Climate Change in the Media: Separating Science from Fiction

Information is a precious tool. Yet, with today's abundance of digital media sources, how can we distinguish facts from fiction in the climate change debate? How do we know that what is given as fact is in fact backed by science? A new online initiative is helping to do just that.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 05.17.16

Information is a precious tool. Yet, with today’s abundance of digital media sources, how can we distinguish facts from fiction in the climate change debate? How do we know that what is given as fact is in fact backed by science? A new online initiative is helping to do just that.

At a time when critical decisions about climate change need to be made, the quality and credibility of the information underpinning the climate change debate are key in enabling citizens, policy makers, activists and politicians to choose a course of action.

Yet, with only 23 per cent of Americans saying they know enough about the issue, and with 40 per cent of them thinking that science is not in agreement about what causes it, it seems there is still much confusion about the causes of climate change. On the other hand, a 95 per cent scientific consensus that human actions are directly responsible for climate change indicates the knowledge gulf between science and ordinary citizens (and voters!).

Climate Feedback, a scientist-run web platform, aims to enable ordinary citizens to discern what is science and what is fiction in climate change reporting, giving them access to credible and reliable references to science-based data. It believes it is the civic duty of scientists to properly inform citizens in their area of expertise: whether oceanographers, climatologists, metereologists, glaciologists, ecologists, energy or economic experts (to name but a few of the members of the Climate Feedback scientific community), Climate Feedback pools together scientists from the world over to analyse and comment on climate change digital news reporting.

Their work is aided by ‘annotation technology’, a technology developed by partner organisation Hypothes.is that essentially allows scientists to layer comments directly over the news text.

Having commented on how correct (or incorrect) science-specific sentences in the text are, scientists then also give the article a rating based on the overall scientific credibility of the piece. And as all feedback is saved on the site, an analysis of how credible particular news sources are in general is also made possible.

For maximum viewer reach and publication impact, Climate Feedback focuses on climate change reporting at the highest levels of digital journalism, such as articles by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal, to mention a few. You can take a look at some of their recently reviewed pieces here.

By providing science-based feedback on the accuracy of the writing on climate change, the initiative doesn’t just empower readers to make more informed decisions and to know what news to trust, it also helps to promote better quality reporting more generally by opening up articles to scientific and public scrutiny.

Want to help Climate Feedback in their goal? You can support their crowdfunding campaign here:

And here’s a video about the initiative:

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