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New study: Conservatives not fooled by “extreme weather” in media but liberals suffer imaginary droughts

Good news. There is hope for average Americans; not so much for academics.

It’s bad news for the Eco Worriers though who were hoping that constant displays of extreme weather would finally convince conservatives — a flood here, a Cat 6 there, a hottest first Sunday of Lent. It all washes over Conservatives. The weather-porn won’t convince them.

But the most interesting and novel discovery here is buried in the third paragraph from the bottom and barely mentioned. The researchers are only interested in how to “convince conservatives” and not remotely concerned that the media may be misleading a lot of the population by hyping up the weather.

Apparently media propaganda has convinced 40% of the US population that they’ve lived through a drought that didn’t happen and 10% think they’ve lived through a hurricane that wasn’t.

I graphed the differences between perceived events and real ones. Below, red columns show the percentage of people who said they had lived through droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods. Blue columns show the percentage of those same people who were living in counties which NOAA said had actually experienced those events.

Extreme weather perceptions, USA, drought, flood, hurricane, graph, 2018

A lot of people think they’ve been in a drought or a hurricane than NOAA data suggests.  Perceived events (red): Real events (green)


Experiencing extreme weather is not enough to convince climate change skeptics

Ben Lyons, The University of Exeter, UK starts out assuming liberals are right about the climate which means almost every conclusion is wrong:

Political bias and partisan news reporting influence whether people report experiencing certain extreme weather events, the research suggests.

But Americans who lived in areas where a variety of extreme events were recorded — flood, tornado, hurricane, and drought — were ultimately no more likely to share the same beliefs about climate change as scientists.

Dr Ben Lyons, from the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “”Extreme weather plays a limited long-term role in forming people’s beliefs about climate change. Instead, their views and beliefs can alter the way they perceive the weather. We have found when an extreme weather event is ambiguous, as with polar vortex and drought, people are more likely to see the event through a partisan lens. If there is grey area, people are more comfortable applying their preferred label.”

Then Lyons thinks he is testing how people perceive the weather, but he is testing keyword recognition:

The University of Exeter, University of Michigan and University of Texas research found that Republicans were less likely to report experiencing a polar vortex, while those exposed to liberal media were more likely.

All this means is that the Liberal media go on about polar vortexes a lot and poor Liberal viewers repeat the same mistakes. The Polar Vortex was the code for scary weather in 2014 and most of the time the media got it wrong. Every cold blast is not a polar vortex, but Liberal viewers were told it was. Lyons thinks conservatives are denying an extreme weather event that technically didn’t happen. Who’s the denier?

However the weather can be sometimes so extreme that it overshadows personal views — the researchers found that partisanship and media use did not affect the way people in the American Northeast — where the 2014 and 2015 polar vortex events hit hardest — reported the weather they had experienced.

The Liberal media is so partisan some people who watch it think they’re experiencing a drought, even when they’re not:

Those who favoured liberal news sources such as the Huffington Post or the Daily Show reported experiencing drought more often than national weather data would suggest they actually did.

Thank the Liberal media for imaginary droughts. The media release doesn’t mention the imaginary hurricanes and the magnitude of the misinformation on droughts is hidden — the numbers are carefully separated in dense text below. Ninety percent of people who thought they’d lived through a drought, had not.

The researchers keep admitting that media coverage has an effect, but don’t seem to realize the media get things wrong and what they are studying is not Conservatives “denying” extreme weather, but Liberals who are easily tricked. Even partisan biased media can’t fool all the people all the time (though its easier if they have a PhD in mass communication).

Dr Lyons said: “Very extreme weather accompanied by constant media coverage is harder for people to deny. But on the other end of the scale, droughts can take longer to have an effect, so people have some difficulty perceiving their onset and this may allow them to bring their biases to the table.”

It takes constant media coverage to convince people of a fake idea. Here’s the buried numbers:

Academics surveyed 3,057 people in the USA to ask them about the extreme weather they had experienced over a five-year period, and also if they believed in climate change, human causation, and the scientific consensus on the matter. They also asked where they lived. The experts were then able to compare these answers to official weather reports for that region for the same time period.

Data about the weather was taken from the Storm Events Database compiled by NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS). The data included droughts, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. A total of 21.7 per cent of respondents reported experiencing a polar vortex, 41.0 per cent a drought, 19.8 per cent a tornado, 29.3 per cent flood, and 16.7 per cent a hurricane in the past five years. However the data shows 21.3 per cent lived in a county where a flood was recorded over the time period, 25.3 per cent a tornado, 4.3 per cent a hurricane, and 4.4 per cent drought.

40% of the US is very skeptical

No wonder they put this at the bottom. Fully 40% of people did not even believe there was solid evidence the world has warmed in the last 30 years — a box even I would tick:

A total of 59.2 per cent of respondents agreed that “there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” Of respondents who agreed with this statement, 74.2 per cent agreed that the Earth was warming mostly due to “human activity such as burning fossil fuels.”

So in total only 43% of the population agreed it had warmed (with solid evidence) and it was man-made. This has dropped  since the PEW survey in 2015 which estimated that 50% of the US population blamed humans. But then  a 2014 survey found 65% of the US population are skeptical that each flood or drought was man-made. Swings and roundabouts.

Dr Lyons said: “This research shows people’s perception of extreme weather can be processed through partisan lenses. This means efforts to connect extreme events with climate change may do more to rally those with liberal beliefs than convince those with more conservative views that humans are having an impact on the climate. “However, it’s important to note that we take a big-picture look rather than focus on specific events. Particularly intense events — a 100-year flood or catastrophic hurricane — might be most capable of influencing attitudes.”

Only a Liberal would think the big-picture is a one in 100 year flood. By definition, since homosapiens started building mud huts on floodplains there have been 100 floods of that caliber everywhere on land on Earth.

This useless analysis was funded by the H2020 European Research Council [grant number 682758].

Another good reason for Brexit. The UK gives good money the EU and then gets back money to do surveys like this.


Benjamin A. Lyons, Ariel Hasell, Natalie Jomini Stroud. (2018) Enduring Extremes? Polar Vortex, Drought, and Climate Change BeliefsEnvironmental Communication; 12 (7): 876 DOI: 10.1080/17524032.2018.1520735

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