Scientific facts about climate change are consistently misrepresented by two of the most popular media outlets in the U.S., according to a scientist advocacy group.
The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on Friday analyzing how climate science was presented in two of News Corp’s biggest flagship properties, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal, which sit atop the prime-time cable-television news viewership and national newspaper circulation lists, respectively.
Over a recent six-month period, Fox News misled prime-time viewers about climate science in 93 percent of the cases UCS examined -- 37 of 40 instances. Meanwhile, in 39 of 48 instances in the Wall Street Journal opinion section, when climate science was addressed over a yearlong period, it was misrepresented or mocked, according to the report.
The only depictions of climate science in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section that the group found legitimate were in letters from readers responding to misleading editorials and columns, according to UCS climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, who spoke at a UCS panel on media and climate science in New York on Friday.
Even though UCS acknowledges that opinion pages are a place for editorialization, Ekwurzel said, “We don’t think it’s an evidence-free zone."
The UCS report cited several examples of Wall Street Journal or Fox News contributors dismissing climate science, disparaging or mocking climate scientists and cherry-picking scientific evidence to undermine the fact that most scientists agree that global warming is occurring and is driven by human activity.
“We are in the middle of what you might call a global-warming bubble. It is a failure of the global-warming theory itself and of the credibility of its advocates,” Robert Tracinski wrote in a column published by the Wall Street Journal opinion section in March.
Asserted in a March 23 segment on Fox News, according to the report, “[T]he green energy stuff, I mean, that’s, that’s all a hoax and a fraud based on another hoax and fraud, global warming.”
While some individual scientists are skeptical about the tenets of human-driven climate change, there is a broad consensus among climatologists -- 97 percent to 98 percent of them agree that climate change is occurring and that it is driven by human activity, according to a 2010 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
When a broader spectrum of scientists is surveyed, there is still an overwhelming majority that aligns with the consensus of anthropogenic climate change. An October 2011 paper by George Mason University researchers surveyed 489 scientists working in academia, government and industry and found that 84 percent agreed that human-induced greenhouse warming is in effect. Only 5 percent disagreed with the statement that human activity is a primary driver of global warming.
Plus, most professional American scientific organizations, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, acknowledge that there is a broad scientific consensus on climate change.
But a May 2011 survey from Yale University and George Mason University found that only 39 percent of the public thinks that most scientists agree on global warming.
That gap, UCS says, is largely based on the information they’re getting from the media. And while there is definitely a healthy debate to be had about how to respond to climate change, the organization says, there cannot be a debate on scientific fact.
Time magazine senior writer Bryan Walsh, speaking at the UCS panel on Friday, said that many outlets create a sense of “false balance” with respect to climate change as part of a desperate need to appear as objective and unbiased as possible.
“It’s this needing another side to a story that doesn’t have two sides,” Walsh said.
Plus, Walsh said, climate change is unfolding on a long timescale, which is often hard to capture in the constant drum of the 24-hour-news cycle.
Ekwurzel said that one way News Corp. could improve its climate-science coverage is to follow the example of the BBC, which recently conducted an internal investigation into its own reporting on climate change.
Representatives of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and News Corp. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
News Corp. properties aren’t the only media outlets that are receiving heat for their climate-science reporting -- a recent PBS "NewsHour" report on global warming that featured climate-change skeptic and meteorologist Anthony Watts has prompted the public broadcaster’s ombudsman to respond, calling it a "stumble" for the newscast.
Although "NewsHour" journalists did note there is a broad scientific consensus on climate change, “what was stunning to me as I watched this program is that the NewsHour … had picked Watts -- who is a meteorologist and commentator -- rather than a university-accredited scientist to provide ‘balance,’” ombudsman Michael Getler wrote on Friday.