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

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.

Fox News false balance

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 piece by 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 (Diethelm & McKee 2009):

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 revealing conspiracy 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.

Lewis and his colleagues at Fox News and throughout the conservative media have an ideological opposition to some climate solutions. Opposition to climate solutions is nearly impossible to justify if the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming is correct. Thus Lewis and his colleagues work backwards from their predetermined conclusion that the expert consensus must be wrong, finding anyone who will tell them what they want to believe, and amplifying the voices of those climate contrarians.

In his opinion piece, Lewis finally did admit the root cause of Fox News' biased global warming coverage.

"...many experts regard cap-and-trade and the like as a cure worse than the alleged disease."

Those who oppose cap and trade (a Republican invention) should join the debate about the best climate solutions policies. For example, a growing number of conservatives support a revenue neutral carbon tax, which is a free market solution that doesn't significantly increase the size of government. It's also a solution that's been implemented in British Columbia with great success and popularity.

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Posted by dana1981 on Wednesday, 23 October, 2013

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