New research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) found that some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation.
In a language analysis of four major California science textbooks, the SMU researchers found that the books delivered a message "that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action."
The study concluded that the four 6th grade textbooks -- including books from major national publishing companies McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson -- used language and writing techniques that "more closely match the public discourse of doubt about climate change rather than the scientific discourse" one might expect from academic texts. The books used language that misleadingly amplified uncertainty about the causes of climate change, undermined the expertise of climate scientists, and implied a false balance narrative around the realities of climate change within the scientific community.
For example, the authors found that only 21 percent of the instances discussing the cause-effect factors in climate change identified the effects of human activity, and that in the texts, "Scientists were often said to think or believe but rarely were scientists said to be inferring from evidence or data."
The SMU study explained that conservative media falsehoods about climate change contribute to a shift in public discourse, which eventually influences textbook language by creating competing interests within the textbook market. Publishers' attempts to cater to the largest market -- which includes textbook buyers who ascribe to the "public discourse of doubt" around climate change -- ultimately result in misleading textbook language and factual inaccuracies. Although the study focused on California textbooks, such a large textbook market often "set[s] standards for the rest of the country" according to the study's authors -- an effect that may already be seen in Texas.
How does this "public discourse of doubt" on climate change first develop? The researchers at SMU cited Fox News' coverage of climate science as one factor in shaping misinformation, pointing to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves (emphasis added):
[I]n discussing the topic of climate change, some segments of the media use the journalistic norm of 'balance' -- giving equal weight to all positions about this phenomenon -- when building frames to present to the public (Boykoff 2007). When frame setting, segments of the media adhere to this norm to give equal time to a climate scientist and a climate denier when addressing climate change. For example, Fox News presents climate change as uncertain by interviewing a greater proportion of climate deniers (Feldman et al. 2012). As a result, at the individual-level effects of framing stage, the audience may come to understand human-caused climate change as controversial. And indeed, viewers of Fox News are more likely to be climate skeptics even when taking into account political affiliation (Feldman et al. 2012). The effects of framing go beyond individual positions about specific topics. Frames accumulate into larger discourses, which are 'a shared way of apprehending the world... enabling those who subscribe to it to interpret bits of information and put them together into coherent stories or accounts' (Dryzek 2013, 9). We see two discourses prevalent in climate change communication: a 'scientific discourse' and a 'public discourse.'
The researchers' implication of Fox News in the creation of a misinformed public discourse is well founded. Media figures at Fox have a long record of repeating scientific inaccuracies on air and allowing fringe figures to perpetuate widely debunked claims. The similarities between the doubtful language and inaccurate claims on Fox and in the textbook examples from the study are striking:
The SMU study found that the textbooks dedicated substantial portions of their passages on climate change to discussing natural causes rather than human causes, despite that "there is little doubt about the causes of current climate change" within the scientific community that human activities are the driving force behind the phenomenon:
All four textbooks dedicated a substantial portion of the chapters about climate change to describe the natural factors that could be causing this phenomenon. Although all four textbooks indicated that human beings could be having an impact on climate change, they framed this topic as an issue in which not all scientists are in agreement as can be seen in the following example:
- Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate. (Prentice Hall 2008)
The study stated in a discussion of its findings: "The causes of climate change were shrouded in uncertainty in the texts we analyzed. Specifically, the human contribution to climate change was presented as a possibility rather than a certainty."
Fox Host: Is Global Warming Man-Made? "Nobody Knows." In a June 2014 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox News' Steve Doocy asserted that "nobody knows" if the causes of global warming are natural or man-made:
STEVE DOOCY: Keep in mind: nobody is saying that the planet isn't getting warmer. Although, you know, we had a story a couple of days ago that the 1930s were much, much warmer than the decade we're in right now. And the globe has not warmed in 17 years. Here's the thing - nobody's saying the globe isn't warming. The question comes down to, if it is, what's making it warm up? Is it just a natural climactic [sic] cycle? Or is it something man-caused? Nobody knows.
