30 January 2012

Is Putting The Heat On Skeptical TV Weathercasters A Good Idea?

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Forecast the Facts is a new campaign with the aim of putting some public heat on climate skeptical TV weathercasters.  The issue here isn’t whether or not their statements (if quoted accurately) were opposite to the overwhelming science, because they are without question. Instead, the main question is whether this is the right way to tackle the problem.

I’m uncertain this is the right way to go about educating the skeptical weathercasters, and It may very well make the dividing line even more sharp than it already is. Ed Maibach’s group at George Mason University has done some detailed research into the opinions of TV meteorologists (not all have degrees) on climate change and the results left me dumbfounded. Around half of those doing on air weather are skeptical, in spite of the growing mountain of scientific evidence. Maibach also found that the only predictor on how a TV forecaster will feel about climate change is political affiliation!

Bud Ward, at the Yale Forum on Climate and the Media, has put together several workshops that bring together television forecasters with top climate experts to try to bridge the gap. I’ve been involved with several of these, and they have been stunningly successful.  As a member of the AMS Committee for Station Science, I can also attest that the AMS has worked very hard to educate the TV folks on the science. The idea here is simple; if the TV folks get a chance to educate themselves on the science, they will most likely not make the kind of statements that Forecast the Facts has highlighted.

The Forecast the Facts website features some surprising statements from TV weather casters.

Yes, some on air TV weather folks seem to have trouble separating the scientific facts of climate change from the political issue of how we deal with it. However, this “in your face” campaign is likely to harden opinions  even more among those who persist in their beliefs in the face of an ever growing mountain of evidence.

Indeed, Some of the things I’ve heard from fellow TV folks make it clear that they are getting their information from cable news and talk radio, instead of the peer-reviewed science literature. Honestly, some are so outlandish they are (in my opinion) an embarrassment to the AMS. Still, Forecast The Facts is the wrong way to go about solving the problem.

It is important to note that this divide among on air forecasters doesn’t exist in the rest of the scientific community. The IPCC reports are overwhelmingly accepted, and every major scientific body on the planet has endorsed them. There will always be a few weathercasters won’t accept overwhelming evidence. However, the efforts underway to educate those with questions will eventually work with most, and especially those with a significant science background.

That’s the right way to go here.

Note: Others have weighed in on this issue including Jason Samenow at Capital Weather Gang and Bob Ryan at WJLA TV in Washington (past president of the AMS) has also just today published an excellent post on this subject.  Daniel Souweine of Forecst the Facts has responded to earlier criticism here.