Fighting The War On Science: Author Explains Why We Need To Hold Media Accountable On Climate

From the July 31 edition of C-SPAN2's Book TV:

Video file

SHAWN OTTO (Author of The War on Science): In 2008 we noticed the paucity of discussion of big science issues -- and I'm coming right towards the end here -- by these top five TV news anchors. Matthew Chapman, my co-founder at ScienceDebate, and four other people and I noticed this, and in fact at that point in time these five top anchors had conducted 171 different interviews with the then-candidates for president. They’d asked them nearly 3,000 questions. How many do you suppose mentioned the words “global warming” or “climate change," arguably the biggest economic and environmental question? Any guesses? Ten? I heard somebody else. Two? Oh, another cynic, you guys, you're stealing all my material. Six. It was six. To put that in perspective, there were three questions about UFOs. So that’s the relative seriousness that the national press corps placed on this issue. 

Now, you think, you know, okay, that's 2008. We have come a long way, right? We just had the Paris climate accords in December of last year, November 30th to December 12th last year, right? 195 different countries came together for the first time, have an international accord to begin rebuilding the international economy and moving us slowly off of carbon. In the week following, the Democrats and the Republicans both had presidential debates: one on CNN, one on ABC. How many questions do you suppose the journalists asked them in the Republican debate about climate change? Zero. Right. But how many do you suppose asked in the Democratic debate? One? Two? Five? Zero. Zero. So we really haven't made much progress in the intervening years, particularly when it comes to journalists and their ideas about contentious issues that have political ramifications but that are nevertheless driven and informed by the evidence: science, the foundation of democracy. And yet we can't talk about it. I don't care what party you're with, if we don't base our decisions on evidence, we're shooting ourselves in the foot, because nature doesn't care what party we are. 

“This is a worldwide hoax, and its primary target was you, the people of the United States of America,” Rush Limbaugh says. James Inhofe, senator, says “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” “It's a money-making industry, okay?” says Donald Trump. “It’s a hoax, a lot of it.” 


The book has several battle plans, I'm not going to go into them in detail here. I’m just going to skip over the surface of a couple of them. ... Retraining the media and pro-evidence journalism and holding them to account as, for instance, Media Matters for America does by developing important metrics on skewed public policy reporting in the media. To provide that important back pressure on the media, to consider evidence as part of balanced reporting. As a friend of mine, Don Shelby says, he’s a Peabody- and Emmy-winning news anchor, “Really balanced reporting” is what he tells reporters when he talks to them, “is that you imagine it not as A and B but as a set of scales, and you report on the side of the story that has the preponderance of the evidence, the weight of the evidence on that side.”


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