Media Dynamic Selects Science Denial

August 24, 2019

If you wonder why Flat Earthism is a growing thing, it’s related to the way media, and particularly social media, selects information.

University of California Merced:

The American media lends too much weight to people who dismiss climate change, giving them legitimacy they haven’t earned, posing serious danger to efforts aimed at raising public awareness and motivating rapid action, a new study shows.
While it is not uncommon for media outlets to interview climate change scientists and climate change deniers in the same interviews, the effort to offer a 360-degree view is creating a false balance between trained climate scientists and those who lack scientific training, such as politicians.
“It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts — who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists — with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling said. “Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists. They aren’t even in the league of the average career climate scientist.”
Westerling is one of three researchers from UC Merced who tracked the digital footprints of climate scientists and deniers across about 200,000 research publications and 100,000 digital and print media articles on climate change over the past few years. Their work is published in Nature Communications today .
Data shows that about half the mainstream media visibility goes to climate-change deniers, many of whom are not climate scientists. This proportion increases significantly when blogs and other “new media” outlets are included — pointing to the rising role of customized media in spreading disinformation.
“It’s time to stop giving these people visibility, which can be easily spun into false authority,” Professor Alex Petersen said. “By tracking the digital traces of specific individuals in vast troves of publicly available media data, we developed methods to hold people and media outlets accountable for their roles in the climate-change-denialism movement, which has given rise to climate change misinformation at scale.”

There are a variety of reasons people don’t accept the results of climate science even though the science is overwhelming. These include cognitive bias and “motivated reasoning” — the tendency of people to bias their judgements by personal and group-level values, even when faced with documented facts; and external influences, including political cues, ideological biases, cultural worldviews and even personal weather experiences.
But the media’s longstanding and dominant role in empowering cultural politics, the advent of “new media” and the nearly boundless scalability of content distribution across the Internet compound the problem and amplify misinformation, the researchers said.
Even when people have complete control in choosing their sources of information, they are still susceptible to significant disparities in content production and to media coverage.

The proper counterpoint to a climate scientist would be another legitimate scientist who could show competing data from the same experiments or show where the first climate scientist has made mistakes in his or her work. Having a non-expert oil lobbyist or politician respond to a peer-reviewed study or assessment by saying “climate change doesn’t exist” is not a credible argument or a means of balancing, Petersen said.
“These results show that false balance in the media is alive and well and the growing trend toward customized media that we access via the internet is feeding the disinformation trend,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and a lead author of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. “This study is a wake-up call for all media to do better: to check their sources in order to accurately communicate the reality of human-induced climate change, the relevance of its impacts and the urgency of action.”

The Print:

New Delhi: Trawling YouTube for some lessons on climate change? User discretion is advised. 
YouTube searches for climate change-related content are likelier to throw up videos about warming denial than about the climate crisis staring at the world, a study has found.

The study was conducted by a senior researcher at RWTH Aachen University, Germany, andpublished last month in the journal Frontiers of Communication.
The study involved a search for videos on climate change using 10 keywords, including climate change, climate manipulation, and geoengineering. Two keywords commonly used by opponents of mainstream science — chemtrails and climate hacking — were included as well. 
Of the 200 videos subsequently analysed — 20 for each keyword — 107 challenged the consensus about climate change, with 91 found to peddle outright conspiracy theories.
Only 93, or around 46.5 per cent, presented the mainstream scientific consensus. 
“Searching YouTube for climate-science and climate-engineering-related terms finds fewer than half of the videos representing mainstream scientific views,” said study author Joachim Allgaier in a press release.

“It’s alarming to find that the majority of videos propagate conspiracy theories about climate science and technology,” he added. 
Another alarming finding of the study is that both sets of videos received almost the same number of views, 17 million, with those supporting the consensus managing just a slim lead of about 2,000. 
ThePrint reached Google, which owns YouTube, for comment on the study. This report will be updated when they respond.
What is climate denial?
It’s something you’ll often hear in US President Donald Trump’s speeches.
In January, as parts of the US reeled under record low temperatures, he quipped that “we need global warming”.

