November 2, 2011

Green Army: Theory and Doctrine

Global War on Disinformation

Robert Brulle [Sociologist, Drexel University]:
There is no statistical relationship between providing [scientific] information about climate change and levels of public concern. …
[What we really] need to focus on [are the elite cues: opinion leaders] coming to some sort of agreement that climate change is real [and] that we need to address it — before you’re going to see [any change in] public opinion …
(Inside the Climate Change “Countermovement", background interview for Climate of Doubt, PBS Frontline, 30 September, 2012)

George Marshall (1964):
In 2012 … global investment in renewable energy [reached] $244 billion [while] investment into exploration and development of new [oil and gas] reserves broke the $1 trillion barrier.
(Don't Even Think About It, 2014, p 174)

The Expert Consensus on Climate Change

In recent years, two studies have measured the level of agreement of human-caused warming in the scientific community. …

The first analysis of this type was by Naomi Oreskes, who in 2004 analysed publications in the Web of Science between 1993 and 2003 matching the search term 'global climate change'.
She found that out of 928 papers, none rejected the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.
Our paper builds upon this research.

We expanded the search to cover the 21 years from 1991 to 2011.
In addition to 'global climate change' papers, we also included papers matching the term 'global warming'.
This expanded the number of papers to over 12,000. …
Each abstract was [then] classified according to whether it explicitly or implicitly endorsed or rejected human-caused global warming, or whether it took no position on the cause of warming.

Out of the 12,000 papers, we identified just over 4,000 stating a position on human-caused global warming.
Among these 4,000 papers, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

In the second phase of our study, we asked the scientists who authored the studies to rate their own papers.
1,200 scientists responded to our invitation, so that just over 2,000 papers in total received a self-rating.
Among the papers that were self-rated as stating a position on human-caused warming, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. …

However, there is a significant gap between public perception and the actual 97% consensus.
When a US representative sample was asked how many scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, the average answer was around 50%. …

When people correctly understand that the scientists agree on human-caused global warming, they're more likely to support policy that mitigates climate change.
This consensus gap is directly linked to a lack of public support for climate action.
This underscores the importance of clearly communicating the consensus and closing the consensus gap.

(John Cook, Video Abstract, Environment Research Letters, 2013)

Cone of Silence

George Marshall (1964)

Psychological research finds that people who survive climate disasters, like people who escape car accidents unscathed, are prone to have a false sense of their own future invulnerability.
A large field study in an Iowa town that had been hit by a Force 2 hurricane found that most people had become convinced that they were less likely to be affected by a future hurricane than people in other towns.
The people in the areas that had suffered the most damage were often the most optimistic.
So it is hardly surprising, following the extreme floods in 2012 in Queensland, Australia, that few people made any attempt to reduce their vulnerability to flooding, and many residents chose instead to spend their disaster relief and insurance premiums on general home improvements such as installing new kitchens.
(p 9)

Confirmation bias is the tendency to actively “cherry-pick” the evidence that can support our existing knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.
These create a mental map — what psychologists would call a schema — and when we encounter new information we modify it to squeeze into this existing schema, a process psychologists call biased assimilation.
(p 14)

[Those who are unconvinced about climate change] are almost always strongly conservative in politics … and tend to be from the more affluent and powerful social groups.
They are very likely to be men and may display a low level of risk perception in other areas.
This [has been dubbed] the “white man effect” …
(p 28)

The governments of the European Union, … California, and … British Columbia have all declared a long-term target of reducing emissions by 80% within forty years.
So far, they have managed to achieve a meager half a percent reduction per year.
(pp 66-7)

[Two] thirds of people admit that they rarely or never talk about [climate change,] even inside the close circle of their friends and family members.
Women talk about it far less than men do, and as a group, younger women talk about it less than anyone, especially … those with children.
Another survey found that a quarter of people have never discussed climate change with anyone at all.
[It] seems that the most influential climate narrative of all may be the non-narrative of collective silence.
(pp 81-2, emphasis added)

(Don't Even Think About It, Bloomsbury, 2014)

Would you like to know more?


