Climate Change and Misrepresentation

I think that the the Bill McKibben article in The Rolling Stone does a very great job of clearly explaining some of the very complex scientific info surrounding climate change. Even though the numbers regarding how much humans can raise the current temperature or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that will cause this raise in temperature are daunting, a significant amount of people still deny that global climate change is occuring–although recently more people are beginning to believe as shown by Mark Drajem’s Bloomberg article. A Union of Concerned Scientist report shows that a lot of this disbelief may be due to misleading reports about climate change by news sources such as Fox News or the Wall Street Journal. Thinking back on our discussion of scientific journalism, what role/effect does the media play on a scientific issue such as global climate change and what could these news organizations do to best convince people of possible impending danger? Also, in regards to the public opinion of oil companies such as Exxon or BP, how can the media along with political parties influence and affect the opinions of these companies?

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4 Responses to “Climate Change and Misrepresentation”

  1. This reminds me of the comment that the reporter from Detroit Free Press made in our class two weeks ago. He said that scientific news reports can be submitted based on the research of one scientist, and when this one scientist is in the 1% of scientists who do not agree with the vast majority, the story can be very misleading. This happens because the reports do not clearly state that the scientist is presenting evidence that supports a minority perception in the scientific industry. I think this can be a big problem in modern media. Many people read stories and take what is said as fact – indisputable – because it is coming from a scientist. But, when these reports do not present the counterargument and coherent evidence to support it, it creates the illusion that this is the only opinion in the industry. So, these types of stories can have a detrimental effect on the global understanding of problems like global warming. In order to avoid this, media outlets should focus on presenting both (or all) points, and explaining the evidence in an unbiased manner so that readers can use the news as a source of information to base their opinions – a goal that is nearly impossible with information from biased stories.

  2. Most people do not read scientific journals. I would say that a large percentage of the public is not enrolled in a university science course. Because of this, many people depend on science journalism for learning the newest innovations and findings in the world of science. As a result, the role of a scientific journalist is very important. They are not supposed to convince the reader to take any side of a specific issue. Instead, they are supposed to present the facts as accurately as possible and explain all viewpoints that may exists. Sources such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are failing in that they are not showing the entire picture and not accurately representing the general consensus within the scientific community. The public can be easily misinformed by taking something that one of these news outlets reports as scientific fact. In terms of Exxon and BP, ideally journalism is free of any bias that representatives of these companies would have. They report the facts, are not part of any marketing campaign, and should paint an accurate picture of what is going on. They tell the truth to a public who trusts them.

  3. As we discussed in our scientific journalism discussion, the role of media is to inform the public of scientific issues. They are a medium in which the general public stays informed on new events and occurrences. They translate the scientific information into a way that is understandable to the general public. The media has a huge responsibility to communicate information for the betterment of the public.

    In regards to Exxon or BP, the media and public opinion play huge role in affecting the actions and opinions of these companies. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 gained huge media attention, which forced BP to initiate clean up efforts and apologetic campaigns in hopes of regaining good public standing. Due to the large scale of the spill, the media picked up on the spill, and clean up efforts were immediate. This contrasts with the oil spill we just read about in the Kalamazoo River. It did not gain media attention when it occurred, and the clean up process is slow and still going on. Media has the power to force these big industries to respond. Public opinion and support is at stake if they do not. However, the media needs to bring it to the public’s attention.

  4. It’s unfortunate that the politics within the US are so polarized because it has blinded many individuals to the real dangers and implications of climate change. The complete polarization between the two politic parties has made climate change into a politic issue where if one identifies as conservative, one most likely does not believe in climate change, or rather, believes that climate change (and the data) has been falsified and/or is unfounded. So how does this play out in the media? Well, of course, conservative news media does a fantastic job in reaffirming conservative beliefs, including beliefs on climate change. The Huffington Post has an interesting article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/the-science-of-truthiness_b_1379472.html), which discusses why conservatives are so quick to deny global warming and climate change and a large part of this is because media has a hand in reaffirming an individual’s beliefs, whether they can be backed with science or not (though the article also argues that not only are conservatives less likely to believe in climate change but in science as a whole).

    So, what can the media do to better convince people of climate change (because, let’s be honest, we still have to convince people that climate change is even happening before we can convince them to do something about it or that it can be dangerous)? Well, in a perfect world, news media and organizations should be responsible for giving citizens proper data and information, rather than trying to push their own political agendas. People are going to listen to whomever and whatever they want to listen to and so it should be the media and journalists responsibility to give people the data and expert opinions without bias, so that people can make their own informed decisions. Of course, this is easier said than done.

    If that’s not possible, money is another option. We discussed in my women’s health class this semester that politicians (being mostly men) are not as likely to pass and review laws that benefit women solely, so part of what law makers try to do is convince others that there may be an economic benefit to passing this law. The same thing can be done when dealing with the issue of climate change. I found a great article (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/science/earth/threat-to-bottom-line-spurs-action-on-climate.html?_r=0) that discusses Cola-Cola’s open, public acceptance of climate change after the company lost a “lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage.” Allowing the public to see that climate change does not only affect nature, but also industry is the way to go, especially considering that conservatives tend be more supportive of industries. If the media can convince people that climate change not only affects nature, but also our economic interests, I believe that conservatives and those who do not believe in climate change may be more willing to hear scientists and science journalists out.

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