by Mike Smith
For a decade, the weathercaster and broadcast meteorology communities have been subject of a focused campaign to force them to cover global warming in a manner acceptable to the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and other advocacy groups.
How well is their strategy working?
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) is in the process of publishing the latest weathercaster survey from 2014-16 in its Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The title of the article by Maibach et al. is:
The Maibach et al. (2017) paper begins:
For more than a decade, academic researchers and members of the broadcast meteorology community have been studying TV weathercasters’ views about human-caused climate change. The primary motivation behind this research has been to determine the degree to which these TV news professionals – who, in most cases, are the only scientist in their newsroom – are up to speed on the science of climate change, so they can report on it.
The paper then says (lightly edited for clarity):
Surveys in 2010 and 2011 by Maibach and colleagues found somewhat higher rates of weathercasters convinced of climate change. The 2010 study – an attempted census of AMS and National Weather Association (NWA) broadcast members (response rate=52%) – found that over half (54%) indicated global warming is happening, while a quarter (25%) indicated it isn’t, and 21% responded they didn’t know. The 2011 study – another attempted census of AMS and NWA broadcast members (response rate=33%) – found that over half (54%) of weathercasters indicated that climate change “caused mostly by human activity” (19%) or “caused more-or-less equally by human activity and natural events” (35%) is happening; 29% indicated that climate change “caused mostly by natural events” is happening. Fewer than 1 in 10 felt climate change was not happening (9%), or they didn’t know (8%).
The earlier survey (‘2010-11 survey‘) was of television meteorologists. The 2010-11 survey found that 54% indicated ‘global warming is happening.’ It also found that 54% is believed global warming is ‘caused mostly by human activity.‘
However, the new poll is not a survey solely of meteorologists. The exact breakdown of the respondents’ scientific background as explained in the 2017 paper is not completely clear. Here are the paper’s words:
Most hold a BS (59%) or MS (8%) in meteorology/atmospheric science, or a BS or BA (8%) or MS or MA (2%) in broadcast meteorology. Other commonly reported degrees are a certificate in meteorology/broadcast meteorology (19%), a BA in journalism/mass communication (17%), and a BA or BS in other disciplines (13%).
Stated another way: 19% + 17% + 13% = 49% have no degree in atmospheric science. However, the study’s author says 59% hold a BS in meteorology/atmospheric science and then mentions other scientific degrees. The numbers add to far more than 100%. Based on working with broadcast meteorologists for the past 46 years, it is infrequent for someone to attain a degree in journalism and then to get a degree in meteorology or vice versa. So, we will use the number 100% – 59% = 41% to estimate the number of respondents without formal degrees in meteorology or atmospheric science.
Because they do not have an extensive science background to fall back on, the weathercasters may be more subject to being influenced by media reports and peer pressure (most newsrooms are populated by liberal-leaning journalists as numerous studies have shown). Why? The Stenhouse, Maibach et al. (2014) survey included this statement in a global warming survey of the Society’s entire membership:
In a survey of AMS members, perceived scientific consensus was the strongest predictor of views on global warming, followed by political ideology, climate science expertise and perceived organizational conflict.
So, according to the statement above, if one eliminates ’climate science expertise‘ — which would be the case for weathercasters without scientific degrees — the only things remaining are opinion and ideology. By adding non-scientists to the 2014-16 survey, the results may be skewed by broadcasters more likely influenced by ’consensus‘ rather than their own independent evaluations of the science.
The Maibach et al. (2017) paper says:
We began these surveys by stating the AMS definition of climate change; only then did we ask respondents for their views. No prior weathercaster survey has used the AMS definition (or any science society’s formal definition) prior to asking questions about climate change.
Because the new paper does not reproduce the American Meteorological Society’s definition of ’climate change, the reader will likely be seriously misled by the survey’s results as, for many, ’climate change‘ is synonymous with ’human-caused climate change.’
Here is the AMS’s definition of ’climate change:’
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) defines climate change as: “Any systematic change in the long-term statistics of climate elements (such as temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer. Climate change may be due to: natural external forcings, such as changes in solar emission or slow changes in the earth’s orbital elements; natural internal processes of the climate system; or anthropogenic forcing.”
Under the AMS definition, “climate change” includes changes that may be entirely natural!
So, when the survey asked if climate change is occurring, and 90% replied in the affirmative, the answer is scientifically correct (the climate is always changing) but meaningless and misleading because the phrase ’climate change‘ is deeply connected to an intense political debate about human caused climate change, much of which has little to do with science.
The paper goes on to state,
More than 90% of weathercasters indicated that climate change is happening, and approximately 80% indicated that human-caused climate change is happening (see Figure 1).
Since the basis for that statement is a reference to the paper’s Figure 1, which is reproduced here, let’s examine the veracity of the’80%’ contention.
The percentage of weathercasters that say climate change could be ‘largely,’ ‘entirely,’ or ‘mostly,’ caused by human activities is just 49% — nowhere near the 80% number claimed. In fact, even if one adds in the ’more or less‘ responses, the number is comes to just 70%, again short of the 80% claimed.
Given that St. Louis’ Metromex project in the 1970’s proved that human activities affect the climate, the fact that just 49% of weathercasters believe climate change is driven by human activities is a low number. It is also interesting that the 49% of the weathercasters in 2014-16 who believed human activities were primarily the cause of a changing climate is a smaller number than the 54% in the 2010-11 survey. This is the opposite of the paper’s central contention.
The AMS/GMU 2017 survey reported by Maibach et al. (2017) is another unfortunate attempt by the American Meteorological Society, using questionable techniques, to manipulate opinion.
The weathercaster and broadcast meteorology communities, for more than a decade, have been subject of a focused campaign to force them to cover global warming in a manner acceptable to the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and other advocacy groups. For example, the AGU blog makes the preposterous contention that failure to cover climate change in weathercasts is unethical!
I can imagine a weathercaster in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas would get a lot of feedback from angry viewers if they came out of the climate science closet. They need to though, especially my friends in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Our job as science communicators is to give our viewers good science and omission because it is politically unpopular is unethical journalism.
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has departed from its mission of the past 80 years, which was to advance and disseminate meteorological knowledge. The Society has wandered from its original mission to one of both overt and stealth advocacy related to the politics of climate change.
As part of its advocacy on climate change, the AMS periodically takes a number of actions to influence the public, political leaders and its members. Those include briefings in Washington, DC, press releases and even pressure on individual members to a espouse a view. I am aware of more than one of these attempts on my colleagues.
Advocacy also takes more covert forms. For instance, I received a call from the Executive Director of the Society, during which he pressured me to stop writing articles on my blog that raised questions about aspects of the science and politics of climate change. I declined to comply on principle. Regardless, I had resigned from the Society two weeks earlier because I disagree with the Society’s advocacy activities.
The AMS is of course not alone in embracing advocacy related to climate change. There are plenty of organizations involved in advocacy, on all sides of the issue. However, there are very few organizations that have chosen to stand above the political fray, and to offer a forum for the expression of diverse perspectives on science and its implications. Climate change is important, but so too is science.
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