Scientific Journalism: Discussing Climate Change

In this article by David Abel, he writes about the difference in understanding of climate change between meteorologists and climate scientists. Though overall I thought this was an interesting and relatively unbiased article, I do not think it was as effective as it could have been. He opens the article with “They” and he does not specify who the “they” is until the next paragraph. As a lede, this offers some dramatic effect, but it also starts off with uncertainty–something an article about science ideally would not do. I think that the nut graph is good in this article, because it shows the strong difference between forecasters and climate scientists, yet I think it gets a little redundant. Plus, it offers a lot of quotes without them adding much to the story. He does a good job showing how science and politics often intertwine, pressing the importance of unbiased journalism when it comes to giving people scientific facts. However, I feel this article fell flat in the body and the kicker. It contains numerous quotes without much description surrounding them. then, in the close he simply ends with the difference between climate scientists and meteorologists–a quote that would fit better near the start of the article, I think.

What do you think the main takeaways from this article were meant to be? In what ways was the author successful in sending his message? Do you feel that this was an unbiased article, or did you feel opinion coming from it?

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11 Responses to “Scientific Journalism: Discussing Climate Change”

  1. Hi Emily, thanks for the post. Though I have heard the argument climate models are unreliable because meteorological models often fail, I did not realize that such widespread doubt existed within the community of meteorologists. The major point I gathered from this article is that political motivations influence meteorologists, especially those on TV, greater than they do climate scientists. Though the article did well in statistically explaining this phenomenon, I would have liked to see some examples of how this is true, including the differences between climate reporting in “conservative,” “moderate,” and “liberal” websites. I also believe the science behind why climate models can be trusted despite weather models could have been further explored, for I think understanding this on a deeper level is important in swaying those who doubt the existence of climate change. While the article could easily be perceived as politically biased, this is only because it recognizes anthropogenic climate change, an objective reality whose existence has been turned partisan.

    • Ian, I agree that it would be interesting to analyze climate reporting on news sites with conservative, moderate and liberal tendencies. I don’t have such an analysis handy, but I can offer this survey by the Pew Research Center for the Internet, Science & Technology, exploring how much political orientation impacts our opinions about climate change:

      http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/the-politics-of-climate/

      The survey found that “Seven-in-ten liberal Democrats (70%) trust climate scientists a lot to give full and accurate information about the causes of climate change, compared with just 15% of conservative Republicans.”

      Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that most “climate scientists” are people with PhDs while TV meteorologists need only a bachelor’s degree in meteorology. Some have master’s degrees. So you decide which group has more authority on climate change.

      I think the Abel article would have been a bit stronger if it had mentioned this difference in education level between meteorologists and climate scientists.

  2. Thanks for a great post, Emily! I agree with your analysis of the piece, especially with regards to the unfortunate connection between politics and climate change.

    I think the biggest takeaway for the public is to understand that climate change and politics have always been connected. Therefore it is important not to rely on the interpretation of the science by meteorologists at news outlets. Many of these news outlets present information based on their political leaning, so it is wise to take precaution when trusting their analysis. I think this article does a good job highlighting this issue.

  3. I thought this was a great topic for an article and kept me interested the whole time. I thought the lede was catchy, but only because of the content of the article, not the writing specifically. This may not be the opinion of many others, but I liked how he ended the article with many quotes. It really flowed well, and they were really picked out well.

    In response to your questions, at first I thought the main takeaway from the article was to provide an argument as to why climate change may not be human caused (conservatively written), but after research, I found that David Abel is not conservative so I threw that theory out. I guess the main point is to highlight how gray the line is and why the anthropogenic cause of climate change is still highly debated. 2- Again, I thought the author was successful by his use of quotes. 3- Because climate change is so polarizing, I felt myself creating a bias in the article that probably wasn’t there. What I mean to say is that I think the article was free of bias, but because I was reading it from my perspective, I added my bias, not the authors.

    Overall, it was a better article than many we have read in the past. Thanks for your analysis!

  4. Really interesting article! One topic that I wished the author touched on is the use of social media in informing and spreading the meteorologists’ and climate scientists’ beliefs about global warming. In the survey the article mentions, the researchers looked at weather casters’ use of Facebook and Twitter for communicating about climate change. It would be interesting to see if Mish Michaels’s firing had anything to do with her spreading her beliefs about vaccination/climate change through social media. Also, something else I noticed is that some of the quotes weren’t introduced well and didn’t completely summarize what was said (ex: Tim Kelly’s comment that he’d rather the earth be warmer).

