A new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) shows that the climate denial echo chamber organizations funded by ExxonMobil and Koch family foundations produced misinformation that effectively polluted mainstream media coverage of climate science and polarized the climate policy debate.
The abstract and full text of the study can be found here: Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change.
The analysis of 20 years’ worth of data by Yale University researcher Dr. Justin Farrell shows beyond a doubt that ExxonMobil and the Kochs are the key actors who funded the creation of climate disinformation think tanks and ensured the prolific spread of their doubt products throughout our mainstream media and public discourse.
“The contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust,” Dr. Farrell told the Washington Post which was first to cover the news of the study’s release. “This counter-movement produced messages aimed, at the very least, at creating ideological polarization through politicized tactics, and at the very most, at overtly refuting current scientific consensus with scientific findings of their own,” Dr. Farrell said.
From PNAS’s press briefing note about the article by Dr. Farrell:
Corporate funding likely influences the nature and content of polarizing texts pertaining to climate change, according to a study. Political polarization has become a hallmark of climate change policy discussion, with multiple groups in various sectors contributing to public discourse regarding climate and energy. To quantify the influence of corporate funding in climate change discourse, Justin Farrell analyzed more than 39 million words of text produced by 164 organizations active in the climate change counter-movement between 1993 and 2013. The author examined the ideological content of the produced texts, as well as the funding behind the organizations that produced the texts.
Organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have produced polarizing texts, the author found, with ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundation acting as influential funders (emphasis added). Further, according to the author, corporate funding may have influenced the ideological content of produced texts. The results suggest quantitative evidence of the influence of funding in the climate change debate that had previously been hypothesized, and suggests an analytical model for integrating texts with the social networks that created them, according to the author.
This study confirms once again the central thesis of industry-funded attacks on climate science, which inspired the DeSmog book Climate Cover-up and countless articles about the deception campaign over the past decade.
Now let’s see how the mainstream media cover this story — that is what I’m most curious to see. (The Washington Post article was pretty straightforward, although it gave ExxonMobil an unchallenged last word, and Joby Warrick seemed to pose a bogus question to Dr. Farrell equating the fossil-funded disinformation campaign with pro-climate-action campaigns, but Dr. Farrell correctly rebutted such a comparison.)
Will this study, published in a highly authoritative journal, finally compel the newsrooms and boardrooms of the traditional media to take responsibility to undo some of the damage done by their complicity in spreading fossil fuel industry-funded misinformation?
Will false balance — quoting a distinguished climate scientist and then speed-dialing Pat Michaels at the Cato Institute for an opposing quote — finally stop?
Will editors commit to serving as referees to ensure the same industry PR pollution isn’t published any longer?
It’s critically important today that the public hears the scientific facts about climate change without the confusion injected into the policy debate by well-funded think tanks and their highly paid PR operative counterparts.
Dr. Farrell’s research also provides further evidence of the public deception orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry, and should prove valuable to investigators examining ExxonMobil as well as other current and future efforts to hold polluters accountable for their PR pollution.
Here is a video produced years ago, “Doubt” by The Climate Reality Project, which provides a nice overview of this issue:
Also highly suggested: track down access to Merchants of Doubt, the full-length documentary by Food Inc. director Robert Kenner that exposes the history of tobacco-to-climate denial and their common PR manipulators such as Marc Morano and Fred Singer.
It’s far beyond the time to end the climate cover-up. And responsible media can lead the way.