Fox News Correspondent: "There Is Not Consensus" On Causes Of Climate Change. On the September 1 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Dan Springer rejected the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, stating that "while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus," before cutting to an economist from the conservative Heritage Foundation to support his claim.
DAN SPRINGER: Scientists say the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Sea ice is arriving later in the fall and melting sooner in the summer. This was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the Last Frontier State -- 5 million acres burned, about the size of Massachusetts. But while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus.
The SMU study identified language in multiple textbooks that emphasized the historical context of climate change "to support the idea that climate had been changing well before humans were here and, therefore, is a naturally occurring phenomenon," including the following examples:
However, climates have gradually changed throughout Earth's history. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
Scientists have found evidence of many major ice ages throughout Earth's geologic history. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Media figures often appear on Fox News to suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. Media Matters compiled several, such as Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner, saying: "Climate changes. It always has, it always will."
The SMU study noted that "all four textbooks mentioned the negative effects of climate change, but two of them also discussed the potential positive results of this phenomenon," pointing out the following examples:
Global warming could have some positive effects. Farmers in some areas that are now cool could plant crops two times a year instead of one. Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland. However, many effects of global warming are likely to be less positive. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
But farther north, such as in Canada, weather conditions for farming would improve. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Fox's Gutfeld: "Even If There Is Global Warming ... It's Good For Human Beings." On the April 11, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted : "even if there is global warming ... it's good for human beings. If a polar bear dies, I don't feel bad. Honestly I don't. No, human beings. When temperature goes up, human beings live longer. When you have cold spells across countries, people die."
Fox Turned To Mark Levin And A Coal Miner To Say "CO's What Make Plants Grow." During an hour-long special on the "green agenda" in 2012, Fox News turned to right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who denied that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that should be regulated, saying: "Carbon dioxide is what we exhale. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants." Fox later aired video of coal miner Robert "Buz" Hilberry echoing this, saying: "I'm no scientist but CO's what make plants grow and what make you breathe, so they're trying to choke us all out by stopping the burning of coal."
Fox Frequent Marc Morano: Record High Carbon Dioxide "Should Be Welcomed" Because "Plants Are Going To Be Happy." Marc Morano, who was featured on Fox News to discuss climate change 11 times in 2014 alone, said to Bloomberg that Americans "should welcome" a record high in greenhouse gases because "This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
Fox News figures often suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. However, the past transformations of the global climate -- and the mass extinctions that accompanied them -- actually give good reason to worry.
On May 11, Senator and potential presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) picked up a talking point that is often made on Fox News to dismiss climate change, suggesting that because "[o]ur climate is always changing" we should not worry about man-made climate change.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson debunked this suggestion in an episode of FOX Broadcasting Network's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey that explored large shifts in the global climate that occurred prior to human civilization. In that episode, Tyson concluded: "We are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past -- the ones that led to mass extinctions." Watch the difference between the political games of Fox News and the credible science touted by its sister channel, the FOX Broadcasting Network:
It is a logical fallacy to argue that because climate change has occurred naturally in the past, it cannot change unnaturally now. Skeptical Science analogized it to arguing that because people have died of natural causes, they cannot be murdered.
Video made by John Kerr and Coleman Lowndes.
An independent report has all but destroyed one of the right's most cherished Obama administration "scandals," a fever dream that featured former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson intentionally shirking transparency laws with the help of a secret email account under the name "Richard Windsor." Fox News mentioned the saga in at least 40 different segments in the last year -- yet despite the network's fascination with the story, it has not covered the recent development, which undermines most of its previous coverage.
The EPA's Inspector General (IG) recently found "no evidence" that the department has "used, promoted, or encouraged the use of private email accounts to circumvent records management responsibilities." The IG was similarly unable to turn up proof of any senior agency officials trying to dodge federal recordkeeping, and the report noted that the EPA has taken various actions to improve its electronic content management in the last four years.