George Marshall: The Conspiracy of Silence

The Expert Consensus on Climate Change

Cultural Theory of Risk Perception

Cultural Cognition of Risk Perception

Balance as Bias

The Fairness Doctrine

Scientific Knowledge

The Deficit Model

Communication Strategies

Would you like to know more?

Theory And Doctrine

The Expert Consensus On Climate Change

  • Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, Environment Research Letters, 15 May, 2013.
    DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024.
    John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A Green, Mark Richardson, Barbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs and Andrew Skuce.
  • Expert credibility in climate change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 107 no 27 12107-12109, 6 July, 2010.
    William Anderegg, James Prall, Jacob Harold and Stephen Schneider.

    97-98% of 908 climate researchers who had published 20+ papers in the peer reviewed literature were CONVINCED that Anthropogenic Climate Change is underway.
    CONVINCED Researchers:
    [Those] who signed statements broadly agreeing … that it is “very likely” that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth's average global temperature in the second half of the 20th century.

    UNCONVINCED Researchers:
    [Those] who have signed statements strongly dissenting from the views of the IPCC.

    Scientific Expertise:
    [The] number of climate-relevant publications authored or coauthored by each researcher.
    About 80% of the UNCONVINCED group had published less than 20 papers indicating substantially less scientific EXPERTISE compared to the CONVINCED group (of whom 90% had published at least 20 papers).
    Scientific Prominence:
    [The] number of citations for each of the researcher's four most highest-cited papers …
    Citation counts of the 20% of UNCONVINCED group who had published at 20+ papers were 'substantially below that of CONVINCED researchers' indicating relatively less scientific PROMINENCE.


    Climate researchers who had published 20+ papers (n=908) ranked by EXPERTISE
    (number of climate publications)

    Number of ResearchersCONVINCEDUNCONVINCED
    Top 50482
    Top 100973
    Top 2001955

    The [UNCONVINCED] group comprises only 2% of the top 50 , 3% of researchers of the top 100, and 2.5% of the top 200 …

    [The] relative climate EXPERTISE and scientific PROMINENCE of the [UNCONVINCED researchers] are substantially below that of the CONVINCED researchers.
    (emphasis added)
    Would you like to know more?

  • Science and Global Warming, 2011.
    James Lawrence Powell: PhD in Geochemistry.
  • Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 90 (3): 22–23; 20 January, 2009.
    DOI: 10.1029/2009EO030002.
    Peter Doran & Maggie Kendall Zimmerman.

    This brief report addresses the two primary questions of the survey …

    1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

    2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

    … 3146 individuals [completed] the survey …
    [Of those respondents] who listed climate science as their area of expertise AND who [— in the past 5 years — had] published more than 50% of their … peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total) …
    • 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and
    • 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2.

    This is in contrast [to] polling that suggests that only 58% of the general public would answer yes to our question 2.
    (p 22)

    The two areas of expertise in the survey with the smallest%age of participants answering yes to question 2 were
    • economic geology with 47% (48 of 103) and
    • meteorology with 64% (23 of 36).
    (p 23)

  • The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol 306, p 1686, 3 December, 2004.
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618.
    Naomi Oreskes: Department of History and Science Studies Program, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla.

    The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the [Third Assessment Report] of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). …
    Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. …
    [Most] of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations …
    (Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Cambridge University Press, p 21)

    In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members’ expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. …

    The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies’ members.
    Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions.

    That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords ‘global climate change’ .
    The 928 papers were divided into six categories:

    1. explicit endorsement of the consensus position,
    2. evaluation of impacts,
    3. mitigation proposals,
    4. methods,
    5. paleoclimate analysis, and
    6. rejection of the consensus position.

    Of all the papers,
    • 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view;
    • 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change.

    [None] of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Balance As Bias

  • Balance as bias: global warming and the US prestige press, Global Environmental Change, 14: 125–136, 2004.
    Maxwell Boykoff: Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of Oxford.
    Jules Boykoff: Political Science, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University.

    Balance as bias: anthropogenic global warming coverage

    [In] the majority (52.65%) of coverage in the US prestige press, balanced accounts prevailed;
    these accounts gave ‘roughly equal attention’ to the view that humans were contributing to global warming, and the other view that exclusively natural fluctuations could explain the earth’s temperature increase.
    This supports the hypothesis that journalistic balance can often lead to a form of informational bias.

