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.
Columbia Journalism Review has a fascinating article, “Hot Air: Why don’t TV weathermen believe in climate change?“ Because people seem to think they should know something about climate, (anti-science) weathermen get undo attention in the (right-wing) media — see “Meteorological Malpractice: Accuweather’s Joe Bastardi pushes the “70s Ice Age Scare” myth again” and “Bastardi: “Global cooling is actually a cause of drought in California”.
Heck, a former TV weatherman has the most popular anti-science website in the world, WattsUpWithThat. And of course, Weather Channel Founder John Coleman, a subject of the CJR piece, asserted in 2007 that global warming is “the greatest scam in history,” which puts him in the conspiracy wing of the disinformers with the now discredited Anthony Watts. [Doesn't everyone know that the greatest scam in history is the whole moon-landing nonsense?]
The answer to the question, “Are meteorologists climate experts?” is “no,” or I should say, “not inherently.” That’s clear from the CJR story (excerpted below) and from the opening quote of this post, which comes from an interview I did a few years ago with Dr. Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. [Yes, that Judith Curry, who wrote "an open letter to graduate students and young scientists in fields related to climate research"].
I originally asked the question in 2007 when Coleman wrote that now-infamous article claiming global warming is “the greatest scam in history,” and explained the source of his conspiracy theory:
I have read dozens of scientific papers. I have talked with numerous scientists. I have studied. I have thought about it. I know I am correct. There is no run away climate change. The impact of humans on climate is not catastrophic. Our planet is not in peril. I am incensed by the incredible media glamour, the politically correct silliness and rude dismissal of counter arguments by the high priest of Global Warming.
Oh well, then, case closed. A weatherman read a bunch of papers and thought about them.
In fact, asking a meteorologist to opine on the climate is like asking your family doctor what the chances are for an avian flu pandemic in the next few years or asking a mid-West sheriff the prospects for nuclear terrorism. The answer might be interesting, but not one you should stake your family’s life on, let alone the lives of billions of people.
As but one example of how meaningless it is to read a few scientific papers “” especially the wrong ones “” consider what Coleman said on CNN’s Glenn Beck:
When I looked at the hockey stick graph “¦ it showed a steady [declining] temperature throughout the millenium and then a sudden rise, I knew that that was incorrect. I knew it couldn’t possibly be. “¦ And I found out it was bogus science. It wasn’t real. The numbers had been massaged. The whole thing had been created.
Uhh, no. The scientific literature is very clear “” the hockey stock is not bogus science. Indeed, the nation’s most prestigious scientific body, the National Academies of Science, has issued a pretty definitive statement about this, Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, which is discussed here. And here is New Scientist on the myth the hockey stick graph has been proven wrong.
Yet even more important than the fact that the original analysis was defensibly correct, is that the conclusions were correct [which could be true even if the analysis had flaws in it]. Is the planet now as hot (or hotter) than it has been in a millenium? Try two millennia (see “Sorry deniers, hockey stick gets longer, stronger: Earth hotter now than in past 2,000 years“). See also “Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, ‘seminal’ study finds“:
You don’t need to be a climate scientist to talk about climate science “” but you do need to have a thorough grounding in the actual scientific literature, as opposed to just the (much smaller, and rarely peer-reviewed) anti-science literature. If you insist on repeating long-debunked disinformer myths “” attacking the hockey stick, and the like “” then you become a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS) and lose all credibility, like Watts and Coleman.
In time, a decade or two, the outrageous scam will be obvious. As the temperature rises, polar ice cap melting, coastal flooding and super storm pattern all fail to occur as predicted everyone will come to realize we have been duped”¦. I strongly believe that the next twenty years are equally as likely to see a cooling trend as they are to see a warming trend.
Sadly, if enough policymakers and opinion makers keep listening to Coleman, then that will ensure we stay on the high end of the emissions trajectory — and that just about guarantees the business-as-usual climate impact predictions, aka Hell and High Water and possibly even the worst-case scenario (see UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon”).
CJR makes a number of similar points about Coleman’s anti-science crusade:
None of it would have had much of an impact, but for Coleman’s r©sum©. For the many Americans who don’t understand the difference between weather””the short-term behavior of the atmosphere””and climate””the broader system in which weather happens””Coleman’s professional background made him a genuine authority on global warming. It was an impression that Coleman encouraged. Global warming “is not something you ‘believe in,’” he wrote in his essay. “It is science; the science of meteorology. This is my field of life-long expertise.”
Except that it wasn’t. Coleman had spent half a century in the trenches of TV weathercasting; he had once been an accredited meteorologist, and remained a virtuoso forecaster. But his work was more a highly technical art than a science. His degree, received fifty years earlier at the University of Illinois, was in journalism. And then there was the fact that the research that Coleman was rejecting wasn’t “the science of meteorology” at all””it was the science of climatology, a field in which Coleman had spent no time whatsoever.
Certainly, not every meteorologist is uninformed about climate science (see “Weather Channel expert on Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge“). But CJR notes how epidemic anti-science views are among TV meteorologists:
Coleman’s crusade caught the eye of Kris Wilson, an Emory University journalism lecturer and a former TV news director and weatherman himself, and Wilson got to wondering. He surveyed a group of TV meteorologists, asking them to respond to Coleman’s claim that global warming was a scam. The responses stunned him. Twenty-nine percent of the 121 meteorologists who replied agreed with Coleman””not that global warming was unproven, or unlikely, but that it was a scam.* Just 24 percent of them believed that humans were responsible for most of the change in climate over the past half century””half were sure this wasn’t true, and another quarter were “neutral” on the issue. “I think it scares and disturbs a lot of people in the science community,” Wilson told me recently. This was the most important scientific question of the twenty-first century thus far, and a matter on which more than eight out of ten climate researchers were thoroughly convinced. And three quarters of the TV meteorologists Wilson surveyed believe the climatologists were wrong…..
More striking is the fact that the weathercasters became outspoken in their rejection of climate science right around the time the rest of the media began to abandon the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach that had dominated their coverage of the issue for years, and started to acknowledge that the preponderance of evidence lay with those who believed climate change was both real and man-made. If anything, that shift radicalized the weathermen. “I think the media is almost sleeping with the enemy,” one meteorologist told me. “The way it is now, there is just such a bias as to what gets out.”
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:
- Yet another poll shows Americans support the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill “” and know the planet is warming “” even in face of anti-science noise machine
- Public Opinion Stunner: WashPost-ABC Poll Finds Strong Support for Global Warming Reductions Despite Relentless Big Oil and Anti-Science Attacks
- It’s all about Independents “” and Independence