Meteorologists: Less Support of Global Warming… why?

Global Warming denialism is a favorite hobby on the right. And a favorite hobby of mine is countering such ignorance. I’ve come to a formulaic response.

I point out that the IPCC is the most respectable international scientific institution that focuses solely on climate change. It’s a very conservative organization. It looks at all the peer-reviewed research and takes years to assess it before putting out a report. It’s conservative because the research is done more quickly than it’s process of assessment and so most of the research it bases its conclusions on is research that has been thoroughly discussed among climatologists. The climatology researchers who submit their work to the IPCC do so without getting any payment and so the climatologists aren’t getting rich off of it.

What conclusion does the IPCC come to? The IPCC concludes that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is supported by the research.

The denialists love ignorantly dismissing the IPCC. So, I sometimes skip even mentioning the IPCC. I often go directly to the data on scientific consensus. Basically, the consensus increases the more that scientists know about climatology research. So, around 80% of all scientists in all fields support anthropogenic global warming, climatologists in general support it even more strongly (I forget the exact percentage), and climatologists who are active researchers who do most of their research directly on global warming have 97% support.

There is, however, new data I came across. Someone mentioned that only 60% of meteorologists support anthropogenic global warming. At first, this seems to cast massive doubt on the scientific consensus. Yes, 60% is still a majority but not a strong majority. This seems like damning evidence. I mean, afterall, shouldn’t meteorologists be some of the scientists who would be most well informed about climatology?

I’m not one to ignore evidence that undermines my own views. I value truth above all else. So, if many meterorologists question anthropogenic global warming, I should take it seriously. But, first, I had to ascertain if this 60% was correct. Yes, it appears to be true as this national survey does show the weak support. Before jumping to conclusions (as a denialist would do), I wanted to understand the possible reasons for this difference between meteorologists and climatologists, this difference between meteorologists and most scientists in general. At the top of the websearch results, I came across the the following article (included below is some excerpts from the article and three helpful comments). To summarize, there are fewer meteorologists supporting anthropogenic global warming because many of them have never studied climatology and many weathermen (and weatherwomen) have no formal scientific education.

Are meteorologists climate experts?
Columbia Journalism Review asks “Why don’t TV weathermen believe in climate change?”

Meteorologists are not required to take a course in climate change, this is not part of the NOAA/NWS [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service] certification requirements, so university programs don’t require the course (even if they offer it). So we have been educating generations of meteorologists who know nothing at all about climate change.

[ . . . ] 

And yet weathermen remain trusted by the public in spite of their lack of actual qualifications:

In the fall of 2008, researchers from George Mason and Yale universities conducted the most fine-grained survey to date about what Americans know and think about climate change….

When asked whom they trusted for information about global warming, 66 percent of the respondents named television weather reporters. That was well above what the media as a whole got, and higher than the percentage who trusted Vice-President-turned-climate-activist Al Gore, either of the 2008 presidential nominees, religious leaders, or corporations. Scientists commanded greater credibility, but only 18 percent of Americans actually know one personally; 99 percent, by contrast, own a television. “Meteorology benefits from the fact that we’re just about the only science that has an individual in people’s living rooms every night,” says Keith Seitter, the executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “For many people, it’s the only scientist whose name they know.”

There is one little problem with this: most weathercasters are not really scientists. When Wilson surveyed a broader pool of weathercasters in an earlier study, barely half of them had a college degree in meteorology or another atmospheric science. Only 17 percent had received a graduate degree, effectively a prerequisite for an academic researcher in any scientific field.

This is but one reason — among many — about why the public, especially conservatives, remain uninformed and disinformed about global warming (see “No wonder polling shows more people don’t know the scientific evidence that humans are warming the Earth has grown stronger”).

And yet, for all the misinformation and disinformation they are exposed to, the public still want very much wants government-led action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. gmo says:

    It is worth mentioning again that not all “weathermen” are “meteorologists”, as in not everyone who presents the weather in the media has studied the science like in getting a degree in meteorology/atmospheric science. I did not check into the details of the linked studies, but I had thought the numbers were higher for degreed meteorologists and so was a bit surprised. Still many indeed do “get it”, but it is depressing since so many do not, and such people may be the only connection to many in the public with atmospheric science.

    Besides the weatherman (even the one with the solid science background) not necessarily being well-educated on climate in general, I think many meteorologists conflate weather prediction and projections for climate similar to how many in the general public do. Weather prediction has been steadily improving, but there is still plenty of uncertainty, and I believe many meteorologists simply incorrectly sort of assume that there cannot be much certainty in climate projections.

    It may be like if a sailor doubted rising sea levels simply because he spends all his time on oceans with storms, swells, waves, and still water – as those are what he well knows, he simply did not bother to think that there are other ways to know sea level is rising than by looking over the edge of the boat.

    It makes some sense that the public trusts the weatherman on climate (yes, even in spite of all the “only job where you can always be wrong” quips) like was noted more than any politician, even Gore. It would be nice to be able to utilize that trust. That points toward a strategy of highlighting the lack of credibility of the lost like John Coleman and hopefully getting those who understand the science to teach it at least some.

