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Global warming deniers are loudest in the U.S. and UK

New study analyzes climate media coverage in six major countries

Regardless of the facts, some newspapers give prominent voice to global warming deniers. Graphic courtesy NASA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers taking a close look at media coverage of climate science came up with some interesting results, finding that the political leanings of a newspaper don’t always influence the news stories, but definitely color editorials.

The survey analyzed climate stories published in newspapers in Brazil, China, France, India, the UK and the U.S. Overall, the results suggest that global warming skeptics have a more prominent, and sometimes uncontested, voice in UK and US newspapers compared to other countries around the world.

The study covered 2,064 newspaper articles during a three-month period in 2009-2010 during the so-called Climategate episode, and a second period spanning the release of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.

In the US, 34 percent of all climate change stories appearing in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal during this time had a skeptical voice. Of the 511 climate change articles appearing in the Guardian/Observer and the Daily/Sunday Telegraph during this time, 19 percent contained a skeptical voice.

Chinese newspapers came next with seven percent of stories containing skeptical voices. India and France followed with around six percent each and Brazil was last with three percent.

The researchers also found that, excluding China, the political leanings of the newspapers are not relevant — in fact, there were slightly more articles containing skeptical voices in left-leaning newspapers than in the centrist or right-leaning newspapers.

This was surprising considering the strong association of climate scepticism with the political right, especially in the US, and previous studies showing that right-wing newspapers were more inclined to question climate science.

“These results are significant because they do seem to support those who argue that climate skepticism is much stronger in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries, such as the USA, UK, Canada and Australia, as measured by its presence in the media,” said lead author James Painter.

“The data would also suggest a lot of the uncontested climate skepticism is found not so much in the news reports but in the opinion pages of right-leaning newspapers in the USA and the UK.”

In the UK, the Guardian/Observer ran 14 opinion pieces containing skeptical voices during the two periods, all of which were countered or balanced by mainstream scientists. The Daily/Sunday Telegraph on the other hand ran 34 opinion pieces, more than half of which were not contested. The New York Times ran 14 opinion pieces that included skeptical voices, all of which were contested. In contrast, the Wall Street Journal ran 17 opinion pieces, all but one of which was left uncontested.

The researchers also chose to look at the type of climate skeptics that were being quoted in these stories. The types of skeptics who question whether global temperatures are warming at all appear almost exclusively in the UK and US newspapers. These two countries also give a very strong presence to the type of skeptic who challenges the need for robust action against climate change.

Even though ‘Climategate’ was a UK-based scandal, the researchers picked a period which included this event to sample data as they believed the story was big enough to spark international reporting. A further 1,263 articles were analyzed between 1 February and 30 April 2007 at the time when the IPCC released their Fourth Assessment Report as this was a period in which skepticism wasn’t the central issue.

The newspapers chosen for analysis were Folha de São Paulo and Estado de São Paulo in Brazil, People’s Daily and Beijing Evening News in China, Le Monde and Le Figaro in France, The Hindu and Times of India in India, the Guardian/Observer and the Daily/Sunday Telegraph in the UK, and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in the USA.

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