That inquiry came in response to claims that Jackson and others were using such accounts to elude Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Congressional Republicans who pushed for the review had cited a Daily Caller article that reported Jackson used the name "Richard Windsor" for her "secret" secondary account. The Daily Caller got its information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a partly industry-funded free-market think tank obsessed with the idea that some elusive, unguarded conversation would expose the Obama administration's (effectively imaginary) "War on Coal." (Later, when CEI actually got to read some FOIAed emails, it declared the lack of suspicious content somewhat suspicious).
But Jackson has explained that she regularly told people to "make sure" they searched for the Richard Windsor account when they made FOIA requests. Furthermore, EPA officials (and the IG) have noted that the use of a primary, staff-managed public account as well as a secondary account is common in both the public and private sectors in order to stem the flow of emails and get work done. Two former EPA administrators under George W. Bush reportedly used secondary (sub. required) email addresses as well.
However, the ordinariness of the practice didn't stop conservatives from feeding the "scandal" oxygen. Right-wing media couldn't get enough of Richard Windsor. They speculated that unseen emails contained information on an "expected" carbon tax (even though the administration has repeatedly stated that it is not pursuing a carbon tax). They bizarrely insinuated that the digital nom de plume was related to a "fetishistic" website (it was actually in honor of Jackson's family dog and hometown). They claimed the administrator was fleeing from the issue when she stepped down after a little over four years at the helm (neglecting to mention that she'd held the post longer than all but one past EPA chief). And in order to keep the "scandal" relevant once she resigned, they connected the allegations to Jackson's nominated replacement, Gina McCarthy (even though McCarthy told a Senate committee that she did not conduct business with a secondary account).
Fox News played a leading role in making Richard Windsor a story. A search of Nexis and internal video archives indicates that the network has mentioned the ordeal in more than 40 different segments in the last year, hosting the putative architect of the "scandal," CEI's Christopher Horner, ten times to promote it. In all, about 86 percent of guests discussing the issue voiced anti-EPA sentiment (7 percent defended the EPA and 7 percent were neutral). Over 90 percent of segments did not mention the mitigating factor that previous administrations had also used secondary email accounts:
Former Fox News host Glenn Beck once declared "Do I believe scientists? No. They've lied to us about global warming." But the study, by the Yale Project on Climate Communication, concludes that it's actually the other way around: conservative media consumers don't believe in scientists, therefore they don't believe in global warming.
The study suggests that watching and listening to outlets like Fox News and The Rush Limbaugh Show may be one reason that only 19 percent of Republicans agree that human activity is causing global warming, despite the consensus of 97 percent of climate scientists. The Yale researchers depicted five tactics used by conservative media to erode trust in scientists, which Media Matters illustrates with examples.
Conservative media typically turn to a roster of professional climate change contrarians and portray them as "experts" on the issue. What they don't mention is that most of these climate "experts" don't have a background in climate science and are often on the bankroll of the fossil fuel industry.
A Media Matters study detailed how certain climate contrarians have been given a large platform by the media, particularly Fox News.
For instance, Fox News cut away from President Barack Obama's recent climate change speech to host Chris Horner of the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute -- giving approximately equal time to Horner and the president.
After hyping the claim that the "totalitarian" Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) displayed bias against conservative groups by not granting fee waivers, Fox News has ignored a report refuting that allegation.
The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) claimed in May that the EPA waived fees for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for liberal groups "about 90 percent of the time," while denying conservative groups the waivers "about 90 percent of the time." Fox News brought up the scandal on at least 12 occasions (dedicating over 18 minutes of airtime)*, hosting CEI's Chris Horner, Republican congressmen and others who blasted the disparity as representative of the "totalitarian" "life on Obama's animal farm." Fox News host and purported energy expert Eric Bolling even bizarrely claimed that this practice would "hit us at the pump":
However, a Politico analysis found a "much more modest disparity": liberal groups received the waivers 52 percent of the time, while conservative groups received them 39 percent of the time. Politico's analysis differed from CEI's in part because CEI counted a late response to a fee waiver request as a denial even if the EPA eventually granted the waiver, and because Politico included smaller green groups in its analysis. Fox has not covered the analysis as of 11 a.m. ET on July 23.