    Coverage that emphasized the existence of anthropogenic contributions to global warming — as distinct from natural variation—but still presented both sides of the debate represented over a third (35.29%) of the relevant articles sampled.
    This type of coverage most closely mirrored the scientific discourse itself.

    … 6.18% of all stories emphasized the dubious nature of the claim that anthropogenic contributions to global warming exist …

    … 5.88% carried exclusive coverage of the existence of anthropogenic contributions to global warming.
    (p 128, italics added)

    Balance as bias: global warming coverage regarding action

    [The] scientific community has reached general consensus that immediate and mandatory actions are necessary to combat global warming.
    In 1988, the majority of news attention concentrated on immediate and mandatory action.
    In 1989, this decreased, but was still the focus of significant US prestige-press coverage.
    (p 130)

    However, from 1990 to 2002, the majority of relevant coverage was devoted to balanced accounts of action regarding global warming.
    This is similar to the shift that occurred in coverage of the existence of anthropogenic contributions to global warming.
    (p 131)

  • Climate change and journalistic norms: A case-study of US mass-media coverage, Geoforum, 5 January, 2007.
    Maxwell Boykoff: Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of Oxford.
    Jules Boykoff: Political Science, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University.


    [Adherence] to first-order journalistic norms — personalization, dramatization, and novelty — significantly influence the employment of second-order norms — authority-order and balance — and that this has led to informationally deficient mass media coverage of [climate change].
    (p 1)

    Climate change, the mass-media and journalistic norms

    The mass-media are key actors in the identification and interpretation of environmental issues [because] scientific findings usually require translation into more colloquial terms in order for it to be comprehensible.

    First-order journalistic norms

    • [Personalization]

      [The] media tend to personalize social issues, focusing on the individual claims-makers who are locked in political battle.
      [The] macro is foregone in favor of the micro …
      [Analysis is] skipped over in favor of personalized stories that stress the trials and tribulations of individuals.

    • [Dramatization]
      [News] dramas emphasize crisis over continuity, the present over the past or future, conflicts [while downplaying] complex policy information, the workings of government institutions, and the bases of power behind the central characters.
      Dramatized news tends to eschew … analysis of the enduring problems, in favor of covering the spectacular machinations that sit at the surface of events.
      [Scientific] language of uncertainty and probability does not help the issue of global warming conform to this dramatization norm …
      [The] journalistic valuation of drama can serve to trivialize news content [or to ignore altogether] news that does not hold an immediate sense of excitement or controversy.

    • [Novelty]
      Stocking and Leonard:
      It ain’t news unless it’s new …
      [There] is a “repetition taboo” whereby journalists reject stories that have already been reported in favor of news that is fresh, original, and new …

    Second-order journalistic norms

    [These first-order norms —] through influences on the selection of news … content [—] initiate and inform a set of second-order journalistic norms.
    (p 3)

    • [Authority-Order]

      [Journalists] tend to primarily, and sometimes solely, consult authority figures — government officials, business leaders, and others — who reassure the public that order, safety, and security will soon be restored.

    • [Balance]

      [Balance] can serve as a crutch for reporters when they lack the requisite scientific background or knowledge, or are facing … time constraints.
      [The] proclivity to personalize news dovetails … with the notion of balance in that it leads to the scenario of the dueling scientists.
      These opposing scientists, who receive ‘roughly equal attention,’ create the appearance of a hot scientific debate between the upper echelons of the science community, which [hides] the fact that on one ‘side’ there are thousands of the world’s most reputable climate-change scientists who vigorously engage the process of peer review, while on the other side there are only a few dozen naysayers who generally have not had their skeptical assertions published in peer-reviewed publications.
      The result of ‘balanced’ reporting, then, is an aura of scientific uncertainty.
      This scientific uncertainty is, in turn, a powerful political tool.
    (p 4)

The Fairness Doctrine

  • Decline and fall, New Scientist, pp 39-42, 29 October, 2011.
    Shawn Lawrence Otto.

