Top conservative media sites regularly misrepresent OISM’s Global Warming Petition Project

Of the top 15 most read conservative/libertarian media sites, Fox News has mentioned the Global Warming Petition Project only five times since 2008.

Comparison of Department of Education graduation data for 1970-2013 and Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data for 2013 to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures [Corrected]

Comparison of Department of Education graduation data for 1970-2013 and Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data for 2013 to the number of Global Warming Petition Project signatures [Corrected]

For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine published the most recent version of the Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP) in 2008, The purpose of the petition was to create a narrative, since shown to be false, that the 31,487 signers disproved the opinion surveys showing an overwhelming consensus of climate experts who are convinced that climate change is real.

Since 2008, six surveys of expert opinion have been published in the peer-reviewed literature, using different statistical methodologies and asking slightly different survey questions, with the result that the lowest level of consensus found in any of them was 88% of respondents, with most finding consensus of about 97%. Yet the GWPP continues to be referenced widely among conservatives and libertarians even though its counter-consensus narrative has been shown to be false – the GWPP signers aren’t all scientists, the GWPP’s criteria for being called a scientist is absurd, the signers are a tiny minority of the people who earned bachelors of science degrees even assuming the GWPP’s criteria are reasonable (and thus giving the GWPP the greatest possible benefit of doubt), the signers are also a tiny minority of the people working in the GWPP’s selected fields as of 2013, and the signers would be a small minority of the members of several professional societies even if every GWPP signer was a member (which is extremely unlikely).

Up until now, S&R has focused on disproving the GWPP’s false narrative and on exposing the individuals who have repeated that false narrative in Congress either as members of Congress or in Congressional testimony. This article marks the start of the next phase of our investigation in which we focus on the organizations and individuals responsible for spreading and maintaining the false narrative.

The Global Warming Petition Project in the conservative and libertarian media

In August, S&R used Google to find a sample of six different websites that listed the top conservative and/or libertarian media sites. The six sites we used were American Thinker, Newsmax, RightWingNews, the Federalist Papers, RedFlagNews, and ConservativeRead. We collected the rankings for each of the websites and came up with a list that represented the top 15 conservative news sites as determined by a weighted average of the six different rankings. The top 15 sites ranked in order are as follows:

  1. Fox News (foxnews.com)
  2. Drudge Report (drudgereport.com)
  3. Independent Journal Review (ijreview.com)
  4. The Blaze (theblaze.com)
  5. Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
  6. Breitbart (breitbart.com)
  7. New York Post (nypost.com)
  8. Newsmax (newsmax.com)
  9. The Daily Caller (dailycaller.com)
  10. Pajamas Media/Instapundit (pjmedia.com)
  11. WND/World Net Daily (wnd.com)
  12. The Washington Times (washingtontimes.com)
  13. Western Journalism (westernjournalism.com)
  14. Hot Air (hotair.com)
  15. National Review Online (nationalreview.com)

Collectively, these 15 conservative media sites are responsible for more than 80 different stories that mention the GWPP since it was published in May, 2008. Two of the sites, however, are not responsible for any of those 80+ stories – The Drudge Report and Hot Air. While it’s very likely that Drudge referenced other media sites that reported on the GWPP, the Drudge Report is an aggregator that doesn’t produce original reporting, so Drudge itself doesn’t meet the criteria of this investigation.

Hot Air, on the other hand, does produce original content. Since it was founded in 2006 by Michelle Malkin, HotAir has not run any stories that mention the GWPP. That doesn’t mean that the GWPP is absent from Hot Air, however – it’s just buried in the comment section rather than in the original content. For example, a Google search for “global warming 31000..32000” on hotair.com turns up an article by Jazz Shaw on 10/29/2015 titled “NOAA withholds climate documents from Congress.” While there are no mentions of the GWPP in the article, there are two mentions in the comment thread, one by “dentarthurdent” and the other by “Tlaloc.”

This is a common feature of nearly all of the media sites that S&R investigated. While most sites have only a few articles that mention the GWPP directly, there can be dozens of global warming-related articles where a commenter has mentioned the GWPP. Due to the sheer number of comments, it is not practical to address every incorrect commenter. Instead, S&R has focused on direct and indirect mentions of the GWPP in the reporting itself.

Fox News

Since the GWPP was published in May, 2008, Fox News articles and opinions have mentioned the GWPP a total of five times, with the most recent mention in October, 2014. Fox News was third to mention the GWPP after the GWPP was published in May, 2008.

