[Update: Download an unformatted version from Academia or Dropbox]
This is how it starts:
There is a widespread concern among climate scientists, environmentalists and policy makers that they are in a war of words on climate change and seem to be losing out. Sir John Houghton told the BBC:
We are … losing that war because we’re not good at PR. Your average scientist is not a good PR person because he [sic] wants to get on with his science … So we need to look, I suppose, for some good PR people to help us get our messages across in an honest and open and sensible way, without causing the sort of furore, the sort of polarisation that has occurred because of the people who are trying to deny it, and trying to deny it so vehemently that the media is taking so much notice of them. (BBC online news, 11 February 2010)
Similar statements have been made over the 20-year period since climate change, and climate science, became an object of public debate. We will reconsider such claims by analysing press coverage from four countries. The article has a broader aim, though: it aims to understand how the issue has been framed and the reference to prominent actors over time.
We are using corpus linguistics methodology (read the article to see what it entails) and have constructed a database of newspaper texts from the LexisNexis archive. The LexisNexis corpus was cleaned up using a purpose-built program that also excluded newswires and nearly all duplicates. This resulted in a corpus of 106.5 million words for all four countries. The total number of news stories varies from 45,000 (USA) to 61,000 (UK) with France and Germany in between.
Our aim was to identify major claims makers in these countries, to to explore the different drivers of attention in the period of high attention from 2005-2010 and to see how Climategate was reported. Below I reproduce a few paragraphs about the analysis of claims makers:
For each country we identified central claims makers from politics, science and pressure groups who engage in the issue, distinguishing between advocates and sceptics.
We used the same set of names for all countries in order to see any patterns of cross-national diffusion. Advocates use knowledge claims to advance ambitious climate mitigation targets. We have identified them through previous reading of the literature, using salient names in the corpus, and adding additional names through peer consultation. We also included environmental pressure groups and green parties (see Online Appendix Table 3).
Claims makers from various sectors in society are active in the climate discourse. The French and German presses give twice as much attention to advocates as the UK and US presses.
France and the US show higher visibility for individual advocates; in Germany and the UK environmental organizations and pressure groups are much more important. Among individual advocates politicians are more visible than scientists, but both tend to be confined to their countries, with a few exceptions. Al Gore is by far the most important reference in the USA and is also highly visible in other countries. But the UK’s Milibands (we left the identity deliberately ambiguous as both Ed and David were in favour of ambitious climate policy goals), Germany’s former environment ministers Toepfer, Trittin and Gabriel, and the French Hulot and Voynet are not visible beyond their own countries. In the USA, James Hansen is the most visible advocate scientist (though his significance pales in comparison to Gore), in the UK it is Nicolas Stern, in France Jean Jouzel and in Germany Schellnhuber. Nicolas Stern and his review had a high impact in the UK, but even more so in France. In comparison to other countries in our sample, the French press pays more attention to climate scientists in general, and to scientists based in other countries (Hansen, Schmidt, Bolin, Watson).
Let us now turn to the sceptics. We define sceptics as individuals who use knowledge claims in order to promote a wait-and-see approach, usually by casting doubt on the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Table 4 (Online Appendix) shows the visibility of sceptics identified through the same process as described above for the advocates.
Regarding the visibility of sceptical voices, similar conclusions can be drawn as with the advocates. Individual sceptics are far more visible than pressure groups or think tanks. Sceptical politicians (Senator Inhofe and Lord Lawson) score higher than scientists. Al Gore, the most visible advocate, is quoted 25 times more often than Michael Crichton, the most visible sceptic across national boundaries. Sceptics are above all visible in their own countries. However, neither France nor Germany have high-profile politicians speaking as climate change sceptics. In the French press climate scientist Claude Allègre (a scientist who served as minister in the Jospin government) has a very high visibility but, again, this influence is restricted to France. Lord Lawson’s visibility is limited to the UK. In Germany the most important sceptical references are to the renowned late novelist Michael Crichton (author of State of Fear) and the Global Climate Coalition. Crichton is the only sceptic who is very visible across all four countries. The US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK.
In France the discourse tends to be dominated by advocates, with some additional visibility of environmental NGOs in 2010. Also the USA shows a dominance of advocates but NGOs virtually play no role at all. This picture is reversed in the UK where the major reference is to NGOs and Greens until October 2006, when the Stern review was published. Before that time, advocates in the UK were virtually invisible. However, the surge of attention in Britain in 2006 was led by advocates. Environmental pressure groups remain highly visible but individual advocates get peak attention in 2007 and 2009. The UK press is unique in that advocates enjoy high visibility even after the downturn of attention at the end of 2009 (ironically, this is the context of John Houghton’s remark from the beginning of the article). Germany, like the UK, shows strong NGO presence between 2006 and 2009. They are a dominating reference point in the media, much more than individual advocates. Some advocates in Germany are also members of the Green party, which was in government from 1998 until 2005. This has probably given them increased visibility. The time series indicate a very low visibility of sceptical voices in all countries. All countries show higher visibility of advocates and of the IPCC.