New Drought Study Is Huge. Media Yawns. Why?

Pretty much anything you can think of is being worsened by global warming. We know this because there are studies about such things that get well reported in the media. That’s how I know that climate change is affecting football, chocolate, wine, allergies, food prices, summer, wildfires, storms, and drought. (Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list.) That last one–drought–has received a lot of press, and as regular readers know, is a longtime interest of mine.

So it’s no surprise that I find this new study in Nature fascinating. As reported in Science News, the researchers seem to have discovered that “the standard method of assessing drought has exaggerated drying trends over the past 60 years.” What is a surprise (to me, anyway) is that mainstream media has thus far ignored this major study. That’s perplexing, especially since there is a global warming context (see RPJ’s post). As science journalist John Fleck tweeted:

I wonder how much news coverage we’d see of a paper saying global drought trends were *worse* than we thought: 

Indeed, other than a few other science outlets, such as the websites of Science magazine and New Scientist, there’s hardly any coverage–and none by the wire services, which is really surprising. Perhaps they and others will catch up. Meanwhile, I think Fleck has it right at his blog:

Some Good News Today on Climate Change: Less Drought than we thought

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why no environmental reporters have picked up on the story.

57 Responses to “New Drought Study Is Huge. Media Yawns. Why?”

  1. Jarmo says:

    You forgot coffee from your list things affected by AGW:

    The prospects are “profoundly negative,” the study concluded. Even in a best-case scenario, two-thirds of the suitable growing locations would disappear by 2080″”and at worst, nearly 100 percent. And that’s factoring in only climate change, not deforestation.

    Why report any good news? People might actually start thinking that the world will not come to an end.

    What we need in Europe is the repeat of 1953 North Sea storm surge. It would not kill 2000 people like it did back then but at least it would convince everybody that we need to act on global warming.

  2. Otter says:

    The good news about droughts Is being covered by many well-informed scientists / people, such as JoNova, Roger Pielke Jr, Anthony Watts and others. In response to jarmo, I note that Brazil has recently posted a record coffee crop. I also have to wonder why people Want others to die. You’d think perhaps he would notice, that North Sea storm surge happened long before CO2 even got close the 350 ppm, which was supposedly the ‘safe’ limit.

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    Other than Roger, I suspect that the “good news” is covered by Anthony Watts et al for the same reason the study is thus far ignored by others.  

  4. Otter says:

    I agree! The fact that droughts are Not getting worse, is something the mainstream media would not want people to know about.

  5. Joshua says:

    is something the mainstream media

    Ah yes. “The mainstream media.” We are such victims, aren’t we?

  6. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Back in 2006, an unpublished and much-caveated study by one of the co-authors of the new study caused a lot of excitement. ‘It is one of the most dire forecasts so far of the potential effects of rising temperatures around the world – yet it may be an underestimation, the scientists involved said yesterday’ (The Indie; the scientists also said it may be an overestimation, but shhhh!), ‘This means the death sentence for many people … we are effectively committing genocide’ (Christian Aid), ‘For hundreds of millions of people for whom getting through the day is already a struggle, this is going to push them over the precipice … The new projections on drought from the Hadley Centre are like being told that this is the day the earth catches fire’ (Andrew Simms, NEF), ‘We’re talking about 30 per cent of the world’s land surface becoming essentially uninhabitable in terms of agricultural production in the space of a few decades’ (Mark Lynas), ‘Within 100 years, some 30 percent of Earth [sic] will be rendered essentially uninhabitable, leading to mass migrations and millions of environmental refugees’ (Joe Romm), etc.This time? Tumbleweed.Perhaps the lack of excitement is because the new study was based on only one GCM.No, that can’t be it. So was the 2006 study.A mystery, then.

  7. Mary says:

    My local NPR had a story yesterday on how journalism is failing on this issue.

    Has The Media Failed In Covering Climate Change?

    I don’t think this is what they meant though.

  8. Nullius in Verba says:

    I agree with Keith on the contrast in media response. I’m not so sure it’s ‘huge’. It’s one study, that disputes the methodology used in previous studies, but which is itself new and potentially open to challenge. I wouldn’t get too excited just yet.

    What’s interesting is that the reports of drought severity history turn out to be reconstructed, based on simple mathematical models of how quickly vegetation evaporates moisture. Since the models have a strong temperature dependence, rising temperatures naturally result in the appearance of more severe drought, irrespective of the true moisture content. The data is only as reliable as the model, and it appears the model is known to be very simplified.

    A better model has been found to reduce the observed changes, but it’s still a model. What if it’s not right, either?

    Personally, I regard drought status as very much a matter of regional/local climate, and relative to expectations anyway (drought in north Africa is not the same as drought in the Amazon), and current scientific understanding is very poor at the local level, with predictions not possible. I would expect there to be changes, I would expect things to move in both directions in different places, with no simple patterns, and I would expect things to improve for some people and get worse for others. And I would also expect it to be lost in the noise and chaos of the weather, for such trends to only show up over long periods, and for it to make relatively little noticeable difference to people’s day-to-day lives. We’ve always had droughts, and will continue to do so. The biggest factors affecting their future human impact will be the continuing advances in agricultural technology and international trade, not these small changes in their frequency.

    But I salute the way Keith brought the study up.

