Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bad media sets back climate debate: US climatologist

by Matt Whitby
A LEADING American scientists has accused bad ‘sound bite journalism’ for causing public confusion and misrepresentation of scientific evidence about climate change.
Speaking during COP15 at an event hosted by climate communication group Global Observatory, Stephen Schneider says journalists trying to apply political reporting techniques to environmental stories were warping public opinion.
“In a political world, most of the reporting is based on a two party system where you speak to both sides of a political situation,” Dr Schneider says.
“But when you apply that model to science we get someone presenting all the worst cases, talking about the end of the world as if that was the only case and then you have scientists who tell you that carbon dioxide is just plant food.
“No wonder people are confused. Science is about accessing potential outcomes and assigning probabilities to them. This does not translate well into sound bite journalism, which is exactly what the business kind of journalism is in western democracy.”
Dr Schneider is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a professor of biology at Stamford University.
He argues 90 per cent of scientists agree climate change is real, but the media always tries to speak to the ‘other side’, which confuses people.
“When people are confused they generally give a lower opinion in the polls about the seriousness of a problem,” he says.
“The media have to stop giving people credibility for making claims which are not verified by scientific process.”
Global Observatory director Aimee Christensen said it was critically important for the public to understand the key issues of climate change.
“I have seen that people all around the world are playing catch-up with climate change,” she says. “People need to catch-up quickly if they are going to understand what is happening here in Copenhagen.
“Global Observatory was established to help take information which is hard to understand and make it easily accessible to the public.
“We do this by working with science communicators to convey these complicated issues in a manner which everyone can understand.”
The task ahead of Global Observatory is challenging as they have only 10 more days to change the way environmental journalism is done before the end of COP 15.

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