Image (1) milloy.jpg for post 24022The first mention of the GWPP was by Steve Milloy, a professional science denier who got his start denying the risks of tobacco smoke on behalf of the tobacco industry and who S&R has identified as a “liar-for-hire” for industrial agriculture and fossil fuel companies. On May 23, 2008, Milloy wrote that

the 31,000 scientist signatories assembled by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine would seem to trump the 600 or so in the alleged IPCC consensus. Sadly, the White House has taken such a beating over the years on climate that facts no longer matter.

Over the course of his article, Milloy refers to the GWPP’s signers as “scientists” a total of five times. And he repeats the false counter-consensus narrative three times, including the example quoted above.

Fox returned to the GWPP in a Fox Nation news blurb on June 25, 2009. While Fox mentions the GWPP, there is no indication that the blurb had any impact given it’s only a few dozen words long and there are no comments associated with it.

The next mention of the GWPP is by John R Lott in an editorial dated December 8, 2009, shortly after the illegal publication of private emails known as Climategate. While Lott spends most of his article berating climate scientists for their alleged sins (all but one of which have been repeatedly disproven, and that one involved freedom of information laws in the UK, not scientific misconduct), he does write that

The sheer number of scientists rallying against a major intervention to stop carbon dioxide is remarkable. In a petition, more than 30,000 American scientists are urging the U.S. government to reject the Kyoto treaty. Thus, there is hardly the unanimity among scientists about global warming or mankind’s role in producing it.

Lott returned to the GWPP on January 5, 2011 when he wrote an opinion rejecting the idea that Fox viewers are less informed than viewers of other news channels. In this case, he tried to claim that Fox viewers actually knew a lot about the scientific consensus on climate change by referencing the GWPP. Lott wrote

And, as for scientists in general, 9,029 Ph.D.s signed a petition this year disputing man-made global warming claims.

We know that the GWPP doesn’t represent scientists in general, and that this claim is a repetition of the false anti-consensus narrative. But more than that, the GWPP wasn’t published in 2011, and Lott should know that. Not only does the official GWPP FAQ point out that the signatures were gathered in two phases (1999-1999 and October 2007-March 2008), Lott himself wrote about the GWPP on Fox News 13 months earlier. Maybe Lott has a bad memory and didn’t remember his prior opinion. This can happen if you are a prolific writer. But even if he forgot his prior commentary, he either didn’t dig deep enough into the GWPP website to verify that he got his facts right, or he wrote something that he knows to be incorrect. The first option means he shouldn’t be commenting on climate change, while the second means that he’s a liar and nothing he writes can be trusted. Either way he’s not a trustworthy source on the subject of climate change.

The latest mention of the GWPP on Fox turned up by S&R (as of December 26, 2015) was in an interview of John Coleman by Megyn Kelly on October 27, 2014. Coleman denies the reality of industrial climate disruption who is often interviewed because he’s a retired weatherman (by way of journalism, not meteorology) and because he co-founded The Weather Channel and was its CEO until he was forced out after a year. Kelly repeatedly asked Coleman what data he had that climate disruption wasn’t real, pointing out that “The EPA says [carbon dioxide is] a greenhouse gas, the scientific community has accepted that it is a greenhouse gas and at the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone up since 1958.” Coleman’s response was

Well, there are 9,000 PhDs and 31 scientists who have signed the petition that says it’s not a significant greenhouse gas. Oh, it’s a teen itsy bitsy but in greenhouse gas but it’s not in any ways significant. And we are sure of it. It’s not like, something I made up or just thought of. I’ve studied and studied and studied.

First, let’s give Coleman the benefit of the doubt on his “31 scientists” and accept that he almost certainly misspoke and actually meant to say “31,000 scientists.” And unlike some members of Congress, he has accurately represented what the GWPP says – the petition does claim (albeit incorrectly) that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a significant greenhouse gas. But again, what is it about a medical doctor or a metallurgist or a nuclear engineer that they can be assumed to have an informed opinion on the optical and atmospheric properties of CO2? Coleman himself is a journalist without a science degree, and it’s unlikely that anyone would care about his opinion if he hadn’t helped found TWC or been a weather forecaster in major cities and for Good Morning America.

While Fox News is the most widely watched conservative media outlet, the GWPP has only rarely been mentioned since it went live in May 2008. In every case, however, the signers of the GWPP were misidentified as scientists, and in several cases, Fox printed the GWPP’s anti-consensus false narrative.

Our next article will deal with the next five media sites that have occasionally (if rarely) mentioned the GWPP – the Independent Journalism Review, The Blaze, the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart.com, and the New York Post.

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