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Fox News defends global warming false balance by denying the 97% consensus

October 24, 2013

By Dana Nuccitelli

Fox News uses denial to defend false balance.

Fox News uses denial to defend false balance.

A study published earlier this year in the journal Public Understanding of Science found that consumption of politically conservative media outlets like Fox News decreases viewer trust in scientists, which in turn decreases belief that global warming is happening. This is in large part a result of disproportionate representation of the less than 3 percent of climate scientists who are ‘skeptical’ of human-caused global warming, as well as interviewing climate contrarian non-experts, for example from conservative fossil fuel-funded think tanks.

Last week, I reported that studies of media coverage leading up to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report revealed that Fox News and other politically conservative media outlets continued this practice of false balance. Fox News was particularly guilty, representing climate contrarians in 69 percent of their IPCC stories.

How did Fox News respond to my criticisms that they were disproportionately representing the views of climate contrarians, particularly non-experts from think tanks? By publishing an opinion pieceby Marlo Lewis from a conservative fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Lewis has a background in political science, and has been described by DeSmogBlog as,

“…just another energy industry crony who is paid to deny that fossil fuel pollution causes problems.”

Lewis defended Fox News’ false balance climate reporting by denying that there is an expert consensus on human-caused global warming. He did so by attacking the study that I co-authored earlier this year, finding 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate abstracts and papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are responsible.



Soon after our paper was published, it was the subject of many attacks by climate contrarians who know that expert consensus is a powerful public communications tool. These attacks exemplified the five characteristics common to scientific denialism highlighted in a paper by Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee:

1) Conspiracy theories;
2) Fake experts;
3) Cherry picking;
4) Impossible expectations of what research can deliver; and
5) Misrepresentation and logical fallacies.

Five months later, Lewis’ Fox News opinion piece made the exact same arguments, exemplifying all five characteristics of scientific denialism. Mainly, he focused on the papers captured in our peer-reviewed literature search using the keywords “global warming” and “global climate change” that didn’t say anything about the causes of global warming. These are broad search terms, and Lewis’ expectation that every climate-related paper must discuss the causes of global warming is an example of impossible expectations. Lewis also advanced this revealingconspiracy theory:

“People get suspicious when government-appointed experts define “the science” for the purpose of advancing an agenda that just happens to increase government control of energy markets.”

In reality, by acknowledging that he and his fellow climate contrarians are suspicious of the expert consensus because they don’t like its implications, Lewis is admitting that the global warming ‘debate’ isn’t about science. Read more at The Guardian.


From → Analysis

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