Representation of climate science doubters in some print media vs. cimate scientists, following release of the 2013 IPCC report. Graphic: Media Matters

By Max Greenberg, Denise Robbins, and Shauna Theel
10 October 2013

(Media Matters) – A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.

UN Report Showed Warming To Be "Unequivocal." The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, the first part of which was released in September 2013 along with a Summary for Policymakers, found that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and will continue under all greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Further, the panel found that human influence is now thought "extremely likely" -- representing 95 percent certainty -- to be the "dominant cause" of global warming since the mid-20th century. [IPCC, 9/27/13]

Half Of Print Outlets Used False Balance On Existence Of Manmade Warming. Surveys have shown that 97 percent of peer-reviewed literature and climate scientists accept that human activities are a major factor causing global warming -- only 3 percent do not accept this consensus position. Yet doubters comprised over 18 percent of those quoted by Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post -- giving this minority view over five times the amount of representation it has in the scientific community. Half of those quoted in The Wall Street Journal were doubters, about 29 percent in Los Angeles Times, about 17 percent in The Washington Post and about 12 percent in Bloomberg News.

Four other major print outlets --The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters and USA TODAY -- avoided false balance in their coverage of the report. With these outlets included, almost eight percent of print media quotes were from those casting doubt on manmade warming.

CBS Gave Doubters More Than Six Times Their Representation In Climate Science Community. CBS Evening News gave the head of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Benny Peiser -- who CBS described as one of the "skeptics" -- equal weight as a climate scientist, without noting that Peiser has no expertise in climate science in a segment titled "Globe not warming as previously thought." Doubters constituted 20 percent of those quoted on CBS -- over six times their representation in the climate science community. By contrast, ABC, NBC and CNN did not include false balance in their coverage. And although MSNBC quoted four doubters, these quotes came from a segment on Hardball in which host Chris Matthews and his guests rebutted the doubters. [Mother Jones, 10/7/13] [Carbon Brief, 2011] [CBS, CBS Evening News, 9/26/13]

Doubters Dominated On Fox News, The Majority Of Whom Were Unqualified. Fox News tipped the balance toward those on the opposite side of the facts, as 69 percent of guests and 75 percent of mentions cast doubt on climate science. Seventy-three percent of doubters hosted by Fox News had no background in climate science. [more]

STUDY: Media Sowed Doubt In Coverage Of UN Climate Report

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