15 July 2017

Weathercasters Views of Climate Change Dramatically Shift

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The famous hockey stick graph by Dr Michael Mann at Penn State was confirmed once again in a new study. His original graph is IMHO the second most important science image of the past 100 years. Earthrise from Apollo 8 is number one.

The number of weathercasters who are still sceptical of climate change is rapidly dwindling. I’ve noticed this anecdotally and now there is confirmation in a new paper in BAMS that it indeed the case. I know most of the authors of this paper, and it is worth noting that the survey was among weathercasters which include degreed meteorologists with a science background, and those who may have little in the way of science training. Perhaps study after study (as referenced above) is finally making the difference.

Yes, there are some climate sceptics left among weathercasters, but they tend to be quiet. I can think of several reasons for this, and I can imagine a weathercaster in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas would get a lot of feedback from angry viewers if they came out of the climate science closet. They need to though, especially my friends in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Our job as science communicators is to give our viewers good science and omission because it is politically unpopular is unethical journalism. We should tell our viewers and followers on social media what they should know, not what they want to hear. My friend Jim Gandy in Columbia, South Carolina has, and Greg Fishel in Raleigh is another. Mike Nelson in Denver has as well and he replaced me as chair of the AMS Committee on Station Science this year. The station science initiative gets a mention in the BAMS paper, and this warms my heart. We worked hard to give accurate science and to answer questions that weathercasters had on climate science.

The paper is below. The abstract is free, the rest is behind a firewall.

If you are asking why this change has been so sudden, I have no concrete answers. However, most weathercasters know that if you’re going to take a position that is contrary to every major science body on Earth, including the AMS, you’d better have some strong evidence. Some were reminded of this the hard way after saying something that was embarrassingly wrong. We all do silly things though, and I have great respect for those that look at the evidence and say, whoa- I got this wrong. We’ve all been there. Scientists do that all the time because they understand cognitive bias and are taught to look out for it. The general public almost never suddenly changes its mind on an issue, and today’s politics is proof of that. So in general, I think weathercasters who were skeptical finally took a hard look at the evidence and realised that their preconceived notions were wrong.

Just a word of advice for students here: When someone tells you that nothing you can say will change their mind on something, quit trying and find someone smarter to talk to. The greatest gift of a good education is the stark awareness of how much you don’t know.