Scientific reports on climate change are forcing Americans to embrace more accurate beliefs and support government action on the issue – but those gains are fragile, a new study shows.
Researchers have found that these exact beliefs quickly fade and can disintegrate when people are exposed to skepticism about climate change.
“It is not the case that the American public does not react to scientifically informed reports when exposed to them,” he said. Thomas WoodAssociate Professor of political science at Ohio State University.
“But even factually accurate scientific reports are moving away from people’s frame of reference very quickly.”
The study will be published on June 24, 2022 in the journal Notices of the National Academy of Sciences. Wood conducted the study with Brendan Nihan of Dartmouth College and Ethan Porter of George Washington University.
The results showed that accurate scientific reports are not only convincing Democrats – Republicans and people who initially rejected man-made climate change have also changed their minds by reading accurate articles.
The study includes 2,898 online participants who participated in four waves of the experiment in the fall of 2020.
In the first wave, they all read authentic articles in popular media that provide information that reflects the scientific consensus on climate change.
In the second and third waves of the experiment, they read either another scientific article, an article that was skeptical of climate science, an article that discussed the guerrilla debate on climate change, or an unrelated article.
In the fourth wave, participants were simply asked about their beliefs about the science of climate change and their political attitudes.
To assess the participants’ scientific understanding, the researchers asked after each wave whether they believed (correctly) that climate change was happening and had a human cause. To measure their attitudes, the researchers asked participants if they supported the government’s action on climate change and if they preferred renewable energy.
Wood said it was important that accurate reporting had a positive effect on all groups, including Republicans and those who initially rejected climate change. But it was even more encouraging that it affected attitudes.
“Science reporting has changed not only people’s understanding of facts, but also their political preferences,” he said.
“This makes them think that climate change is an urgent concern of the government, for which the government needs to do more.”
But the positive effects on people’s beliefs were short-lived, the results show. These effects largely disappeared in later waves of research.
In addition, stories of opinions that were skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change have reversed advances in the accuracy generated by scientific coverage.
Articles involving guerrilla conflict had no measurable effect on people’s beliefs and attitudes.
Overall, the results show that the media plays a key role in Americans’ beliefs and attitudes on scientific issues such as climate change.
“We were amazed at how vulnerable the subjects in our study were to what they read about climate change in our study. But what they learned faded very quickly, “Wood said.
The results of the study contradict the imperative of the media to report only on the new.
“What we found suggests that people need to hear the same accurate messages about climate change over and over again. “If they hear it only once, it backs off very quickly,” Wood said.
“News media is not designed to do that.”
This study is supported by John C. and James L. Knight Foundation.
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