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Over Easy: Al Gore Is Still Fat (Part 2)

Scientists are as sure man made climate change is real as they are that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. The statistical likelihood that climate change is not man made is miniscule, as low as 0.1%.

A recent survey of 1,860 climate scientists published in Environmental Science and Technology confirms that more than 90% of the scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that humans are causing it. Previous similar surveys of climate science publications have shown the agreement among scientists may be as high as 97%.

But climate change skepticism–or outright denial–persists among the public, and although it can seem that way sometimes, not all of the public is made up of Faux Nooze-viewing right wingers.

So then, where is the disconnect?

The published survey suggests that the public’s skepticism may be the media’s fault. The survey found that the very small number of climate scientists who are skeptical of climate change were contacted by the media much more often for comment on the subject than were the vast majority of those scientists who concur that human activities are causing this change. It is supposedly the media’s responsibility to report facts. When the media instead provides a pulpit from which climate change deniers can preach their peculiar religion, they aren’t meeting this responsibility.

What the media reports about climate change (or just about any other topic) becomes what people know about the subject. The general public is unlikely to read the latest complex and jargon-filled scientific paper on greenhouse gas emissions or the effect of methane released from Arctic ice.

Obviously there will be scientists who disagree about any scientific subject, but in this case their influence on the public beliefs is increased by lots of money from the fossil fuels industry, coupled with a well-oiled PR machine. Highlighting climate change deniers’ opinions, giving them a platform, is a dangerous game that both boosts business interests and obfuscates what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists regard as settled fact.

In their pursuit of “fair and balanced” reporting, some journalists instead are promoting a clearly untrue narrative. In media terms, this is known as false equivalency, and it’s a serious problem in climate science reporting. As Paul Krugman has commented sarcastically on this false equivalency, “Opinions differ on the shape of the planet.”

But climate change is not a matter of opinion. Some publications, for instance the L.A. Times, have recently adopted a policy of refusing to print climate change denial letters. Reddit’s science section has banned climate change deniers from its forum. But not all major publications are on board with the L.A. Times or Reddit. In other words, they think “opinions differ on the shape of the planet” after all.

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that climate change is a cold (or hot), hard fact. To create doubt, about something where there is no doubt, is a huge disservice to the public, and ultimately a huge detriment to our warming planet.

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I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."