    [In 1987] the Federal Communications Commission set aside the fairness doctrine.
    Until that time, broadcasters who use the public airwaves were required to present controversial subjects and to present them fairly.
    Once the doctrine was set aside, a new breed of radio and television newscaster took over.
    Rush Limbaugh and others earned massive ratings by voicing outraged opinions on political matters.

    At the same time, cable TV and the internet were coming online …
    [News] had to compete with entertainment, and so became more emotional and opinionated.

    [Journalists] with a postmodern education decided that "objective" reporting was simply getting varying views of the story [rather than] taking a position on what represented reality.
    "It's not our role," explained White House correspondent David Gregory when asked why he didn't [challenge] George W Bush on [the] rationale for going into Iraq.

    "[False] balance" now pits … climate scientists against deniers [and] gives undue exposure to extreme views …
    [This] has been compounded by the elimination of most science and investigative reporters from cash-strapped newsrooms.
    (p 41)

  • Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

    The appeal to journalistic balance … evidently resonated with writers and editors, perhaps because of the influence of the Fairness Doctrine.
    Under this doctrine, established in 1949 … broadcast journalists were required to dedicate airtime to controversial issues of public concern in a balanced manner.
    (The logic was that broadcasts licenses were a scarce resource, and therefore a public trust.)
    While the doctrine did not formally apply to print journalism, many writers and editors seem to have applied it to the tobacco question, because throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s, newspapers and magazines presented the smoking issue as a great debate rather than as a scientific problem in which evidence was rapidly accumulating … against tobacco's safety.
    Balance was interpreted, it seems, as giving equal weight to both sides, rather than giving accurate weight to both sides.

    Even the great Edward R. Murrow fell victim to these tactics.
    In 1956, Hill and Knowlton (Note 1) reported on a conference held with Murrow, his staff, and their producer, Fred Friendly:
    The Murrow staff emphasized the intention to present a coldly objective program with every effort made to tell the story as it stands today, with special effort toward a balanced perspective and concrete steps to show that the facts still are not established and must be sought by scientific means such as the research activities the Tobacco Industry Research Committee will support.
    … As David Halberstam has put it, Murrow was not ashamed to take the side of democracy, and felt no need to try to get the Nazi perspective or consider how isolationists felt.
    There was no need to "balance Hitler against Churchill."

    Yet Murrow fell prey to the tobacco industry's insistence that their self-interested views should be balanced against independent science.
    Perhaps, being a smoker, he was reluctant to admit that his daily habit was deadly and reassured to hear that the allegations were unproven.
    (p 19)

    Did [the tobacco advocates] deserve equal time?
    The simple answer is no.
    While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense in a two-party political system, it does not work for science, because science is not about opinion.
    It is about evidence.
    It is about claims that can be, and have been, tested through scientific research — experiments, experience, and observation — research that is then subject to critical review by a jury of scientific peers.
    Claims that have not gone through that process — or have gone through it and failed — are not scientific, and do not deserve equal time in a scientific debate.
    (p 32)

  • Decline and fall, New Scientist, pp 39-42, 29 October, 2011.
    Shawn Lawrence Otto.

    [In 1987] the Federal Communications Commission set aside the fairness doctrine.
    Until that time, broadcasters who use the public airwaves were required to present controversial subjects and to present them fairly.
    Once the doctrine was set aside, a new breed of radio and television newscaster took over.
    Rush Limbaugh and others earned massive ratings by voicing outraged opinions on political matters.

Scientific Knowledge

  • Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

    We think that science provides certainty, so if we lack certainty, we think the science must be faulty or incomplete.
    (p 267)

    History shows us clearly that science does not provide certainty.
    It does not provide proof. …

    Hearing "both sides" of an issue makes sense when debating politics in a two-party system, but there's a problem when that framework is applied to science.

