Conservative media’s attacks on climate science effectively erode viewers’ belief in scientists
When conservatives come away from Fox News feeling ever more certain that climate change is a hoax, it may have something to do with an overall attack on scientists as authorities to be trusted.
So argues a paper published in the August issue of peer-reviewed journal Public Understanding of Science, which connects the conservative disbelief in man-made climate change to a media-driven effort by conservatives to foment broad distrust of scientists.
“Cause and effect is always perilous,” said Jay Hmielowski of the University of Arizona, one of the authors of the study, to Raw Story. But of the conservative media’s attempts to portray climate science in a negative light, “it’s clear that their communication about scientists and global warming is effective.”
The authors used a polling sample of media consumption habits and political views taken in 2008, then compared a smaller sample from the same group reinterviewed about two-and-a-half years later. Researchers asked them which media outlets they watched and listened to, along with their belief in climate science and their trust of scientists.
More consumption of media identified as conservative – Fox News, Rush Limpaugh and the like – correlated positively with both a loss of trust in the scientific community and a lack of belief that climate change was happening, Hmielowski said. And more consumption of other kinds of news media led to more trust in scientists and a greater degree of belief in climate change. Attitudes polarized over time, in direct relation to the amount and type of media consumed.
“What you’re seeing at the first time point is leading to belief in the second time point,” Hmielowski said.
The irony, though, is that an academic study examining conservative media resistance to climate science may itself be likely to win an attack by the conservative media. Hmielowski, citing previous academic studies, noted that “this coverage often includes specific critiques of mainstream scientists such as ‘the denigration of peer-reviewed, scholarly journals and scientific institutions by contrarian scientists’.”
But Hmielowski thinks he’s probably safe. “We’re not going after them directly – I mean, we’re showing that their message is effective – so I can’t imagine that they’re going to react to it.”