Politico noted that there are several factors that complicate attributing this small gap to political bias:
Fox News promoted climate deniers and disputed the scientific consensus that climate change exists and is man-made in response to a proposal from President Obama to lower carbon emissions that contribute to the warming of the planet.
On June 25, President Obama delivered a speech where he laid out policy proposals to combat climate change, including the regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants. Fox News immediately reacted by hosting prominent climate deniers and dismissing the reality of climate change.
America Live host Megyn Kelly cut away from Obama's speech after several minutes, saying that Obama's assertion that "the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it" is "not the full story." Kelly then turned to climate denier Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organization that has financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Kelly and Horner both pushed the false notion that recent short-term temperature trends undermine the scientific consensus that climate change is ongoing.
On Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer reacted to the speech by also pushing the idea that recent temperature trends undermine the long-term warming trend.
Your World with Neil Cavuto hosted weather forecaster and climate denier Joe Bastardi, who incorrectly claimed that Obama was wrong when he said in his speech that the "12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years."
Opening The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld said climate skeptics "were right all along" and said Obama was "denying science" in his climate change speech.
And on Hannity, Fox contributor Liz Cheney dismissed the science behind climate change when she said that Obama is "using phony science to kill jobs." She continued, saying that "the science is just simply bogus."
But despite Fox's efforts to deny it, the fact is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists that publish peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change agree that global temperatures have risen and that "human activity is a significant contributing factor" in the rising temperatures. Eighty-four percent of scientists acknowledge that the planet is warming due to human activity, and nearly 200 scientific organizations from around the world have made public statements acknowledging that manmade climate change is real.
Fox News cut away from President Barack Obama's address on climate change in favor of a lawyer from a fossil-fuel-funded think tank, who proceeded to dismiss the science indicating significant manmade global warming.
On Tuesday, America Live interrupted Obama's speech, claiming that the president's statement that "the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it" is "not the full story." Host Megyn Kelly then interviewed Chris Horner, a Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and American Tradition Institute (ATI) fellow who often appears on Fox News to cast doubt on climate science.
Kelly granted Horner, a lawyer who has no scientific training, nearly as much air time (approximately 4 minutes and 10 seconds) as the leader of the free world (approximately 4 minutes and 35 seconds):
Kelly and Horner each claimed there has been "no warming" in the last 15 years, with the latter laughably declaring "the presidency deserves more than [warnings about climate change]." However, short-term temperature trends do not undermine the extensive evidence that the planet is getting warmer, largely due to human activity, at a rate that will have significant negative impacts.
Horner has spearheaded an ongoing effort to attack the Environmental Protection Agency and hype the Obama administration's alleged "war on coal," even when no evidence backs him up. Both CEI and ATI have financial ties to Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal no evidence of the Environmental Protection Agency's so-called "war on coal," denying the conservative media ammunition against Gina McCarthy, President Obama's nominee to lead the agency. But Fox News is now using the lack of evidence to attack McCarthy, suggesting the administration is engaging in a cover-up to protect her.
Chris Horner of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released more internal EPA emails this week as part of his ongoing effort to uncover the agency's crusade against coal. Instead, he found correspondence on the subject to be "remarkably absent," leading him to wonder: isn't it a little suspicious that the emails didn't uncover anything suspicious?
Remarkably absent are what should be the dominant class of records covered by our request seeking records: Gina McCarthy discussing her biggest assignment, the Obama administration's "war on coal".
The question is no longer whether they are hiding things, it's what are they hiding now. And the answer apparently is: Whatever they have to hide to protect Ms. McCarthy's nomination.
Fox News seized on CEI's report to claim that McCarthy is "under fire for a batch of internal emails just out," only to later admit that she is almost entirely absent from the emails:
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
As the Earth's climate warms, glaciers are shrinking worldwide. But Fox News is using a recent study showing stable glaciers in one region of the Himalayas to obscure the global melting trend and cast doubt on climate change.
