Junk science or journalism?


Reporters who cover global warming may lend credibility to questionable science by an emphasis on balance that is out of proportion to the weight of scientific opinion, a recent study says.

Max and Jules Boykoff, researchers at UC Santa Cruz and Washington state’s Whitman College, respectively, found that a small number of global warming critics got equal time with the majority of scientists on this issue. “Balanced reporting has allowed a small group of global warming skeptics to have their views amplified,” they wrote in the journal Global Environmental Change.

The study analyzed news stories about global warming to see if they reflected findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body the U.N. partly sponsors. Only a third of news reports mirrored its view that, while skeptics remain, humans contribute to a hotter Earth.


More than half of reports — published between 1998 and 2002 in four major papers, including the Los Angeles Times — gave equal time to those who say global warming is solely nature’s doing.

Though the researchers say those on the margins should be heard, allotting equal space to them “seriously distorts a matter of very strong scientific consensus,” says Don Kennedy, editor of the journal Science.