A Twitterfriend of mine, @AndyBoyBlue, recently posted a link to a great peer reviewed scientific analysis of how various cable news channels cover climate change. The results are disturbing: Fox News ignores science and reason, choosing instead to discount global climate change.
As a scientist and a subscriber to the existence and human-relatedness of climate change, I can’t resist putting together a quick commentary of this study, and I’ll try to approach it as I would any critical analysis of a scientific report.
The hypothesis of the report is that different cable news channels present distinct messages about climate change. Now this is probably nothing shocking at first glance. “Of course they present different views,” you say. But wait…is this the same thing as saying Fox likes McCain and MSNBC likes Obama? Not in the least I say. Although I lament that there is tremendous editorializing and bias in the presentation of political views, issues, and candidates, climate change is science, which is not a system of “values and beliefs” that are subject to interpretation.
Science is a process by which hypotheses are formed about the world around us, tested by experimentation, and found to be supported by the evidence or inconsistent with the evidence. Notice that I’m not using the word “true.” It’s not about finding some universal truth, it’s about iteratively forming and refining models that can best explain the experimental observations.
Human-influenced climate change is universally accepted by at least 95% of scientists worldwide. The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC is an international body of scientists from countless countries that have organized to understand, debate, and influence policy around climate change. We’re talking about 100s of scientists whose careers are dependent on being scientifically correct! The IPCC has commissioned and published a number of reports about the observations, causes, realities, impacts, and potential remedies of global climate change.
Our understanding of climate change is a fine example of what our civilization can achieve. Stop and think about the infinite layers of knowledge, technology and generations of science that have led to our present understanding of climate change. Thousands of years of science and observation of the surrounding world have produced an understanding about the weather, our earth, the solar system, the tiniest atomic subparticles and forces, how life works… We can examine ice core samples that tell us what climate patterns were like 1000s of years ago. We can use modern gps technology to tell us about the precise position of waterfronts and water levels. We can place remote sensors that communicate via satellites with the other side of the freakin’ Earth to track local climates, temperature, humidity, water temperature, barometric pressure, and atmospheric chemicals. And that’s just scratching the surface of what it takes to build evidence for climate change.
Human-influenced climate change is not a liberal opinion, it is a scientific reality!
Sadly, Fox News chooses to largely discard scientific reality. Here are a few examples of the analysis presented by the authors of the publication:
This figure shows an analysis of the tone of reporting by 3 networks toward climate change. The source of the data is a comprehensive scoring of news transcripts over two years. The data indicate that 60% of Fox News stories involving climate change are dismissive. Another example:
Yes you read that correctly; nearly 40% of Fox News stories involving climate change reject that there is scientific consensus. Yet another:
That’s right, 30% of Fox News stories about climate change reject its certainty. Well, why not just reject that damn liberal view that the Earth is round?!
Consider for a moment, if climate change were not real but rather invented by liberals, why? What on Earth would motivate 1000s of scientists to stake their career in a ideological bias? Even if you think that these 1000s of scientists are wrong about climate change, are you sure? What if they’re right?
As I stated early on, I accept that our modern culture has encouraged the conversion of relatively non-biased journalism to ratings-driven opinion journalism that mostly reaffirms the beliefs held by the viewer. However, I do not accept that we can just decide not to believe science. There was a time in the development of human civilization when the discovery and understanding of the natural world was deemed to be too frightening, giving way instead to mysticism and demonization of naturalist teachings. It was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted for 100s of years, and many believe it to be a pause or even a regression in the development of civilization. Are we approaching another such time when science and reason shall be shunned in favor of mysticism?
As an aside, I took a look at the credentials of the paper. The authors are academics from three highly-respected North American Universities. Like my scientific field, authors in this field are required to disclose any competing financial interests that might bias their work. They report that there are none, and they disclose that their funding sources are academic. The article is published in The International Journal of Press Politics, whose editorial board includes academics from all around the world. Publication would have required a confidential review and support by at least 2 respected researchers in the field. Based on all of this information, I view it as a valid scientific publication.