Spin or Science

Powerful Essays
Science or Spin?
Assessing the Accuracy of Cable News
Coverage of Climate Science
Aaron Huertas
Rachel Kriegsman
April 2014

Our national debate about climate policy is broken. Too often, policy makers and other public figures make misleading statements that question whether climate change is humaninduced—or is even occurring at all—rather than debating whether and how to respond to risks from climate change that scientists have identified. Media outlets can do more to foster a fact-based conversation about climate change and policies designed to address it. Such conversations can help audiences base their positions on climate policy on accurate climate science, as well as their varying political beliefs, attitudes, and values.
To gauge how accurately elite media outlets inform audiences on climate science, we analyzed climate science coverage across the three major cable news networks: Cable News Network (CNN), Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. We found that the accuracy of this coverage varied significantly across networks. In
2013, 70 percent of climate-science-related segments on CNN were accurate,
28 percent of Fox News Channel segments were accurate, and 92 percent of such segments on MSNBC were accurate.
In this report, we discuss social science related to public perceptions of physical science, provide a brief overview of our methods (covered in more detail in the online appendix at www.ucsusa.org/scienceorspin), present results for each network, and discuss each network’s coverage. We present recommendations and suggestions for climate science coverage that could serve to improve the scientific accuracy of public discussions about potential responses to climate change.

Accurate Science Coverage Makes Our
Democratic Dialogues on Climate
Change Stronger
Statements from policy makers and related media coverage exert significant influence on public attitudes toward climate change (Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins 2012). CNN, Fox



References: Brulle, R.J., J. Carmichael, and J.C. Jenkins. 2012. Shifting public opinion on climate change: An empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the U.S., 2002–2010. Costello, C. 2014. Why are we still debating climate change? CNN. com. Online at http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/24/opinion/ costello-debate-climate-change/, accessed February 24, 2014. Enda, J., M. Jurkowitz, A. Mitchell, and K. Olmstead. 2013. How Americans get TV news at home Project. Online at http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/11/ how-americans-get-tv-news-at-home, accessed February 4, 2014. Feldman, L., E. Maibach, C. Roser-Renouf, and A. Leiserowitz. 2011. org/2013/cable-a-growing-medium-reaching-its-ceiling/cableby-the-numbers, accessed February 4, 2014. Huertas, A., and D. Adler. 2012. Is News Corp. failing science? Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/ Is-News-Corp-Failing-Science.pdf, accessed February 27, 2014. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2012. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2013. Climate change 2013: The physical science basis Jones, S. 2011. Review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science bbctrust/our_work/editorial_standards/impartiality/science_ impartiality.html, accessed March 7, 2014. Kahan, D., H. Jenkins-Smith, and D. Braman. 2010. Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research 14(2):147–174. Kenneally, T. 2014. Cable news ratings 2013: Fox tops while CNN slides into second fox-news-cnn-msnbc-cable-news-ratings, accessed February 4, 2014. Knox, M. 2014. The top cable news shows in 2014 were... TV Newser. Online at http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/the-top-cablenews-shows-of-2013-were_b208967, accessed February 4, 2014. Rosenthal, and J. Marlon. 2014. Climate change in the American mind: Americans’ global warming beliefs and attitudes in November, 2013. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. National Air and Space Administration (NASA). 2013. Ask a climate scientist: Global warming pause? Online at http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=MmoYStB-Rzw, accessed February 21, 2014. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2012. Reports/2012/NOAA_SLR_r3.pdf, accessed February 5, 2014. National Research Council (NRC). 2011. America’s climate choices. 22, 2014. Nuccitelli, D. 2013. The global climate continues to warm rapidly. Skeptical Science. Online at http://www.skepticalscience.com/ ipcc-global-warming-pause.htm, accessed February 4, 2014. Oreskes, N., and E. Conway. 2010. Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to Peterson, T., M. Connolley, and J. Fleck. 2008. The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus Pew Research Centers for the People and the Press (Pew). 2013. GOP deeply divided over climate change. Online at http:// www.people-press.org/2013/11/01/gop-deeply-divided-overclimate-change, accessed February 4, 2014. Russell, M., G. Boulton, P. Clarke, D. Eyton, and J. Norton. 2010. org/pdf/FINAL%20REPORT.pdf, accessed February 22, 2014. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). 2011. Debunking misinformation about stolen climate emails in the “Climategate” manufactured controversy global_warming/solutions/fight-misinformation/debunkingmisinformation-stolen-emails-climategate.html, accessed February 4, 2014.

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