  9. Tom Fuller says:

    Well, something else will come along with our climate doom written on it. Never fear.–Oh, sorry. Always fear.

  10. Joshua says:

    I agree with Keith on the contrast in media response. I’m not so sure
    it’s “˜huge’. It’s one study, that disputes the methodology used in previous studies, but which is itself new and potentially open to
    challenge. I wouldn’t get too excited just yet.

    How do you conclude a “contrast in media response.” As you say, this is one study. It would be unrealistic to expect any one study to receive X degree of coverage. There are many studies all the time that receive no coverage. Is this study necessarily deserving of more attention simply because it runs counter to previous studies? Maybe, but I’m not sure that’s the case. If somehow this studied carried enough weight to somehow be conclusive, then certainly that would be the case. Does this study earn that descriptor?

    It is interesting to note that Keith draws a distinction in how RPJr and Watts et al cover this kind of study. In one sense I buy that distinction: if you look at RPJr’s post, it is appropriately qualified, using conditional syntax. I haven’t read Watts’ post on this subject, but I have rarely seen Watts be appropriately qualified and conditional in his approach. That is the difference between a scientific approach and a Wattsian approach.

    But on the other hand, there is a similarity in that both are very selective in how they go about elevating some evidence above other evidence – in such a way to push their agenda. And, of course, we see the same sort of selectivity amongst “realists.” 

    I think it is problematic when we assume that “the mainstream media” should be falling in line with the expectations of tribalists. Attributing causality to “the mainstream media” is highly complex, and over-simplifying that causality is more often a reflection of biases than any valid analysis. Certainly we could look at the debate about the election polls to see evidence of what I’m talking about. I”ll leave off specifically concluding statements  here so to not overly-antagonize some of my fans, but I think that some conclusions should be rather obvious.

  11. Cosmic Ray says:

    Jarmo said: What we need in Europe is the repeat of 1953 North Sea storm surge. It would not kill 2000 people like it did back then but at least it would convince everybody that we need to act on global warming.   Hmmm, back when that storm surge happened in 1953, CO2 levels were around 312ppm, well below the ‘safe level’ of 350 ppm. Funny how all of the world’s natural weather related disaster starting occurring after 1985 or so when CO2 surpassed 350 ppm… 

  12. harrywr2 says:

    What is a surprise (to me, anyway) is that mainstream media has thus far ignored this major study.

    It’s not a surprise to me. The ‘news media’ has always been highly dependent on the village crank for stories to write about. The village crank doesn’t blather on about things that are ‘better then we thought’.The phenomenon isn’t limited to climate journalism.A few years ago I got to sit in on an editorial meaning for a suburban newspaper. They were really having problems coming up with stories to write about. I suggested that this problem was the story. More then 200 years since the last murder, never been a recorded rape, only one reported case of  deadly infectious disease in the last 60 years, 40 years since a town son had died in a place called war etc etc… everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Fortunately/unfortunately the village crank showed up at the last minute with some nonsense crisis to write about.

  13. BillC says:

    Mary #7,I was in the car and unfortunately listened to that yesterday. Climate change isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

  14. BillC says:

    Climate change and Benghazi. Parallels? Discuss.

  15. Sundance says:

    @ New Drought Study Is Huge. Media Yawns. Why?The media only reports on studies that predict disasters involving starving, burning, drowning, etc. and obviously that’s what readers prefer. Who wants to go to a slasher movie where the slasher has a rubber knife or a chain saw with no gas?

  16. thingsbreak says:

    This is one paper. It’s getting a decent amount of press- the Christian Science Monitor and the Associated Foreign Press both have pieces up on it already. By contrast neither had a story about Dai 2012 back in August which was about drought and was an “alarming” paper.The premise that the press only covers papers saying things are/will be worse than we thought is wrong, and worse, it’s stupid.As a reminder, the press fell all over itself covering the flawed Schmittner LGM paper because of its implied LOWER climate sensitivity. It didn’t cover similar papers before it or after it showing a higher climate sensitivity from essentially the same data. It didn’t cover the rebuttals to it, or the authors agreeing with criticisms. The press indeed has a bias: it’s towards novelty.

  17. Howard says:

    The whole media bias meme is pathetic and boring.  Sure the media is biased.  Get over it.  The truth will out before any real harm is done.  People are used to the whipsawing of scientific conclusions back and forth between bliss and doom.  Keith, you are starting to sound like a whinging teabagger complaining about the MSM picking on Repugs.

  18. jim says:

    I don’t think the MSM “wants” us to know one thing or to not know another thing.   But headlines like “Nothing Unusual Is Happening” don’t make money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t occurr.

  19. Vinny Burgoo says:

    thingsbreak, the (supposedly denialist) WaPo covered the Dai paper. It’s odd that other outlets didn’t, especially in the middle of a US drought.A bias towards novelty? Agreed. ‘Man didn’t bite man!'(Correction: I was thinking of the wrong paper in my comment above. This one:

  20. Tom Scharf says:

    As Revkin rightly says, beware of “Single Study Syndrome”.  Papers that conclude that the existing data and thesis appear to be correct don’t get much notice, even though they are actually quite important.  So all of academia is pointed toward finding something shiny and new.  And media is always happy to report on something to fear.  

