Archive | February 2012

Climate Change and Balance in the Media

What role does information bias play in public opinions about climate change?
Image Credit: Megan Sutherland

Accusations regarding the media’s political stripes— that it taints everything with a liberal bias or, conversely, that it adheres to the agenda of its big business parent-companies—have been dueling metronomes in the background of many political debates. These polarized assessments are how we typically think of journalistic bias. With matters of science though, the landscape should be different because science’s objectivity, theoretically allows less room for divisiveness and discourse hijacking. This has not been the story, however, when it comes to climate change.

Assuming that science succeeds in being objective (or mostly objective), then it is somewhat strange the climate change controversy exists at all. With nearly 100% of scientific bodies of good standing declaring that climate change is not only real but an imminent threat, the disproportionately large segment of the population who question it is staggering. Ongoing research about the media’s coverage of climate change ranges in focus and scope, but today’s post is primarily concerned with research done about a less talked about form of media bias.

If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, you may recall the term ‘information bias.’  Simply put, information bias describes the process by which people mis-evaluate a situation due to less relevant information clouding their ability to focus on the more pertinent information. This excess of generally irrelevant information tends to alter one’s opinion or course of action. With this in mind, Maxwell and Jules Boykoff, two American researchers, looked at climate change articles (discounting opinion pieces, letters to the editor, etc ) from four major U.S. newspapers. Their study, which tracked articles from 1988 to 2002, analyzed the extent to which news articles balanced (or didn’t balance) both sides of the climate change debate.1 Read More…