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For some reason, a media-analysis study that came out back in April has been getting a lot of attention over the past few days. Originaly published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, the study explored conservative media outlets and their influence on the public’s belief in climate change.
The results are probably what you'd expect. Watching or listening to non-conservative media like CBS, MSNBC, and NPR, the study found, increases viewer trust in scientists and reinforces the idea that global warming is alive and well. What's more, engaging with conservative media decreases viewer trust in scientists and, as a result, makes viewers question global warming. Rush Limbaugh, who runs a radio show down in Florida and who’s hellbent on criticizing anything even semi-supported by liberals, is among the top conservative figures who have the ability to dissuade the public from thinking climate change is a very real threat (I’m willfully avoiding the terms “belief” and “believing” here because they just give deniers more ammo). And the other media giant the study says is trying to skew the public away from climate change? You guessed it: Fox News.
This is hardly surprising. We’ve known for a long time that outlets like Fox use pseudo-experts to pseudo-report on pseudo-science, and that the outlet’s reporters give interviews that don’t help their case. Sure, once in a long while (literally, once) Fox News gets it right by reporting something accurate on climate change. But every other time, they seem to be biased and just plain wrong.
The one time Fox got it right?
What is revealing about the study, however, is what it says about the act of duping. After using their own research and perusing older studies, researchers concluded that there are five main paths conservative media outlets take to stir up climate-change distrust among its viewers. Here's the concise list, per the Guardian:
1) Presenting contrarian scientists as "objective" experts while presenting mainstream scientists as self-interested or biased.
2) Denigrating scientific institutions and peer-reviewed journals.
3) Equating peer-reviewed research with a politically liberal opinion.
4) Accusing climate scientists of manipulating data to fund research projects.
5) Characterizing climate science as a religion.
Fox News and The Rush Limbaugh Show both actively use these tactics and manage to trick viewers against climate change. The outlet also loves to shoot down the idea that global warming is anthropogenic, although some estimates have it that more than 97 percent of the scientific community believes humans do, in fact, cause or exacerbate global warming.
These five methods are interesting not because they’re anything new, but because they’re so goddamn clever. In list form, they seem pretty transparent. In action they're a completely different story, and for several reasons. For one, the study included over 1,000 participants, a majority of which were white males who'd earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
Via Public Understanding on Science.
But does this sample size take into consideration the demographics of viewers who watch Fox News compared to, say, NBC? That's hard to say, but I'll go out on a limb here and say the people who get duped by conservative media outlets probably aren’t environmentalists with a degree from Berkeley, otherwise they would know when a report is blatantly false or contradicts other research.
Also, what if women are more likely to watch or listen to conservative channels? This 2010 study found that more testosterone equates to less trust, which suggests women might be more gullible than men.
In terms of age, most of the sample size was between the ages of 50 and 59, matching the age group that watched Fox News the most in 2012. Then again, these five methods might work just because American media loves global warming skeptics, and America loves the media. Match made in pseudo-heaven.
So although the different tactics used by media outlets on the right are deceptively simple, they target an audience that could more easily fall victim to misinformation. Even if you were punked by these outlets before, now you know how they do it. And just maybe next time you tune in, you’ll see the light and change the channel.