DENVER — Global warming activists say that man-made climate change is “settled science” backed by almost all scientific researchers, but a new Colorado study finds that rising doubts are creeping into the coverage of the issue in the press.
The University of Colorado Boulder study released Monday found journalists are increasingly leaving room for doubt when writing about climate change.
The research examined two newspapers, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and found that both are more hesitant to describe climate change as a given in their news coverage.
“We were surprised to find newspapers increased their use of hedging language, since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,” said Adriana Bailey, a doctoral student at the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and lead author of the paper.
Also intensifying is media criticism of the climate-change movement’s predictions of global catastrophe. While carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are on the rise, skeptics note that the global mean temperature hasn’t changed in 17 years, leading them to conclude that there’s more at work than just a direct causation between emissions and temperature.
At last week’s House hearing on climate change, leading scientists pushed back against the idea that the science on global warming is settled and beyond challenge.
The Colorado study examined articles from 2001 and 2007, which coincide with the release of the last two reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“The researchers combed the articles for words from all parts of speech that typically suggest uncertainty, such as almost, speculative, could, believe, consider, blurry, possible and projecting,” said the press release. “Once the words were identified, the scientists considered the context they were used in to determine if they should count as hedging language.”
The study also examined for comparison the language choices in two Spanish newspapers, El Pais and El Mundo.
The report found that U.S. papers in 2001 used “189 hedging words or expressions per 10,000 words printed, while the Spanish papers used 107. In 2007, the number of hedging words and expressions used per 10,000 words rose to 267 in the U.S. and to 136 in Spain.”
Researchers didn’t study reasons for the increase in “hedging words,” but Ms. Bailey said explanations could include “amplified politicization of climate change—including polarization of climate stances by political leaders—to the possibility that reporters are actually writing more about the detailed science, which requires greater explanation of the accompanying scientific uncertainties,” said the release.
The study was published in the academic journal Environmental Communication.