    We can of course contrast the droughts are worse meme with the floods are worse meme.  Activists like to pretend both are happening simultaneously with a straight face.  Don’t trust your intuition!  Scientists have written papers!  The models say so!  It’s consistent!  It is these kind of oxymoron’s that cause people to tune the cranks out.  

    Anyone who likes to pretend that activists aren’t predisposed to reporting global warming is making everything worse (and only worse) spend too much time in fairyland chasing unicorns.

    The opportunistic hindsight exploitation of run of the mill extreme events is shameless (Sandy! Texas drought!  Russian heat waves! Tornadoes!).  There is always this weird baseless hope that “this time” people will really be convinced.  This movement gave up credibility a decade ago.  

  21. andrew adams says:

    We can of course contrast the droughts are worse meme with the floods are worse meme. Activists like to pretend both are happening simultaneously with a straight face.  Why can’t some areas experience more drought whilst others have more floods? Or indeed the same areas experience both at different times. In the UK we have had both serious drought and floods in recent years.

  22. Nullius in Verba says:


    The UK has had a recent drought, the last few winters, and floods – but the meme is about having more than usual, and that’s not the case. People are interpreting weather still well within the normal range of variation and calling it all climate change.

    Yes, it’s entirely possible that a major climate shift (which we haven’t experienced yet) would change rainfall patterns, and you could even get more droughts and more floods even in the the same place, if it increased the serial autocorrelation of rainfall. But the simplistic ‘warmer air carries more moisture’ reasoning applied globally doesn’t make such predictions.

    Warmer air carries more moisture, hence more rain, and is thus less willing to release it, or more likely to have already released it, hence less rain. If you suppose the reasons why some areas have more or less rain than others still stand, you might think pushing more water into the system would intensify that. Or you might think that it is temperature contrasts that cause rain – warm moist air being suddenly cooled – and thus a world where minimum temperature rise faster than maximums would reduce temperature differences and hence cause less rainfall. Or you might think it will affect different locations differently, all the old reasons for the weather being as it is will change, and the effects will not be so neat and systematic and predictable at a local level.

    Since climate models are rubbish at predicting the local detail of climate today, they offer no guidance as to what it will be like in future, other than that it will probably be complicated.

    Plus there is the fact that what counts as drought or flood depends on what measures we have taken to manage water, which of course will shift as the climate changes and becomes the ‘new normal’. So, in a sense you won’t have more droughts and floods because the definitions of ‘drought’ and ‘flood’ will change as you adapt. (It’s like the definition of ‘poverty’, comparing today to 1850.)

    The UK only has droughts because we over-use water due to distorting subsidies, and we mainly had problems with floods because some bright spark a few decades back decided to permit house building on flood plains. The other ones that hit the news were flash floods off moorland, which have always happened at intervals, but have more impact now with denser population levels. Incompetence aside, technological adaptation has a much bigger effect on their incidence than the actual weather, and if the change is slow enough to match our normal infrastructure refresh cycle, it’s quite possible we wouldn’t even notice a difference. This isn’t 1650, when every twitch in the weather meant life or death for whole communities living right on the edge. We can more-or-less ignore it, now, and will be able to do so even more in the future.

  23. steven mosher says:

    Its not that hard Joshua. Journalists have come expect stories about how bad it is getting, how its worse than expected. they know how to react to something that confirms their bias. Accept it and pass it along. When they see something that disconfirms their bias… well they cant see it.
    Their is a word for that. you know it.

    why is it that you can only see AND DETAIL motivated reasoning on the part of some people. Ah yes, that’s your observer bias working. You do on occasion wave an arm about “bias’ on both sides, but you never actually prove you can see it by example.

  24. Joshua says:

    mosher –

    I do occasionally reference these biases amongst “realists.”  But whether I do or not is irrelevant to whether or not biases exist on the other side. It’s only relevant is if the subject is me, as opposed to the debate. No I know that I am a favorite subject of yours, but personally I find me as the subject to be less interesting than the debate as the subject.

    As for your point about observer-expectancy bias; yes, that would be a logical explanation for why some imbalance would exist. But there is also a counter-balancing bias in that publishing about studies that significantly undermine CW would attract a lot of attention – and in the end attracting attention is certainly an explicit goal of the media. And even if the bias you are expecting is greater than any counter-balancing biases – how do we measure the extent? Is it the same as some claim? Significantly less? Perhaps more?

    So in the end what would make sense is a scientific approach to the question, rather than presenting speculative theories based on nothing approaching validated data. We see claims all the time from “skeptics” and “realists” alike about media bias and how it influences this debate and public opinion on this issue. We see the exact same phenomenon on many other politically-charged debates and issues. But even the very definition of “MSM” being used is so vague as to be meaningless – (does it include Fox News, Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Ingrahm, Medved, the WSJ, the Daily Mail, Miller, O’Reilly, etc.?,  who selectively promote any evidence that contradicts the theory of AGW – even to the point of completely misrepresenting evidence such as was the case with Mojib Latif’s “global cooling’ nonsense).

    Do you know of some data that validate the observation that there is some systematic media neglect for an article like the one Keith posted about, as opposed to the amount of attention given to any single article that draws contrasting conclusions? We can point to some examples, no doubt, such as the attention given to the recent article by Hansen – but even that doesn’t prove systemic bias, and it doesn’t account for a related important question: Is the bias based on political affiliation as “skeptics” often claim, or is it merely based on the relative impact with regard to sensationalism?

