Study links Fox, distrust in science, disbelief in climate change

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A new study from a researcher at the University of Arizona links Fox News viewership and distrust of climate change science.

In a study published in the Public Understanding of Science, University of Arizona researcher Jay Hmielowski and American University researcher Lauren Feldman looked how Americans got their news and also what Americans thought about climate change.

The researchers found, according to Mother Jones, that those who got their news from conservative media such as Fox News or the “Rush Limbaugh Show” had less trust in climate scientists.

Other researchers involved in the work include Teresa Myers and Edward Maibach at George Mason, Anthony Leiserowitz at Yale.

The authors, according to Mother Jones, then sought to learn whether distrusting of scientists is a key link between watching Fox and doubting climate science. Because most people don’t know a lot about the science of global warming, they rely on mental short cuts to decide what to believe, and “trust” is key.

The researchers wrote, “The public’s low level of knowledge and the media’s conflicting, often value-laden messages about global warming lead people to use heuristics to make sense of this complex issue.”

On his show, Limbaugh includes scientists in his “four corners of deceit,” along with government, academia and the media.” At Fox, there was a 2009 memo that instructed staff to cast doubt on climate research in reports.

In their abstract, the researchers state, “There is a growing divide in how conservatives and liberals in the USA understand the issue of global warming. Prior research suggests that the American public’s reliance on partisan media contributes to this gap. However, researchers have yet to identify intervening variables to explain the relationship between media use and public opinion about global warming. Several studies have shown that trust in scientists is an important heuristic many people use when reporting their opinions on science-related topics. Using within-subject panel data from a nationally representative sample of Americans, this study finds that trust in scientists mediates the effect of news media use on perceptions of global warming. Results demonstrate that conservative media use decreases trust in scientists, which decreases certainty that global warming is happening. By contrast, use of non-conservative media increases trust in scientists, which, in turn, increases certainty that global warming is happening.”

Polls show that about 19 percent of Republicans think human activity is causing global warming.

Media Matters, a watchdog organization that monitors conservative-leaning outlets, took a close look at the research and the methods Fox employs to create distrust for scientists and science. The network:

• employs as “experts” climate-change contrarians, often people with ties to the fossil fuel industry and no background in climate science;

• denigrates peer-reviewed science and science institutions.

• defines climate change as a liberal issue and the science as liberal propaganda.

• perpetuates the claim that scientists distort data to get funding.

• characterize belief in climate change as cultish.

On the Web…

More on the issue at Media Matters.