"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." -- The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Climate Change Images Global Warming: Man or Myth?
Three Major Reasons Why
There is So Much Misinformation

1) Industry-backed Lobby:

Before reading further, please visit Global Warming Denial Machine to get acquainted with some of the ExxonMobil funded front groups and spokespeople that are trying their hardest to confuse the public and our policy-makers about the science of climate change.

A Center for Public Integrity analysis (2009) of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,810 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in 2009 as the issue gathered momentum and came to a vote on Capitol Hill.

In their publication, The Organization of Denial: Conservative Think Tanks and Environmental Scepticism, Jacques, Dunlap & Freeman (2008) analyzed 141 English-language environmentally skeptical books published between 1972 and 2005. They found that that over 92% of these books, most published in the US, are linked to conservative think tanks (CTTs) and that 90% of CTTs espouse environmental skepticism.

The authors conclude:

They further state:

2) Journalism & Mass Media:

Journalists are taught to present both sides of the story. However, this can lead the public into thinking that both sides of the story are equal. If more than 95% of climate scientists state that humans are the cause of global warming but then the few skeptics and deniers are given the same air time and print space as this majority, how can the public be blamed for thinking there is still debate?

Boykoff & Boykoff (2004) analyzed 3543 news articles appeared from 1988 to 2002. Of these articles, approximately 41% came from the New York Times, 29% from the Washington Post, 25% from the Los Angeles Times, and 5% from the Wall Street Journal. The authors found that in the majority (52.65%) of coverage in the US prestige press, these accounts gave "roughly equal attention" to the view that humans were contributing to global warming, and the other view that exclusively natural fluctuations could explain the earth’s temperature increase. This despite the fact that there was an overwhelming consensus that humans were the primary drivers of the global warming. The authors concluded:

"This supports the hypothesis that journalistic balance can often lead to a form of informational bias."

In a more recent paper, Max Boykoff (2008) suggests that "coverage of some areas of climate change is improving. For instance, attribution of climate change to human activity has received accurate coverage recently in a number of sources, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Times (London), The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Independent and The Guardian." but "...an overall trend of inadequate coverage by the mass media persists."

The real science is primarily represented in peer-reviewed science journals but these scientific journals are typically not accessible to the general public and can be highly mathematical. Global warming misinformation is primarily published on Web pages, blogs, television shows, radio, and other forms of mass media, all of which are much more accessible to the general public than scientific journals. The result is that the misinformation is reaching more people than the real science.

Birth of a Climate CrockPeter Sinclair's Climate Crock of the Week: Birth of a Climate Crock
Early in September 2009, at a gathering of experts on global climate change, one of the world's most respected and experienced climate modelers, Mojib Latif, made some observations on climate, media and human nature. The message seemed clear but natural variations in the long term warming were misinterpreted by the media out of ignorance or malice.
EPA Crock from EPA's CarlinPeter Sinclair's Climate Crock of the Week: Creepy at the EPA
In June of 2009, a story surfaced about the alleged suppression by the US EPA of information related to climate change. The source of the information was reported to be one Dr. Alan Carlin, who, although a real EPA analyst, was in fact, an economist, not a scientist. Distortions of the story, from the usual sources, began almost immediately.

3) Political Ideology:

I post on blogs often trying to defend the science of climate change. Often, the reply to my scientific comments is one which is highly political, not based on fact, and many times the name of former VP Al Gore is mentioned. Of course, Al Gore is not a resource anywhere on my Website nor do I ever mention his name. It has been my experience that those in the general public who are skeptical of climate change are of conservative or libertarian ideology. Research bears this out.

In their 2008 national survey titled A Deeper Partisan Divide Over Global Warming, The Pew Center for the People & the Press show that only 27% of Republicans believe that global warming is being caused by humans compared to 58% of Democrats. Even more disturbing, only 19% of Republican college graduates say that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming and it is caused by human activity compared to 88% of Democrats who are college graduates.

Kahan, et al. (2007) in their study The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of - and Making Progress In - The American Culture War of Fact conclude:

Kahan et al. organized people along the following cross-section:

World View Cross-Section
Figure 1: Cultural worldview cross-section.

Hierarchical Worldview - believe that rights, duties, goods, and offices should be distributed differentially and on the basis of clearly defined and stable social characteristics (e.g., gender, wealth, lineage, ethnicity). (Conservative ideology)

Egalitarian Worldview - believe that rights, duties, goods, and offices should be distributed equally and without regard to such characteristics. (Liberal ideology)

Communitarian Worldview - believe that societal interests should take precedence over individual ones and that society should bear the responsibility for securing the conditions of individual flourishing. (Liberal ideology)

Individualistic Worldview - believe that individuals should secure the conditions of their own flourishing without collective interference or assistance. (Conservative/Libertarian ideology)

Global Warming Risk
Figure 2: Perception of risk based on worldview (ibid).

What quickly becomes apparent in Figure 2 is that those who are more liberal in their political ideology believe that global warming is a serious risk while those that are more conservative or libertarian believe the risk is much less.

Kahan et al. conducted an experiment with people who held a hierarchical and individualistic worldview (conservative/libertarian) where subjects were provided two versions of a newspaper article that cites a scientific study of global warming. In both versions, the report was described as finding that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth's climate could have disastrous environmental and economic consequences. In one, however, the scientific report was described as calling for increased antipollution regulation, whereas in another it was described as calling for revitalization of the nation's nuclear power industry.

The experiment revealed that individualists and hierarchs who received the “nuclear power” version were less inclined to dismiss the facts related by the described report—that the earth’s temperature was increasing, that humans were the cause, and that the consequences would be dire if global warming were not reversed—than were individualists and hierarchs who got the “antipollution” version, even though the factual information, and its source, were the same in both articles. Individualists and hierarchs who received the “antipollution” version of the news report were even more skeptical about these facts than were hierarchs and individualists in a control group that received no newspaper story—and thus no information relating to the scientific report that made these findings. Individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.

Climate Change IS a Duck:

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then we need to call it a duck. Those that knowingly mislead the public about global warming are happy to tell us that it is most certainly not a duck. Please read The Duck for a brilliant allegory.

Next: How to Talk to a Conservative about Climate Change



Scott A. Mandia
Professor - Physical Sciences
T-202 Smithtown Sciences Bldg.
S.C.C.C.
533 College Rd.
Selden, NY 11784
(631) 451-4104
mandias@sunysuffolk.edu
http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/

Last updated: 02/05/10