by Judith Curry
“Climategate”—the unauthorized release of, and news stories about, e-mails between climate scientists in the United States and United Kingdom—undermined belief in global warming and possibly also trust in climate scientists among TV meteorologists in the United States.
“Climategate” undermined belief in global warming among American TV meteorologists
Edward Maibach, James Witte, and Kristopher Wilson
Published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol 92, issue 1 (January), pages 31-37. Online link to entire paper [here].
I was clearing my desk and picked up the Jan issue of BAMS and spotted this article. I have no idea how I missed this when it first came out. I did a blog search on it, and none of the climate blogs mention it (not even Watts). Its an article that is worth discussing. Some excerpts:
From the Introduction:
Television meteorologists are a potentially important source of informal climate change education in that a large majority of American adults watch local TV news, viewers consider the weather segment to be the most important part of the TV newscast, and most members of the public consider TV weather reporters to be a trusted source of information about global warming . As a source of information about global warming, more American adults trust television weather reporters (56%) than trust the mainstream news media (36%), religious leaders (45%), or various political leaders [Barack Obama (51%), Al Gore (47%), Sarah Palin (36%), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (35%)]; only scientists (74%) are a more trusted source of global warming information than TV weather reporters (Leiserowitz et al. 2010a).
The opportunity for local television weathercasters to educate the public about climate change extends well beyond the weather segment to include story reporting on air and on station Web sites, blogging, and community presentations. Often, weathercasters are the only person in their newsroom with any science training. By default, many are expected to cover a wide range of science topics beyond their specialty of meteorology.
Climate change is one of the science topics most frequently discussed by local TV weathercasters. A significant minority, however, hold beliefs that conflict with the scientific consensus about climate change. For example, nearly a third (29%) of AMS weathercast- ers surveyed agreed with the provocative assertion made by a prominent TV weathercaster that “global warming is a scam”; a larger proportion (41%) indicated that their primary obstacle to reporting on the topic was “too much uncertainty” in climate science. An early study found that weathercasters’ global warming attitudes and beliefs were more strongly predictive of their accurate knowledge of the science than were variables such as market size or the weathercaster’s education, length of experience, seniority, or professional seals of approval, which potentially indicates that motivated rea- soning was influencing interpretation of the scientific evidence of global warming at that time.
Results from a survey conducted January/February 2010:
A large majority (82.4%) of the respondents had heard of the Climategate story. Awareness of the story did not vary significantly by belief in global warming but did by political ideology: 86.5% of conservatives and 82.9% of moderates as compared to 75.7% of liberals had heard of Climategate.
Among the respondents who were aware of the story, nearly all (93.6%) followed the story “a little” or more closely. Attention to the story varied by respondent’s belief in global warming and their political ideology. Respondents most likely to have followed the story “very closely” were those who did not believe in global warming (47.0%) and political conservatives (37.4%).
Among the respondents who indicated they had followed the story “a little” or more closely, 55.8% indicated that the story had no influence on their level of certainty, and 42.0% indicated the story made them somewhat (26.1%) or much (15.9%) more certain that global warming is not happening. Conversely, only 2.3% indicated the story made them somewhat (1.4%) or much (0.9%) more cer- tain that global warming is happening. The impact of the story varied by respondent’s belief in global warming and political ideology. Respondents most likely to have indi- cated that the story made them much more certain that global warming is not happening were those who did not believe in global warming (42.3%) and the political conservatives (24.9%).
On a four-point scale (strongly distrust = 1, somewhat distrust = 2, somewhat trust = 3, strongly trust = 4), respondents rated how much they trust 11 potential sources of information about climate change, including climate scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), two sources that were frequently the focus of negative attention in the Climategate story. Overall, state climatologists and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (3.1), peer-reviewed science journals and the National Weather Association conferences (3.0), and American Meteorological Society con- ferences and climate scientists (2.9) were the most trusted sources of information. Respondents who had followed the Climategate story indicated significantly less trust for 8 of the 11 sources of information, including climate scientists and IPCC, than respondents who had not and had similar levels of trust for the other three sources: peer-reviewed journals, other weathercasters, and religious leaders. Respondents who do not believe in global warming indicated significantly less trust than those who do for 10 of the information sources, but indicated more trust for “other weathercasters” as an information source. Political conservatives were significantly less trusting than liberals of nine of the information sources and more trusting of the following two sources: other weathercasters and religious leaders .
None of the professional credentials was significantly associated with negative impact of the story, nor was age. Conversely, belief in global warming, political ideology, and gender were significantly associated with negative impact of the story.
Conservatives who followed the story were ap-proximately 45% more likely than moderates, and liberals were 71% less likely than moderates, to report that Climategate made them more certain that global warming is not happening. Similarly, those respon- dents who indicated they “don’t know” if global warming is happening and those who believe it is not happening were 1.8 and 4.5 times, respectively, more likely than those who believe it is happening to say that Climategate made them more certain that global warming is not happening. Female weathercasters, independent of their political ideology and belief in global warming, were 53.9% less likely than their male counterparts to report that Climategate made them more certain that global warming is not happening.
JC comments: Several Denizens have pointed out surveys that show large percentages of the public have never heard of Climategate. Well, the people that public listen to, such as TV weathercasters and the MSM have definitely heard of Climategate. A number of studies have shown the overall decline in climate coverage since Climategate, and I have a perception (I haven’t seen any studies on this) that the MSM has returned to a more “balanced” method of reporting (after pretty much rolling over for the IPCC since 2007). So the impact of Climategate on the public perception of climate change may occur indirectly through impact on TV weathercasters and the MSM. This article also reinforces several other sociological studies whereby peoples preconceived ideas and political leanings act as a filter for what gets paid attention to.