Stanford scientist and climate-specialist Stephen Schneider has called out media organizations for the quality of reporting on climate change and other scientific issues.
“Business managers of media organizations,” he said, “you are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters who are frankly the only ones competent to do this.”
Schneider points to CNN, which in December fired all of its science and technology reporters. “Why didn’t they fire their economics team or their sports team?” asks Schneider. “Why don’t they send their general assignment reporters out to cover the Superbowl?”
CNN stated that environmental issues would largely be covered by their TV series Planet in Peril, a program that is produced occassionally, with two film-length episodes airing since 2007.
Two of the employees let go by CNN were well-respected science producer, Peter Dykstra, and science reporter Miles O’Brien who spent 16 years at CNN. Schneider believes that coverage lacking scientifically-trained reporters and producers lose credibility and insightfulness.
“Science is not politics. You can’t just get two opposing viewpoints and think you’ve done due diligence. You’ve got to cover the multiple views and the relative credibility of each view,” said Schneider. “But that is not usually the problem of the well-trained reporters, who understand what is credible.”
Schneider’s frustration doesn’t stop at the media. He believes scientists are not living up to their responsibility to actively participate in scientific discussions with the mainstream media.
“I have arguments with some of my scientific colleagues, who think it is irresponsible to go out and talk when you can only get 5 seconds on the evening news, a couple of quotes in the New York Times, or five minutes in front of Congress,” Schneider said. “Well, you know what guys, that’s just how it is. And if you think that you have a higher calling and you’re not going to play the game because they don’t give you the time to tell the whole story, then all it means is that you’ve passed the buck to others who know the topic less well.”
With years of media appearances and interviews to back him up, Schneider advices “that scientists find metaphors that convey both urgency and uncertainty, so that you can get people’s attention while at the same time not overstating the case. Then you have websites and backup articles and books where you can give the full story, but you have to have your sound bite and your op-ed piece.”
One of the early voices on climate change, Schneider is the founder and editor of the journal Climate Change. A longtime proponent of taking global action to mitigate global warming, Schneider has helped author a number of reports for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). He is a professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford.
On Friday Schneider spoke in greater detail on this topic at the annual meeting of American Association of the Advancement of Science in Chicago in a symposium entitled “Hot and Hotter: Media Coverage of Climate-Change Impacts, Policies, and Politics”.
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