    It seems to me that for whatever reason, there may be an expectation from some on the “skeptic” side that articles such as the one Keith posted about should actually receive attention that is disproportionate to their scientific significance, and when their expectations aren’t met they feel it reflects bias. If that is true, then ironically it would be a form of observer-expectancy bias. Bring on the data.

  25. Hugh K says:

    It is getting dangerously difficult to distinguish between the court jesters and the palace guards.  To disagree with either is to be labeled a denier, a teabagger, a racist, a sexist while relegated to the rear of the bus…and occasionally thrown under. It should come as no surprise to anyone that some degree of additional warming is to be experienced while Rome burns, regardless of how well-tuned the fiddle. Hot or cold, a majority of the citezens have become chambermaids and must now sleep in the bed they alone have made.

  26. Joshua says:

    Thanks for clearing things up, Hugh.

  27. Nullius in Verba says:


    There are two separate questions: whether the media coverage of climate change news is selectively pro-/anti- consensus, depending on venue, and whether this selectivity is more or less than it should be. On the first, I think everyone agrees that it is – you yourself said so with respect to Fox, etc. On the second, it of course depends where you stand.

    For people standing over here, the liberal media’s bias is annoying. For someone standing where you are, the difference in treatment is justified. But we both agree that there is a difference in treatment, so why you would ask for data to confirm it is a mystery to me.

    Anyway, here:

    You can see from figure 1 that general coverage is about 20%/60% for/against consensus on Fox, and 70%/0% on MSNBC. On scientific agreement in figure 2, Fox scored around 10%/40% for/against consensus, and CNN 55%/5% for/against. On the certainty of climate change (not sure what this means, I’d assume change is being distinguished from natural variation) the figures are 20%/30% for Fox and 70%/2% for CNN. For anthropogenic causes it’s 15%/30% Fox and 60%/2% CNN. In short, Fox is significantly more likely to show views against the consensus than for it, but at the same time is more ‘balanced’ in the sense that it shows opposing views proportionately more.

    How would this particular drought paper be categorised by this study? It opposes the consensus, emphasises scientific disagreement, downplays certainty, and ticks ‘not applicable’ on the anthropogenic check box since they say there is no detectable climate effect to be caused. This is exactly the sort of report the liberal media has been shown to report less of. Whether they’d be right to is, of course, a matter of opinion.

  28. Tom Scharf says:

    One of the clearest and most extreme cases of media bias was the US election in 2008.  It was so bad that the media started self reporting their own biases in self initiated studies, which is exceedingly rare.  The coverage in 2012 was much more balanced.  All this in an environment where studies on bias tend to be…well…biased.

    The BBC’s take on their own bias with AGW is that it is justified.  They even had a big meeting on it, recently reported (perhaps exposed is better word), where a bunch of NGO’s all decided there was no scientific justification to report the skeptics viewpoint.  Is this valid?  Maybe.  It has to be examined on a case by case basis.  One can bring up the carcasses of creationism and tobacco for examples where frequently reporting opposing views may not be warranted.  This of course should have no impact on the decision on AGW coverage.

    But it is one thing to not reflect opponents viewpoints on a knee jerk basis, and another to not report on clear and obvious flaws in the favored viewpoint.  The facts on extreme weather trends rarely get reported, only nebulous quotes from selected scientists on possible linkage.  The fact that both temperatures and sea levels are not accelerating (they are decelerating over the past 2 decades), directly contradicting the AGW theory, are simply ignored as apparently irrelevant.  The poor performance and low prediction skill of models that CAGW is dependent on.  Failure to report on these are examples of clear bias on important and relevant facts toward a favored position.      

    Does anyone dispute that these facts do not merit coverage by professional journalists?

    Instead we get doom and gloom, woe is us, soap opera type of story telling.

  29. Joshua says:

    NiV -That you put “balanced” in quotes seems to make it clear that you recognize the concept of “false balance.” I think that we agree that just because Fox has a more bi-lateral coverage does not necessarily translate to “more balance” relative to other news sources. A determination of “balance” or “more balance” would depend on quantifying the congruency between the coverage and the scientific evidence. Fox being more bilateral (say 20/60 “anti-AGW”)  might only mean “more balanced” as compared to a news source that is 100% “anti-AGW,” and “less balanced” than a source that is 100% “pro-AGW,” depending on the balance in the available evidence. And of course, that then gets back to the determination of what is “evidence.” W/r/t studies I’ve seen of peer-reviewed studies, 20/60 “anti-AGW” would be “less balanced” than coverage that is 90% “pro-AGW” in the sense of less more congruent with the conclusions of the published literature. And so then we get into the debate about whether “peer-review” is a valid measure of what is or isn’t valid evidence. Which leads to tribalism and flying Jell-o and so on, and so forth.

    The notion of a “liberal media” is bogus, IMO, although oft-repeated. If anything should make that obvious, it would be the recent election where the claims of “liberal bias” in coverage on the polls was proven bogus as were claims that there was an imbalance in the coverage of Romney and Obama, respectively (at least as seen in analysis of which candidate was the subject of more “negative” vs. “positive” stories.)

