The Climate Knowledge Gap

Richard Harris of NPR has a story that explores why Americans are so ignorant about climate change. Here’s how it begins:

The American public is less likely to believe in global warming than it was just five years ago. Yet, paradoxically, scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is real and caused largely by human activities.

Something a bit strange is happening with public opinion and climate change.

Anthony Leiserowitz, who directs the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication, delved into this in a recent poll. He not only asked citizens what they thought of climate change, he also asked them to estimate how climate scientists feel about global warming.

“Only 13 percent of Americans got the correct answer, which is that in fact about 97 percent of American scientists say that climate change is happening, and about a third of Americans just simply say they don’t know,” he said.

Most Americans are unaware that the National Academy of Sciences, known for its cautious and even-handed reviews of the state of science, is firmly on board with climate change. It has been for years.

Huh? Most Americans probably don’t know there is such a thing as the National Academy of Sciences, just as many of them don’t know who the U.S. Vice President is.

A bit farther down in the story, we come to this:

So does this public disbelief mean that Americans are becoming more anti-science?

Leiserowitz of Yale University says that’s not what his polls show.

“Most Americans have overwhelming trust in the science and trust in scientists,” he said.

But the public is largely unaware of the consensus because that’s not what they’re hearing on cable TV or reading in blogs.

Huh? Is NPR’s Harris opining here, or is he paraphrasing Leiserowitz? Either way, it’s hard for me to believe that average Americans are getting their information about climate change from cable TV or blogs.

16 Responses to “The Climate Knowledge Gap”

  1. Jeff Norris says:

    Wow one standard mental health question to evaluate if you are in touch with reality is a variation of who the VP is or the First Lady.  Perhaps we should change that to how many scientists say CC is happening.  🙂

  2. Sounds quite likely to me that cable TV ranks high as a source of information about climate change for average Americans. Blogs not of course, but cable TV, newspapers, magazines, radio: yes.

  3. Keith Kloor says:

    Bart, some stats:

    • 78% of Americans say they get news from a local TV station.
    • 73% say they get news from a national network such as CBS or cable TV station such as CNN or Fox News.
    • 61% say they get some kind of news online.
    • 54% say they listen to a radio news program at home or in the car.
    • 50% say they read news in a local newspaper.
    • 17% say they read news in a national newspaper such as the New York Times or USA Today.
    Most news consumers utilize multiple platforms for news, but online their range of specific outlets is limited. The majority of online news consumers (57%) say they routinely rely on just two to five websites for their news. Only 11% say they get their news from more than five websites and 21% regularly rely on just one site.

  4. Paul Kelly says:

    “hard for me to believe that average Americans are getting their information about climate change from cable TV or blogs.”
    I’m an average American and I’ve gotten all of my information about climate through blogs. I’d say average Americans get most of their information about just about everything from Paris Hilton to space exploration from cable TV and blogs.

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    Paul, you are not an average American, because unlike average Americans, you closely follow news and debate about energy and climate change issues.

    Americans who read (and comment on) climate blogs have an established interest in the issue that is not representative of the general population.

  6. grypo says:

    I’m confused.  The stats you gave say that Paul and Bart are pretty much right on.  I think the problem is in the paragraph after the stats. People find a source they like and stick with it.

  7. PDA says:

    “Blogs” may be inaccurate, but there is this:

    61% say they get some kind of news online.


    75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% say they share links to news with others via those means.
    51% of social networking site (e.g. Facebook) users who are also online news consumers say that on a typical day they get news items from people they follow. Another 23% of this cohort follow news organizations or individual journalists on social networking sites.

    I have few friends who have RSS feed readers any more… I have a LOT of friends who read blog posts on someone’s Facebook wall, however. My 71 year old mom sends me blog posts on FB.
    I parsed Harris’s comment as “the public is largely unaware of the consensus because that’s not what they’re hearing from news sources that reflect their preconceptions.” If the data say that a significant percentage of the population gets their news from cable, radio and Facebook, seems like he’s correct.

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Let me put it this way: It think the average American news consumer is like my wife, who goes online (usually the MSN or CNN homepage) several times a day to stay up on the headline news.

    That’s it.

  9. I’m also slightly confused by this; wouldn’t cable TV cover MSN, CNN, and Fox? Watching those three (particularly the latter), I wouldn’t get the impression of scientific consensus on the issue. That said, opinions on the subject are likely more strongly influenced by political views than news content per se, though its difficult because personal politices is also correlated with the news people seek out (e.g. CNN vs. Fox).

  10. Howard says:

    I think the story you linked to on catastrophe fatigue explains the so-called knowledge gap.  Remember, it’s your fault that Americans are not swallowing the consensus.  Speaking of RayPierre, I saw him in Oakland last night:

  11. Jack Hughes says:

    Science has travelled a long way from the old days of measurements and observations.
    We now do it by an opinion poll of what people think that other people think about what scientists think about other scientists.

  12. Menth says:

    @11 LOL
    Comment of the day in my books.

  13. EdG says:

    “Yet, paradoxically, scientists are more confident than ever that climate change is real and caused largely by human activities.”

    The question of the accuracy of this statement aside – it is false – the truly stupid thing about it is the way it says “scientists” – as though that was some kind of separate species with a monolithic belief system.

    Just the opposite in REAL science. This applies to ideologically driven group think, as in The Consensus or Lysenkoism.

    The reason more people are becoming sceptical about The AGW story is because they are becoming less ignorant, and understand just how corrupted the so called ‘scientific’ process supporting the AGW project has become. Pal review and all that. And the hysterical wolf crying from their enablers and promoters does not help. Nor do all the ridiculously ‘certain’ predictions.

    Climategate was the tipping point.

  14. TimG says:

    I think people put too much weight on polls. I think most people give the answers that convey what they want politicians to hear. i.e. if they dont want politicians to pass climate legislation they will tell posters that they think AGW is bunk. Their actual opinion may be more nuanced.

  15. harrywr2 says:

    <i>scientists are more confident than ever</i>
    The captain of the Titanic was a pretty confident guy as well before he hit that iceberg.

  16. stan says:

    97% of scientists?!

    What kind of fool publishes garbage like that?

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