Fake News Reduces Climate Science Outreach

Reported this month in EOS, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, Climate scientists are slowing their publicity of new discoveries.  Inaccurate reporting, and reporting taken out of context are a scientists worst nightmare. In this day of fake news and radically divisive partisan reporting on climate science, the worst-nightmare is coming true.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has 64,000 members and is the preeminent earth science organization in the world with an annual meeting attendance of 24,000.

Yale an Marie Curie Institute forest scientist Thomas Crowther told AGU author Gabriel Popkin: “[Climate skeptics are] increasingly in power and making decisions about the world. And I would like to give them as little ammunition as possible. He said (their) “arguments are not based on logic but on passion. You’re not going to change their minds.”

The propagation of inaccurate climate science reporting through social media has decimated climate science education efforts. Scientists are learning the hard way that if they publicize their findings, somebody is going to take their words out of context and create news that does not reflect reality.

This is not only bad for the commons, but think of how it impacts scientists’ reputations. Other scientists, who may not specialize in whatever discipline is being mechanized as an attack, view the attacked scientists with disdain, because those others cannot possibly read all the science. But they do watch the news and their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Because social media in particular tends to feed individuals posts that are rich in key words that that individual consumes, disproportionately, climate scientists receive more of these deceiving reports. And they can’t tell they are deceiving because they cannot possibly read all of the foundational science where contextually false information has been hijacked.

These tactics are right of the Climate Change Counter Movement’s (CCCM) playbook. The CCCM is exactly what it sounds like. Their fundamental principles are: cast doubt, present information out of context as fact, use emotions to overwhelm logic, prey on fear, threaten livelihoods.

The CCCM has an annual budget of an astonishing $900 million. This money is not all earmarked for climate science denial, but it all supports the platform of those who spend. Drexel and Harvard first labelled the CCCM and their work identified over a hundred conservative think tanks and policy institutes that engaged in negative climate science propaganda. The revenues supporting these organizations is not divided between the platform issues of these organizations (right to life, taxes, immigration, etc.), or at least, this information is not apparent in the IRS revenue records evaluated. And btw, Citizens United and their anonymous donations has made it very difficult to identify “all” funding to these institutions.

Because these institutions advocate for the election of public official, the $900 million annually supports their entire platform. Impacts are obvious and have radically changed America’s climate change priorities at a time when further delay allows abrupt change initiations to continue to move towards completion.

Popkin, Rise of Distorted News Puts Scientists on Their Guard, EOS, October 2, 2017.

More on the Climate Change Counter Movement:

How to Help: Communicate Wisely


What You Can do!