    Those on the left are absolutely convinced that the “mainstream media” is rightwing biased, and those on the right are absolutely convinced that the “mainstream media” is leftwing biased. The data show neither to be true and I find claims of bias – from both sides, to be poorly founded. Fox and MSNBC have coverage very much slanted to one side on virtually all issues. What is generally referred to as the “mainstream media” (a description I think is almost always used on a way that reflects those same biases) seems to me to be middle of the road. Everyone wants to be a “victim” and “the mainstream media” makes a very convenient bully.

    Anyway, if you have some data w/r/t “balance” as distinguished from what might well be “false balance,” (IOW, correlated to the balance in the evidence, no matter how imperfect or debatable,or contrary to my viewpoint such a determination might be), I’d like to see it.

    It seems to me that this specific debate is unnecessarily tedious. This is well-worn territory, and I would imagine that you could have anticipated my points just as I could anticipate those that you made. I take your putting balanced in quotes as an indication of such. One of these days, I look forward to when we can agree to certain obvious parameters and focus our discussion to what might be more fruitful. I have found that to be possible sometimes with some folks in these threads: JFP and Billc and even Harry come to mind. It would be nice if you and I could elevate our dialog likewise.

  30. Nullius in Verba says:


    Hmm. Well, sort of.

    The BBC’s ‘big meeting’ was part of a series of seminars apparently discussing how to introduce more climate change programming across the board. It’s not clear that this was where the decision was made – although that’s what the BBC said, it’s unlikely to be true.

    The story is that the constant complaints prompted the BBC Trust (the body responsible for ensuring impartiality) into mounting an enquiry into BBC bias on science. The report explained that they were justified in that decision by meetings held with top scientific experts, referring to the seminars. Sceptics immediately wanted to know who these top scientific experts were, since they didn’t believe it, and the BBC stonewalled, spending £140k+ on lawyers to keep it secret.

    Well, all the attention led Maurizio Morabito to do some serious digging, which turned up the list, which turned out to be a bunch of hippies and environmentalists. Not even the BBC could have been fooled into thinking they were top climate scientists, and it’s highly unlikely they would have made such a major editorial decision on that basis. So it appears they decided the policy by themselves, and the seminar was merely planning the execution. However, when their obvious and unfounded bias got called by the BBC Trust, they had to say something to justify themselves, and thus it was they started to weave their tangled web…

    The BBC doesn’t have such a problem with other unscientific beliefs. Their religious programming is quite extensive, and ‘Songs of Praise’ has no problem showing choirs singing ‘all things bright and beautiful’, for example. On religions they’re definitely very careful to be impartial. However, I would disagree that there’s any case for excluding even those – the right thing to do is to let them present their best arguments and show why they’re wrong. (Read ‘Areopagitica’ for the extended version.)

    I’d argue with your points about temperatures and sea levels decelerating – it depends on timescales and statistics – and they don’t directly contradict AGW theory – although the way some people have sold AGW you could be forgiven for thinking so. It’s just the same argument I have with the warmists when they try to use them only the other way round. They don’t actually tell you anything, either way.

    But yes, the BBC have been thoroughly corrupt over this. I’m not keen on some of the comparisons to other scandals that are being made, but at the same time I think it’s far more serious than mainstream coverage so far might suggest. Commercial enterprises can be politically biased if they want to – it’s their money, and freedom of speech – but state-run taxpayer-funded services are supposed to serve everybody. It’s our money, too.

  31. Joshua says:

    NiV –

    Thanks for that link. Haven’t had time to look at it in detail, but a quick look showed some interesting stuff:

    Interestingly, the data were not altogether supportive of the biased processing of cable news messages; instead, the evidence supported a model of direct persuasion, at least among Republicans. Although the negative association between Fox News use and global warming acceptance was stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, the positive association between CNN/MSNBC use and global warming acceptance was also stronger among Republicans. The former finding, taken in isolation, is consistent with biased processing. However, when considered along with the latter finding, it suggests a direct persuasion effect, in which the views of Republicans on global warming reflected the cable news outlet they watched, regardless of how well that news outlet aligned with their political predispositions. The views of Democrats, on the other hand, did not vary as a function of their cable news consumption.Differences in the strength of political ideology among Republicans who watched Fox News versus CNN/MSNBC were explored as a possible explanation for this finding. Although ideology was related to partisans’ cable news viewing, this could not fully account for Republicans’ disproportionate susceptibility to CNN/MSNBC and Fox News. Rather, Republicans’ greater willingness to accept the different views promulgated by these news sources could be a function of their high “need for closure” (Jost et al. 2003). Kruglanski (2004) argues that certain individuals possess a dispositional trait that makes them more likely to come to closure on an attitude object. Because of their lower tolerance for ambivalence, individuals who are high in need for closure are more affected by persuasive messages. At the same time, if Republicans are less attentive to or knowledgeable about climate change relative to Democrats, exposure to any specific message””and, in particular, to the distinct points of view offered on cable news””is likely to shape their opinions.


    However, contrary to models of motivated reasoning, this study provides only inconsistent evidence that the attitudes of opposing partisans who view the same cable news program polarize as a function of exposure; this was true of Fox News viewers but not CNN/MSNBC viewers. The most convincing evidence for polarization occurs across cable outlets (Fox vs. CNN/MSNBC), with viewers of the former emerging with different beliefs about climate change than viewers of the latter. When taken in concert with other, experimental research (Feldman 2011), this suggests that opinion polarization in the cable news environment occurs most clearly as a function of exposure, as opposed to biased processing of ideological news content.