    • Good point — I wish the influence of Mish Michaels and other meteorologists in social media was explored more. The survey on the Climate Change views of meteorologists expressed that only 14-32% of weathercasters believe that their viewers see them as a trusted source for information regarding Climate Change. So how often do meteorologists and weathercasters share their views of Climate Change on other social media platforms? While employees should be held responsible for spreading misinformation, how justified are news agencies in firing employees with opposing views?

      I was surprised by the large amount of skeptics among meteorologists. I also wish the article would’ve delved in more into the divide in understanding of climate models and other forms of scientific evidence supporting the idea of anthropogenic forces on Climate Change. The idea seems simple enough: weather models that observe short-term atmospheric changes can’t be applied or understood in the same way that climate models observe long-term patterns. So why is there still so much skepticism? What specific Climate Change models are meteorologists expressing skepticism to? There is so much different forms of scientific evidence. For example, what is their response to models that directly link the burning of fossil fuel emissions to Climate Change through measured changes in ratios of carbon isotopes?

      • **Sorry, made a typo. “There are so many different forms of scientific evidence [regarding anthropogenic climate change].”

  5. Wow, I definitely wasn’t aware that only 46% of meteorologists believe that recent climate change is the direct result of human activity. This article does an effective job in using quotes to subtly shame/point out the logical fallacy in those professionals that don’t agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus on the climate. Quotes like “Weather is the little picture; climate is the big picture,” “It’s like asking a podiatrist for help when you have chest pains,” he said. “It’s a different specialty,” and even quote pulled from an actual meteorologist that said “I’m much less alarmed by global warming than most people,” he said. “I’d rather it be warmer” all seem to point toward the author’s quite clear position on the issue, which seems to be that these positions are ridiculous and should not be held by weather forecasters. So while I think the article did a good job at ensuring that its own bias wasn’t displayed through the words of the author, the quotes used and the overall flow of the piece definitely gave us some insight as to how Abel feels about the issue.

  6. A really interesting article- I noticed in other environmental classes that conservative think tanks tended to get a lot of meteorologists to promote their viewpoint, and this gives some indication as to why. As always, I think the author could have been a little more confident in presenting human-caused climate change as a solid fact, but overall, it’s an interesting take on the consensus issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The quotes are especially interesting- the one Bella mentions from Eicher is especially good at a knee-jerk emotional response.

    Your analysis of the article pretty much nails it, Emily, but I’ll disagree with you on one point; I think the opening “they” draws the reader in, and whether intentionally or not, makes a less-informed reader aware that there’s a distinction that should be drawn between between climate scientist and meteorologist.

  7. It seems that because meteorologists work with weather, which is focused more on short term trends, and that they present to mainly local audiences, they wouldn’t be interested in looking at the larger picture of how climate change is changing their local climates. This article made it seem like they were more concerned with the here and now, whereas climate scientists look at larger trends and further into the future. I didn’t like some of the quotes, such as how one of the meteorologists said that he based his doubt on the fact that he didn’t understand how a climate scientist’s models could be better than his and therefore inaccurate, because that leaves the reader without any real reason for why the models aren’t considered reliable. I don’t find quotes like that particularly useful, because I think it instills an unnecessary and unfounded sense of doubt in the reader, when I don’t think the individual has provided much reasoning for their opinion.

  8. Overall, as you mentioned, I believe the organization of this article could be stronger. The last few paragraphs of closing remarks do not offer any kind of look into the future or new thought on the issue, they are merely repeating vague statements and facts that have already been stated. Specifically, the two statistics from Ed Maibach that speak to the beliefs of meteorologists about climate change provide a relatively significant difference in opinion, with a majority of meteorologists who actually do believe the climate change is mostly caused by human activity. Though the writer retains the flow of the article by leading into the challenges faced by those who work at broadcast stations, these statistics go, for the most part, unanalyzed and feel disconnected from the earlier stated statistics about meteorologists’ beliefs. Finally, ending with the quote, “Climate deals with much larger issues,” leaves the reader feeling disoriented and maybe confused, due to the fact that “larger issues” were never discussed in this article, and exactly how meteorologists’ “larger issues” are different from those of most climate scientists.

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