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

It’s a trope frequently employed by climate change deniers, who cite winter weather events — and thus confuse weather, which is short term, with climate — to question the claim that the world’s average temperature is rising.
A large part of the global population does not believe what climate scientists have been telling us for decades, that our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and that humans are responsible for it. 
Until recently, sceptics challenged the notion of warming altogether. But with its effects getting clearer by the year, the focus has shifted to questioning the cause. Some, for example, argue that warming is a natural variation that Earth has witnessed before. 
Others acknowledge that “the planet is warming”, but say “CO2 has nothing to do with it, it is the sun”, while some question the credibility of scientists who talk about the ongoing climate crisis.
Another group offers seemingly scientific arguments that employ logical fallacies and misrepresent data. For instance, deniers cherry-pick studies suggesting the Arctic is gaining sea-ice in the winter, while completely ignoring the bigger picture that the Arctic sea ice is on a fast decline and the loss of ice in Greenland is accelerating
Others propound unfounded conspiracy theories like “chemtrails”, an alleged government bidto pollute the environment and change the weather through aircraft exhausts.


22 Responses to “Media Dynamic Selects Science Denial”

  1. jimbills Says:

    At the end if the day, this is about making money. Controversy attracts attention, which brings in views, which brings in money, so both the mainstream media and other media sites like YouTube give it breathing room.

    If the media had just people taking about the realities of climate change, viewers would get bored, and viewership would decline. Or, if the media just reported from the centrist or liberal positions, or it they just reported straight facts, people would start to tune them out and watch something else.

    Fox News exists for a very specific reason . Besides providing the conservative perspective, certain people need that adrenaline shot of extra conflict, and Fox caters to them by amplifying or outright creating it.

    Likewise, there’s a reason why local news is 99% murder and mayhem. That stuff happens, of course, but a lot of other stuff happens locally as well – it’s just not as exciting, therefore not as attention worthy, therefore not likely to bring in money for the local stations.

    Scumbags on YouTube are making millions right now by gaming this system. They create ever more controversial clips, which attracts more clicks, and they bring in more money.

    Even CNN knows the way to keep the dollars flowing is to create controversy – they often just flip the script from Fox and spin it from the liberal perspective.

    The internet caused a Wild West scenario for the media where everyone was scrambling to figure out how to make a living with it, and controversy became the key. More views, more money. This has just become worse over time, and we now live in a post-truth world, where ‘truth’ isn’t universal but a reflection of what each individual person wants to believe.

    • doldrom Says:

      Agree 100%. The problem is not just the false balance but the sensation seeking. If you live somewhere where 50,000 people go out to thousands of venues and have a drink, order something to eat, and have discussions and conversations and meet new people, no news. If you have two jackwads who get into a fight and people call the police, even though the jackwads are thoroughly uninteresting sub-mediocre personalities, they will draw the news reporting. What is more exciting, reporting that the sky is pretty normal today and is still up there, or that there is a secret conspiracy to alter human nature by creating chemtrails? Big News. Expert scientist reveals climate scientists are in it for the payola, lying like a carpet salesman: the heat does not come from some trace gas, it comes from the sun. Duh!

    • rsmurf Says:

      All sounds good except that CNN is liberal? I don’t think so, they are money grubbers!

      • jimbills Says:

        They’re both. They might appear conservative from a very far left perspective, but to the vast majority of U.S. viewers they are quite liberal. Once upon a time they weren’t as slanted left, but then Fox News came along and changed the dynamic. We can argue about this if you want, but I’d say just look at their top headlines on any given day. It’s always controversy slanted from a leftist perspective (and I say that as a leftist).