    Not sure that I believe that the distinction they find between Repubs and Dems is generalizable – but interesting nonetheless.

  32. Joshua says:

    One obvious problem is that they assume a direction of causality between the source and the impact on the viewer without, it seems, controlling for the obvious possibility that Republicans with different proclivities watch different news sources.

  33. Nullius in Verba says:


    “That you put “balanced” in quotes seems to make it clear that you recognize the concept of “false balance.””

    I recognise it, but it wasn’t quite what I meant here. The intent was precisely to exclude such value judgements.

    “And so then we get into the debate about whether “peer-review” is a valid measure of what is or isn’t valid evidence.”

    It isn’t. Replicability is.

    “The notion of a “liberal media” is bogus, IMO, although oft-repeated.”

    Voter preferences of journalists are well-documented. There’s a liberal media and a conservative media, and the political distribution for journalists is shifted to the left of the rest of the population. As I said above, I don’t care, except where payment for it is compulsory or difficult to avoid.

    “If anything should make that obvious, it would be the recent election…”

    This argument doesn’t follow. However, it would just start another fruitless argument to try to explain why the narrative is wrong, so I’m not going to try.

    “It seems to me that this specific debate is unnecessarily tedious.”

    I agree. But it’s a sort of no-win deal. If we answer the demands for evidence, we get more and more argument, if we don’t, it’s assumed we don’t have an answer. But as you say, I’m sure you could have predicted my response almost as well as I could. Or at least, that I’d have an answer. Tribalism is not so easily resolved.

  34. Nullius in Verba says:


    Yes, agreed. One of numerous problems. But that sort of thing is pretty standard for social science.

  35. harrywr2 says:


    The notion of a “liberal media” is bogus, IMO, although oft-repeated.

    Actually the notion of a ‘factual media’ went out the window with NY Times vs Sullivan. One of the unintended consequences of insuring unlimited free political speech ended up being a standard that discouraged fact checking. I.E. If I don’t know what I am saying about public figure X is a complete fabrication then I can’t get sued for saying it, if I go and actually check my facts and then say it I can get sued.Broadcast News fact checking survived a little bit longer due to concerns about the FCC requirement for ‘public service’. Of course predominantly cable news stations have no FCC requirement for ‘public service’. The public service requirement has become so watered down that it is almost useless. I.E. Ratings can be used as evidence that programming is providing a public service. It’s been 8 years since I watched any television news program.It would appear from Pew’s survey of network news viewership that I’m not the only one that has given up watching network news. 50+ million nightly viewers in 1980 compared to 20+ million in 2010. looks biased because slop generally lacks nuance. Nuance is hard and takes work.I can demonstrate mathematically that all the statements below are true without even getting into externalizations.1) Solar PV is cheapest2) Coal Power is cheapest3) Nuclear power is cheapest4) Hydropower is cheapest5) Natural gas is cheapestI can also demonstrate mathematically that the above 5 statements are false without getting into externalizations. The reality is they are all true under some set of circumstances and all false under other sets of circumstances. Without a nuanced discussion of the circumstances that make the above statements true or false they are nothing but nonsense that informs no-one.I can’t possibly explain the circumstances of when each the 5 energy options above is suitable in a 2 hour segment, never mind a 2 minute segment. Generating mix analysis reports generally run into the 100’s of pages.The result is that on Fox News we will get ‘truth #2’ and on MSNBC we will get ‘truth #1’. Everything on MSNBC is ‘conditionally true’ and the same for Fox, the problem is that neither spends much time explaining the ‘conditions’.So MSNBC viewers in ‘long,hard dark winter’ will demand  ‘cheap solar’ and Fox Viewers in ‘long way from cheap coal’ will demand ‘cheap coal’.  Then of course when their electric bills become unbearable they will just throw insults at one another. This is kind of what is happening in the UK now. Fossil fuel prices have risen quite a bit in the last 10 years and subsidizing solar panels in a ‘winter peak’ country may have been  a less then ‘intelligent’ expenditure of limited generating capacity investment dollars.Another is Obama’s poorly phrased ‘they didn’t build that’ statement regarding business.Without Government creating a framework where contracts could be enforced and good and services could be transported their would be no ‘business’. Governments create a framework for business that even most Republicans acknowledge as necessary.Of course, whatever nuance Obama intended got lost. I don’t even think the Obama campaign attempted to walk it back knowing full well that it couldn’t be walked back in a sound bite.Of course I doubt that less then 10% of the electorate is familiar with Thomas Hobbes. Having an intelligent discussion with anyone not familiar with Hobbes or Locke about the proper role of government is nearly impossible.

  36. Joshua says:


    I only very rarely watch TV news of any sort – it is a complete waste of time IMO.  Just curious – have you seen the Jon Stewart clip on “You didn’t build that”?

  37. Tom Scharf says:

    I think “You didn’t build that” was a test of Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s rather extreme left wing talking point that she put out in her campaign a year before, and test that talking point on a national level.  It backfired and they gave up on that real quick.  It was overly exploited IMO.

    Certainly govt. has the role of enforcing a level playing field for business and the structure to enforce contracts, national infrastructure, etc. and it mostly does this job well.   However what Warren was attempting to do was to take credit for more than that, and effectively say that the private sector’s success was in fact overblown and most of the credit belongs to the government.  This type of insular thinking only occurs in career public sector employees.  

