption without severe damage to the global food supply seems very naive indeed. What good would be it be to preserve the earth as a nature park if it involved the deaths of billions of people?

  2. David Semeniuk

    The Real Climate website is by no means a neutral scientific platform.
    I disagree. At times, personal opinion is infused in their articles, but
    at the same time their criticisms of the works being analyzed are valid.

    Their arguments are often bizarre in the extreme.
    Could you please provide examples of this?

    If the readers are interested in a non-blog, published peer reviewed
    source of climate information, please see the recently published IPCC
    Working Group I (link), especially
    Chapter 9: Understanding and Attributing Climate Change. From the

    It is extremely unlikely (<5%) that the global pattern of warming
    during the past half century can be explained without external forcing,
    and very unlikely that it is due to known natural external causes alone.
    Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global
    warming over the last 50 years. This conclusion takes into account
    observational and forcing uncertainty, and the possibility that the
    response to solar forcing could be underestimated by climate models.

  3. Universe Custodian Guardians

    Global-warming climaxes in year 2012

    Planet Earth GOD’s favourite Creation has been ravaged by human made pollution & environmental vandalism.

    GOD will clean Planet Earth using natural forces as tools. Cleansing commenced in 2004 & will climax in year 2012.

    Since year 2004 the melting of Glaciers & Northern & Southern Poles Ice has speeded up. In year 2012 huge chunks of Ice will break loose on both Poles & drift away unbalancing Planet Earth.

    This will make the planet wobble severely over a 3 day period. Resulting in a sharp movement & realignment of Earth’s North South Pole Axis. The Axis will settle in a different configuration there will be new Poles. The sharp realignment of the Axis will lead to a short-term gravity change for Planet Earth, resulting in a new orbit of the Moon. Satellites & the Space-station will alter their orbits. The Ocean currents will change. The Earth-Plates will move. Earthquakes will create tidal-waves & make Volcanoes erupt. Low-lying Coastal areas will be covered by the Sea. Life-forms will disappear. Mutated Evolutionary new life-forms will appear.

    Live on Earth will be totally different after year 2012.

    Support our awareness campaign
    Universe Custodian Guardians
    PO Box 662 Endeavour Hills 3802 Vic Australia

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