    When a scientific question is unanswered, there may be three, four, or a dozen competing hypotheses [or] one generally accepted working hypothesis, but with several important variations or differences in emphasis. …
    Research produces evidence, which in time may settle the question …
    After that point, there are no "sides."
    [There] is simply the consensus of expert opinion on that particular matter.
    That is what scientific knowledge is. …

    [Modern] science is a collective enterprise. …
    We think of the great men of science — Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein — and imagine them as heroic individuals, often misunderstood, who had to fight against conventional wisdom or institutions to gain appreciation for their radical new ideas.
    (p 268)

    [However,] scientific ideas must be supported by evidence [that has been] judged by a jury of one's scientific peers.
    Until a claim passes that judgment — that peer review — it is only that, just a claim.
    What counts as knowledge are the ideas that are accepted by the fellowship of experts …
    (p 269)

    Sensible decision making involves acting on the information we have, even while accepting that it may well be imperfect and our decisions may need to be revisited and revised in light of new information.
    For even if modem science does not give us certainty, it does have a robust track record.
    We have sent men to the moon, cured diseases, figured out the internal composition of the Earth, invented new materials, and built machines to do much of our work for us …
    While these practical accomplishments do not prove that our scientific knowledge is true, they do suggest that modem science gives us a pretty decent basis for action.
    (p 273)

Communication Strategies

  • Don't tell it so straight, New Scientist, pp 42-25, 29 October, 2011.
    Peter Aldhous.

    Cultural filters … explain why some social conservative — including [Republican presidential nominee, Michele] Bachmann — are willing to believe anecdotal reports that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can cause mental retardation.
    Here, evidence that the vaccine is effective and poses little risk is being filtered through the fear that a product designed to protect against a sexually transmitted virus will encourage promiscuity among teenage girls.
    (p 43)

    [Studies] of communication provide a recipe to allow science to better inform US political debate:
    • find frames that work with broad section of the population …
    • seek allies from across the political spectrum …
    • remember that a graph can be worth a thousand words.
    (p 45)

  • You’ve been framed: six new ways to understand climate change, The Conversation, 5 July, 2011.
    Mike Hulme.

    [There are] six powerful frames through which climate change is presented in public discourse:
    • [Market] failure
      [Policy interventions] which seek to “correct” the market by introducing pricing mechanisms for greenhouse gases.
      Climate change when framed as a “manufactured risk” focuses on the inadvertent downsides of our ubiquitous fossil-energy based technologies.
      It lends itself to a policy agenda which promotes technology innovation as the solution to climate change.
    • [Global] injustice
      [Climate] change is presented as the result of historical and structural inequalities in access to wealth and power and hence unequal life chances.
      Climate change is all about the rich and privileged exploiting the poor and disadvantaged. …
    • [Overconsumption …]
      [Too] many (rich) people consuming too many (material) things.
      If this is the case then policy interventions need to be much more radical than simply putting a price on carbon or promoting new clean energy technologies.
      The focus should be on dematerialising economies or else on promoting fertility management.
    • [Mostly] natural
      Human influences on the global climate system can only be small relative to nature and so the emphasis should be less on carbon and energy policy and more about adaptation: enabling societies to cope with climate hazards irrespective of cause.
    • [Planetary] “tipping points”
      Climate change carries with it the attendant dangers of pushing the planetary system into radically different states.
      Such “tipping points” may be reached well before carbon markets, clean energy or economic de-growth will be attained and so new large-scale climate intervention technologies — a so-called Plan B — need to be developed and put on stand-by.
    These six frames around climate change all attract powerful audiences, interests and actors in their support.
    All of them — with the exception of climate change as mostly natural — would be broadly consistent with the scientific knowledge assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Would you like to know more?


  1. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

    [In December 1953] the presidents of four of America's largest tobacco companies — American Tobacco, Benson and Hedges, Philip Morris, and US Tobacco [met with] John Hill, founder and CEO of one of America's largest and most effective public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton …
    [The] industry did what Hill and Knowlton advised.
    They created the "Tobacco Industry Research Committee" to challenge the mounting scientific evidence of the harms of tobacco.
    They funded alternative research to cast doubt on the tobacco-cancer link.
    They conducted polls to gauge public opinion and used the results to guide campaigns to sway it.
    They distributed pamphlets and booklets to doctors, the media, policy makers, and the general public insisting there was no cause for alarm.
    (pp 15-16)

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