Ideology and Meteorology
Study examines TV weathercasters' views on climate change and the role of political ideology
Television weathercasters are among the most trusted and prominent groups of science communication specialists. Though, nearly 25 percent of weathercasters are skeptical of human-caused climate change.
This is according to Kris M. Wilson, senior lecturer in the School of Journalism and author of the study "Ideology Trumps Meteorology," published in the December 2012 issue of Electronic News, an official journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The study found that weathercasters skeptical of human-caused climate change cite their political beliefs as shaping their views, rather than science.
"Weathercasters are seen as high-profile because people see them regularly and they come into our homes," said Wilson. "The public considers them the most trusted source of information on climate change after scientists."
Wilson, a former television news director, producer, anchor and reporter, and weather anchor worked in broadcast news for more than 10 years.
The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, surveyed 571 television weathercasters. Age and gender played only a minor role in climate skepticism among TV weathercasters, and education and training had no measurable impact.
"My point with weathercasters is that they don't have to get involved with the politics – in fact they should probably avoid it because of concerns for advertisers and ratings," Wilson said.
Wilson also said that while credible journalists try to balance coverage by providing two equal sides to an argument, scientific fact should have a bearing on the amount of balance given to any subject.
"We strive for journalistic integrity in this industry and that's what we teach our students," Wilson said. "Good reporting should reflect the weight of scientific evidence."
Wilson said the study confirms and adds another layer to increasing partisan polarization, and raises new questions about how to address them. He recommends science communicators report only factual evidence and avoid the heated rhetoric of politics.
"Let's make sure the reporting is accurate," Wilson said. "If weathercasters can understand good journalistic norms of reporting, it would help differentiate opinion from fact."