George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication and Center for Social Science Research did a survey of television meteorologists when news stories about the climate e-mails were breaking and found a large majority (82 percent) of the respondents indicated they had heard of Climategate, and nearly all followed the story at least "a little."
Among the respondents who indicated that they had followed the story, 42 percent indicated the story made them somewhat or much more skeptical that global warming is occurring. Investigations later cleared the climate scientists of the more serious charges and concluded no scientific misconduct had been done. The results in Bulletin of the American Meteorology Society also showed that the doubts were most pronounced among politically conservative weathercasters and those who either do not believe in global warming or do not yet know.
Well, would believers that American cars cause global warming but Indian, Chinese and Mexican cars do not have their doubts washed away had it been Exxon officials who were attempting to suppress data but were cleared of scientific misconduct? Motivations do impact how the public regards scientists, it is only climate scientists who seem to have forgotten that if they look unethical, and act unethical, people will distrust their results even if they are good.
The study showed that age was not a factor nor was professional credentials, but men—independent of political ideology and belief in global warming—were more likely than their female counterparts to say that Climategate made them doubt that global warming was happening.
"Our study shows that TV weathercasters – like most people – are motivated consumers of information in that their beliefs influence what information they choose to see, how they evaluate information, and the conclusions they draw from it," says Ed Maibach, one of the researchers. "Although subsequent investigations showed that the climate scientists had done nothing wrong, the allegation of wrongdoing undermined many weathercasters' confidence in the conclusions of climate science, at least temporarily."
The poll of weathercasters was conducted as part of a larger study funded by the National Science Foundation on American television meteorologists. Maibach and others are now working with a team of TV meteorologists to test what audience members learn when weathercasters make efforts to educate their viewers about the relationship between the changing global climate and local weather conditions.
"Most members of the public consider television weather reporters to be a trusted source of information about global warming—only scientists are viewed as more trustworthy," says Maibach. "Our research here is based on the premise that weathercasters, if given the opportunity and resources, can become an important source of climate change education for a broad cross section of Americans."
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