Global warming battle: TV forecasters vs. climatologists
Recent surveys show that a lack of consensus between forecasters and climate scientists could affect the public's opinion about climate change.
Tue, Mar 30 2010 at 6:53 PM
Americans look to their local TV weather forecasters for facts on global warming, but the information they get is often at odds with the consensus among climatologists. Meteorologists are largely skeptical, while climate scientists almost universally agree that the Earth is warming and humans are a primary cause — and it all comes down to how each group thinks about weather.
The New York Times reports that a recent national survey of TV meteorologists that found that only about half of the 571 forecasters surveyed believe global warming is happening, and roughly one-third think human activity is partly to blame.
This doubt boils down to differences in scientific methodology, with TV meteorologists skeptical of the complex models used by climatologists to predict trends far into the future.
“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” says science writer Bob Henson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Henson notes that a perceived elitist-versus-populist divide may also play a role, since only about half of TV weather forecasters have a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, while climatologists often have doctoral degrees and are associated with universities or research institutions.
“There are meteorologists who feel, 'Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on,’” Henson told the NY Times.
But this weather-versus-climate divide among scientists could ultimately have an effect on the beliefs of everyday Americans. A survey by George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication found that the public trusts the opinion of the local TV weatherman, and that those forecasters are often the only scientific authority in a local newsroom.
By default, science stories end up being the domain of forecasters, who may project their own views on climate change when discussing warming-related topics.
"Climate scientists may need to make their case directly to America's weathercasters, because these two groups appear to have a very different understanding about the scientific consensus on climate change, Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication, told e! Science News.
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