Climate Contrarians Overrepresented in Media Coverage, New Survey Finds

Scientific survey finds media may be skewing its coverage of climate science by seeking out views of a small minority who questions man-made warming.

Scientific work conducted by scientists for NASA in the Arctic. In an opinion survey of 1,900 scientists, some 90 percent of the most-expert respondents agreed that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the dominant driver of recent global warming. Credit: NASA

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There is an overwhelming consensus among expert scientists studying climate change that man-made pollution is the main cause of global warming. But the media may be skewing its coverage of the issue by persistently seeking out the views of a contrarian minority, according to a new study.

In an opinion survey of nearly 1,900 scientists, 90 percent of the respondents with more than 10 peer-reviewed articles to their name “explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases being the dominant driver of recent global warming,” the study found.

It was written by scientists in the Netherlands and Australia, and published in Environmental Science and Technology.

The degree of the consensus was not surprising, as scientists said they basically agreed with findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which has itself generated exhaustive consensus documents. Surveys of published literature have likewise demonstrated the breadth of the scientific consensus on man-made climate change.

“We are confident that most of the main players in climate science were invited” to respond to the survey, the authors said. And “it is likely that viewpoints that run counter to the prevailing consensus are somewhat magnified in our results” because, while a distinct minority, these contrarians were more likely to respond.

Conversely, it appears that press coverage about climate science may be overweighting the views of the minority.

Asked how often they have been covered in the media, those who reported the most contact with the press were those who most doubted the evidence for man-made global warming.

“These differences are statistically significant (n equals 0.01 and p equals 0.04, respectively, using the ‘Fisher’s exact test’),” the authors wrote, “and indicate that those who most strongly disagree with the discernible influence of anthropogenic GHGs [greenhouse gases] on climate are overrepresented in the media.”

Clarification: The authors’ full quote on their study’s statistically significant conclusions was added in the final paragraph of this story for clarification.