        • rsmurf Says:

          Sill have to disagree, do they discuss net neutrality, minimum wage, unions, worker rights, global warming, damage to the planet from fracking and other human rights things, NO. They will if its got something to do with a “news” story otherwise they may have one electrons worth of liberal weight to the scale of left and right.

          • jimbills Says:

            Okay. Your perspective equals your truth, and that’s fine.

            I’m not saying that CNN is a bunch of hippies supporting Bernie Sanders. They are mostly coastal region mid-to-upper class liberals. They’ll support the core Democratic platform (which is viewed as liberal by most Americans), but they’ll go pallid when someone starts talking about real reform. I’m fully expecting them to increase the opinion pieces and headlines in favor of the centrist candidates as the Democratic primary continues.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      So. in just a few words, the human propensity for greed and making money is going to doom us——i.e., unbridled greed = self destruction.

      • jimbills Says:

        Pretty much, yep.

        Capitalism is THE most efficient means that humans have devised at creating wealth. But it also does two things: it converts natural resources at too fast of a pace, and it warps more communal values in society to favor the few. Those two trends are a massive undercurrent pulling against deeply rooted and long-term problems like climate change.

        An example would be Les Moonves below – Donald Trump running wasn’t good for America, but it sure helped CBS. There are countless other examples that anyone should be able to list.

        I’m not technically a socialist, though. I generally think humans are uncontrollable screw-ups. Put one group of socialists in charge and watch what happens. That also can be counted to “the human propensity for greed”. The guys in charge just start taking everything for themselves.

        I sigh at the notion that we’re going to ‘grow’ our way out of climate change or other environmental issues. It’s the definition of insanity – but then, it’s also “the human propensity for greed” in action.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The brilliant but evil Roger Ailes created a cheaper version of CNN to support his right-wing mission. Fox News has all the visible features of CNN—talking heads, newsy interviews, big desks, scrolling headlines—but none of the depth of researchers and fact-checkers (yes, CNN had fact-checkers). His definitive quote: People don’t want to be informed, they want to feel informed.

      As years passed, CNN started “trimming” its serious behind-the-scenes support.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        ” People don’t want to be informed, they want to feel informed.”

        the wind baggers I talk to all feel really informed.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Have watched CNN international for yonks, and it was not too bad years ago. Has definitely become cheaper and ‘puerile’ over time. Shame.
        Do agree with the post,and have commented on the increased ‘visibility’ of CC. Shame OZ has gone from a country with a carbon tax to a, literately, coal hugging prime minister.
        Anyway, is good. Once more unto the breach dear friends! Suggestions welcome.

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    Editorial Note on the Nature Communications paper:
    “The Supplementary Information for this Article is currently unavailable due to concerns regarding the identification of individuals.”

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    “A large part of the global population does not believe what climate scientists have been telling us for decades”

    Nope. It should read: “A large part of the American population does not believe what climate scientists have been telling us for decades”

    AGW is a no-brainer in Europe and in most countries of Asia.

    • jimbills Says:

      At least part, if not most, of the reason for this is the dominance of privately-owned vs. publicly-owned media here. A highly competitive media needs to hustle more for viewership, and even the most ethical journalists will find themselves pressured to create more sensational pieces for the company’s bottom line.

      There’s a now disgraced guy here, Les Moonves, who was the head of CBS News. During the 2016 election, he said this, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

      He said that unabashedly. The dollar was the priority.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        I agree. There’s a lack of public media in the US, in particular TV channels. Public media also influence private TV by making fact checks more stringent.

        Private media – as said – are after the money, not after the facts.

  4. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    …the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts…with the views of a relative handful of non-experts

    Au contraire! Climate change experts are being “balanced” by expert doubt-mongers. These people have serious chops and are the go-to talking heads for the denial-funding lobby.

    MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: Thank You For Smoking (2005). This satire depicts the work of professional doubt-mongers, but it is scarily close to reality.

  5. neilrieck Says:

    Here’s an older article which explains some of what we are seeing:

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