    Meteorologists who think they will lose credibility talking about climate change because it is politicized should consider that if they explained it then it may become less politicized. Also, their not talking about it can lend credence in people’s minds that it is not a relevant issue.

  2. To best understand television, you must know about the consulting services of Frank Magid Associates – just about every TV station will get consulting from them. Until Magid says it is OK to talk climate during the weather segment, it is not going to happen.

    http://www.magid.com/ consulting/ local_television/ index.asp
    TV weather forecasters are professionals that serve a highly competitive broadcasting business model. The TV business pulls in advertising from so many businesses that are connected carbon consumption – every automobile ad, oil company ad, even travel are all vested heavily in the lie. They are required to ignore the science, it is just a business decision.

    That is just the way it is.

  3. 32. Dean: “To paint the majority of meteorologists with a broad brush as buffoons who are incapable of udnerstanding climate science is a bit harsh.”

    It is unclear to me that that is what is happening above. Pointing out the irrefutably obvious point that a meteorologist lacks the expertise to pontificate on the subject of climate science is scarcely the same thing.

    Persons who lack expertise but insist on making declarative announcements that are predicated upon an authority that they do not possess are committing an informal logical fallacy, the argumentum ad vericundiam or “argument from false or misleading authority” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html.

    As the article above fairly clearly describes, there is a significant body of persons with a background in meteorology who pose that background as a basis of authority upon which the are authoritatively qualified to pass legitimate judgments upon the scientific findings of climate researchers. Their doing so is a bald-faced argumentum ad vericundiam.

    Now, I’ve taken graduate level courses relating to differential geometry, but that does not make me a researcher in physical cosmology. At best it qualifies me to accurately report what real researchers in the field have come up with. (A qualification which a very few people in the peer-review process agree with, since I’ve actually published on the subject. I’ve some legitimate authority in the areas of logic, critical thinking, and philosophy of science.)

    However, an undergraduate class in physics (of which I’ve had a few) does not make me a physicist. By the same token, an undergraduate class in climate science — WHICH IS MERELY AN OPTION, NOT A REQUIREMENT for students of meteorology — does not qualify said students as experts. It would not qualify them as experts even if said class was a requirement. (And, of course, it is still not, in general, even required.)

    So yes, any thoughtful person with integrity can, with varying degrees of success, accurately report the facts as established by actual researchers — Al Gore is a nice example of this, both for his successes and his failures. But no such person, with no more established expertise than what you describe, is in any position to pass a scientifically legitimate judgment on the subject.

    But such illegitimate judgments are exactly what we are seeing, from persons who will pose as experts on a subject in which they have no legitimate authority what-so-ever. This is not a blanket condemnation of meteorologists; it is a blanket condemnation of poseurs, some of whom use their standing as a “meteorologist” to mask their ignorance with a veil of authority that they do not possess and have done nothing to genuinely earn.

5 thoughts on “Meteorologists: Less Support of Global Warming… why?

  1. The answer may very well be that ignorance has become a part of their ideology.

    http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-does-right-embrace-ignorance-virtue

    If the political right were not that way, they’d have to acknowledge the madness behind their ideology, from the moral bankruptcy of their economics to the idea that global warming is real.

    Their ideology’s survival depends on willful ignorance – proud ignorance perversely in the face of evidence to the contrary.

    • I know. I’ve often obsessed about that in the past. I’ve spent much time trying to understand it.

      You can find some anti-intellectualism on the American left, but it rarely takes such extreme forms of ignorance as seen on the American right. When someone on the American left gets caught up in that kind of thinking, it is usually because of some specific issue they are critical about.

      The American right is often different in sometimes taking a principled position where anti-intellectualism is nearly the defining feature. There is at times a proud stance of not belonging to the reality-based community.

      Power is seen as defining truth, instead of the other way around, and many right-wingers mistakenly assume those on the left think the same way. I’ve noticed that the accusations that right-wingers make about their opponents say more about themselves than about anyone else.

  2. That’s the thing about authoritarianism. Evidence is not the “truth”. Authority, power, and ideological purity are regarded as the truth.

    The issue is that this is totally incompatible with reality.

    I have wondered why humanity might have evolved authoritarian tendencies at times. It’s deeply troubling.

    • You are probably right that authoritarianism is the key component.

      Research shows that, in the US, those on the political right test much higher for authoritarianism than do those on the political left. That is the opposite of what is found in former communist countries.

      Authoritarianism is linked to various traits that would contribute to anti-intellectualism. I have often written about that type of thing here in my blog.

  3. I think that their ideology has become dependent on willful ignorance.

    An example – the right often bashes on the poor for being “dependent” on the government. However, nothing is said about:

    – Bank bailouts
    – Defense spending
    – Massive government contracts
    – Tax laws that favor the corporate world
    – Legislation that favors corporations

    We could make a longer list.

    But the point is they seem to be willfully ignorant about these sorts of things happening.

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