In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency established an Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, which disburses about $1 million in grants every year to non-profit organizations and Native American tribes in the disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution. The grants help communities learn about and find solutions for local environmental and public health problems.
Following a Daily Caller report, Fox News repeatedly lambasted the program as "government waste" that "we can't afford." Fox's Tobin Smith even baselessly claimed that there is "hundreds of billions of dollars of waste" in "these things." In 2011, the grant program disbursed $1 million in funding - around .0000003% of federal expenditures. So for those trying to follow Fox's logic: We can't afford $1 million for local programs supporting environmental and public health, but if you try to reconsider $70 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy, it's "class warfare."
Fox predictably failed to mention that this grant program existed throughout the Bush administration. In highlighting several program successes, Bush's EPA described how a $15,000 grant helped an economically disadvantaged area in Michigan that is home to several Native American reservations collect over 47 tons of hazardous waste -- more than the county waste facility collected over the previous seven years.
It seems that in all the reporting on the trumped-up Climategate "scandal," one key fact often goes overlooked: the genesis of the whole affair was an act of theft.
The distorted and misinterpreted emails that formed the basis for Climategate were stolen, hacked from the University of East Anglia's servers. It was an act of criminality, and law enforcement agencies are actively pursuing the parties responsible.
Climate "skeptic" Chris Horner, however, is incensed that the police are trying to apprehend the as-yet unknown perpetrator(s), and considers the investigation "an abuse of the police power."
Horner penned an op-ed for the Examiner today alleging that "the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Criminal Division, is working with United Kingdom police to pursue the leaker of the 2009 and 2011 'Climategate' emails." Sticking to variations of the term "leaked," Horner all but excuses the hacker's actions, arguing that the stolen emails were public records:
The leaked records derailed "cap-and-trade" legislation in the U.S. and, internationally, as well as talks for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The emails and computer code were produced with taxpayer funds and held on taxpayer-owned computers both in the US and the UK, and all were subject to the UK Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and state FOIA laws.
They also were being unlawfully withheld in both the UK (by the University of East Anglia) and the U.S. (Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including stonewalling me for two years, and three other requesters for longer).
More to the point, Horner casts the "leaker" as the real victim, as opposed to the scientists who had their privacy invaded, property stolen, and reputations wrongly besmirched:
To review: The UK police and the US DOJ, Criminal Division, are pursuing a leaker of public records subject to one or more FOIA, records that were unlawfully withheld under those laws, which leaks indicate apparent civil violations (tortious interference by seeking dismissal of certain "skeptics"), and raising reasonable questions of fraud against taxpayers.
And they are pursuing the leaker.
Yes. They are pursuing the "leaker." Because the "leaker" is actually a criminal. And it speaks to the twisted pathology of climate science deniers that they'll condone, even defend, this sort of behavior.
A New York Times/Bay Citizen article cherry-picked statistics from a Brookings Institution report and reportedly misrepresented interviews to call the goal of creating 5 million green jobs in 10 years a "pipe dream." Conservative media have seized upon the Times article to claim that "even" the "left" agrees that investment in green jobs is a "a waste of money and time."
When Solyndra, a California based solar panel manufacturer, announced this week that it will file for bankruptcy, conservative media outlets immediately cheered the loss as evidence that solar power doesn't work. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Arizona-based First Solar is currently building its second U.S. factory, which will "roughly double the solar-panel maker's U.S. production capacity," according to the Wall Street Journal. The company is also investing in several large solar farms.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers announced in June that solar panels, which have great potential for increases in efficiency, could become most cost-effective electricity source within a decade, even challenging fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency also recently said solar generators, including both solar photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants, may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years.
Despite all this, conservative media claim solar power isn't worth pursuing.
From the June 17 edition of Fox Business' America's Nightly Scoreboard:
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