    Anyone who has worked with small businesses and startups can attest to the significant cultural differences in the environment relative to govt sector (think DMV) and to a lesser extent academia.  It’s apples and oranges.  In most cases the best thing the govt can do to support a healthy economy is to stay out of the way.        

    The other interpretation is that she simply wanted acknowledgement that the government provides valuable service that help the economy along, which I don’t think anyone denies.  Govt. bashing is definitely a sport for the right wing and I’m sure committed career bureaucrats get sick of it.

  38. Joshua says:

    Tom S.

    I think “You didn’t build that” was a test of Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s rather extreme left wing talking point that she put out in her campaign a year before, and test that talking point on a national level.

    Yeah. That must have been it. And it was “overly exploited.”  Lol!

    In particular, check out the section starting at @ 4:40. “Overly exploited.” Too funny.

  39. Joshua says:

    Consider all the attention payed this election cycle to a single poll, the Gallop poll, that was a statistical outlier even amongst national polls (which were + Romney 2.4 +/- 0.4).

    Yeah. Librul bias. Uh huh.

  40. Tom C says:

    Joshua – Can you explain your repeated use of “librul”? I don’t understand why you think that is a compelling rhetorical device.

  41. steven mosher says:

    “I do occasionally reference these biases amongst “realists.” But whether I do or not is irrelevant to whether or not biases exist on the other side. It’s only relevant is if the subject is me, as opposed to the debate. No I know that I am a favorite subject of yours, but personally I find me as the subject to be less interesting than the debate as the subject.


    my point was not that you do not ‘make reference” to bias on the AGW side. My point was that you do not DETAIL it. You typically make a hand waving assertion that “both sides” do it. But you have not demonstrated your ability to actually SEE, DETAIL, and ANALYZE the bias on both sides. I have no evidence that you can, other than your mere claim that ‘it exists’ and you ‘make reference’ to it.

    Further, I like you. I think your observations about skeptics have merit. As an experiment I’ll suggest you turn your attention to the other side of the street. Note the reactions you will get.
    It should be fun. You see from my perspective yu have great potential, you just next to expand your horizens. You wont. That’s because you have an unexamined bias, most likely.

  42. harrywr2 says:

    #36 Joshua,

    have you seen the Jon Stewart clip on “You didn’t build that”?

    No, I was only aware of the issue from right wing talking points websites. I read the transcript of what Obama actually said…to me it was a very poor speech on the role that government plays in providing a framework for business. Obviously I  disagree with Obama on the size and shape of that role.

  43. Gaythia Weis says:

    Keith, it strikes me as incongruous to simultaneously complain that the media is not off and running with flashy headlines regarding this particular story and to wish for more nuanced conversations regarding climate change as in your next post.The Palmer Drought Severity Index has been around since the 1960’s.  It is known to be unsophisticated relative to the kinds of modeling that can take place now.  Dai, mentioned in a comment above, is one of several researchers who have worked on attempts at refining this index:  He also has a review article on drought here:  Also relevant to this discussion would be a NASA funded study by NCAR researchers John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth who analyze how various climate models reproduce relative humidity and how that affects warming. And the paper mentioned above: science reporters help the public understand an ongoing conversation between researchers on issues highly relevant to national policy?  Or are we stuck with sensationalism in one direction or another?

  44. Nullius in Verba says:


    Yes, it’s an interesting piece of logic, isn’t it?

    We have a set of models ranging from high sensitivity to low sensitivity. The low sensitivity ones disagree most with observations regarding humidity, but are fairly close on temperature, the high sensitivity ones disagree most with observations regarding temperature, but are fairly close on humidity. What do we conclude?

    a) The models are all inaccurate and unreliable as a guide.

    b) By comparing temperature to observation, we rule out high sensitivity models and conclude the true sensitivity is likely to be low.

    c) By comparing humidity to observation, we rule out low sensitivities and conclude the true sensitivity is likely to be high.

    d) We conclude observations are not a good guide to choosing or eliminating models. Short term noise may be obscuring long term trends.

    If you were a climate scientist, which option would you pick?

  45. Gaythia Weis says:

    @Nullius in Verba:I’m not a climate scientist, but as someone interested in science based policies that reduce long term risk.  I’ll go with the NASA/NCAR study for now.If you have access to the  current issue of Science Magazine in which the underlying article by Fasullo and Trenberth appears, the perspective by Karen M. Shell on “Constraining Cloud Feedbacks” is well worth reading, in addition of course, to the research report.Yes the situation is complex, yes climate modelers are making progress.

  46. Jeffn says:

    In other news, greens are celebrating the closure of a university department that had the temerity to disagree with them. The basis: the greens said failure to agree with the anti-fracking movement represented ” junk science.”
    If it weren’t sad it would be funny. The remaining faculty, I suppose, will be the “experts” and, of course, will know exactly what their “careful studies” are required to discover. Or else. Science in the 21st Century.

  47. Gaythia Weis says:

    @Jeffn  I’ll go with the Bloomberg report here: of Universities accept corporate funding.  Doing so requires efforts to retain academic integrity.  _”The Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo nonprofit
    that focuses on corruption in business and government, said the
    report contained errors and didn’t acknowledge “extensive
    ties” by its authors to the gas industry.”_

  48. kdk33 says:

    OMG, ties to the free market economy.  The horror!

  49. jeffn says:

    Gaythia, If “errors” and “ties” to advocacy groups means you lose your job, then the IPCC should be in trouble and the anti-fracking movement (which includes more than its fair share of academics) should be in bigger trouble.
    Remember the phrase “chilling effect”? It was all the rage when it was useful. Karma sucks. Academia is sending a clear signal- toe the party line or end your career. The movement that claims to be “pro-science” is celebrating the new normal. The idea being that the survivors of the purges will be useful in an appeal to authority.

  50. Nullius in Verba says:


    “I’m not a climate scientist”

    I had intended to phrase the question simply enough so it could be answered hypothetically without actually being one. Perhaps I didn’t succeed.

    Do you think you have to be one to answer the question?

    “I’ll go with the NASA/NCAR study for now.”

    Can I ask why, and on what basis?

    You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to, but I’m interested in how people think when they come to such conclusions. A lot of people evidently do, but it’s not clear to me why. Gut feel, reputation, trust in authority, track record, to fit in with a social group, following the herd of popular opinion, or random whim; there are many possibilities. I don’t mind which.

    If somebody says they don’t have the expertise to decide on the arguments, how and why do they form an opinion, rather than saying simply ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I have no opinion’? Does it matter if there isn’t a reason, or if the person hasn’t really thought about it? Is it an interesting question?

    “the perspective by Karen M. Shell on “Constraining Cloud Feedbacks” is well worth reading”

    I had a quick look, and I’m not sure what you mean. There’s a very short summary of some of the difficulties with clouds, a brief description of what T&F did (although no explanation as to why the logic of its argument should be valid), and a final paragraph noting all the gaping holes in the argument. Apart from the final paragraph, I didn’t see the point.


    I’m not sure what you mean by “go with”, here. The article doesn’t give any arguments about the correctness of the science so far as I can see, it just talks about the funding.

  51. Gaythia Weis says:

    # 51 This conversation started with Keith’s statement that a new drought study was “huge”.  That study, given in an article in Nature, is based on the limitations of using the Palmer Drought Severity Index.  The PDSI is something I am familiar with and so on twitter and then here, I expressed my opinion to Keith that, while I had no idea why the media didn’t go into one of it’s tizzies about this, I felt that scientists were well aware that this index had limitations, and modifications of the index, in efforts to overcome such limitations, are announced from time to time.  Therefore, I see no reason to see this particular paper as “huge”. I pointed to the work of Dai, and then to the NCAR study, as examples of the ongoing debate.  The John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth paper appears in the current issue of Science.  I anticipate further discussion on this topic.  I think that Shell’s “Cloud Feedback” article does a good job of explaining the current status of humidity related topics involved in modeling, and therefore, I feel, it conveys the ongoing nature of the debate.  “For now” simply means that science is an ongoing process and this area is far from stagnant.  The article was just published. I’m open to the idea that in a few months I may read a letter or article in Science or in Nature in which more is known, and explanations are a little different.  Small steps, bigger steps, uneven steps but generally forward towards greater understanding.  I do not see the matter as being distilled down to your a,b,c,or d options.I’m egotistical enough to think I can read and reasonably intelligently digest material from Science or Nature, and that doing so puts me way ahead of those that are watching Fox News.  But still, I’m not a climate scientist.#49, 50  What I tried to say in #48 was: [Plenty] of Universities accept corporate funding.  Doing so requires efforts to retain academic integrity.What was apparently missing in the Buffalo case, according to the Bloomberg article I cited above, is full disclosure of conflicts of interests.   “The institute released a report in May that didn’t acknowledge “long-term” ties by its authors to the gas industry while it seeks more than $1 million in corporate funding, Bloomberg News reported on July 23. “I’m sure that there are a lot of examples of corporate funding of research and other activities at the University of Buffalo, as there are at most other higher education institutions.   It is not a question of “if” but “how”.

  52. Nullius in Verba says:

    #52,Thanks. If I understand that right, you’re saying that by “I’ll go with the NASA/NCAR study for now.” you meant

  53. Nullius in Verba says:


    Hmm Not sure what happened there…

    Thanks. If I understand that right, you’re saying that by “I’ll go with the NASA/NCAR study for now” you meant you had read it as part of a debate from which you are drawing no definite conclusions yet. I had assumed “go with” implied some sort of acceptance of the position. My misunderstanding.

    There are people who watch Fox News who can also read Nature/Science papers.

  54. Tom Fuller says:

    And lest you think that we exported our carbon emissions


  55. Gaythia Weis says:

    #54 How about viewing it as part of a debate regarding models from which I can conclude quite a bit about climate change while still leaving the door open for refinements and improvements?

  56. kdk33 says:

    Doing so requires efforts to retain academic integrity.What was apparently missing in the Buffalo case, according to the Bloomberg article I cited above, is full disclosure of conflicts of interests.  

    Please. Why is corporate money any more/less a conflict of interest than money from the goverment.

    Lookit: academics make thier livings attracting research money. Non-problems don’t get funded; problems do. Is climate change a problem? Do you see the conflict? Shall we discuss crony capital ventures into green/sustainable energy.

    Conflicts abound and most work opposite of what you have in mind.

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