The Los Angeles Times recently opened a story on climate change opinion in the following manner:
After several years of finding that fewer and fewer Americans believed in man-made climate change, pollsters are now finding that belief is on the uptick.
The newest study from the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which is a biannual survey taken since fall 2008 and organized by the Brookings Institute, shows that 62% of Americans now believe that man-made climate change is occurring, and 26% do not. The others are unsure.
There’s one slight problem with those opening paragraphs: they are absolutely 100% false. The survey in question reported on public opinion regarding global warming . . . not man-made global warming.
Click on the link above to the word “study.” It goes to a short description of the survey. The description is titled “Belief in Global Warming on the Rebound: National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change.” There is a link to a .pdf of the report on the survey. I have gone ahead and uploaded it to my site, so you can read it here.
Feel free to search for any evidence that the survey deals with man-made global warming. You won’t find it. The opening paragraph of the report states:
After a period of declining levels of belief in global warming there appears to be a modest rebound in the percentage of Americans that believe temperatures on the planet are increasing. . . . The survey, which was fielded in December of 2011, found 62% of Americans agreeing that there is solid evidence that average temperatures on earth have been getting warmer over the past four decades, with 26% of U.S. residents maintaining an opposing view on the matter.
These statistics are the same ones mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the L.A. Times article. The problem is that there is no reference to the concept that the survey relates to man-made global warming — the claim made by the L.A. Times. The questions asked in the survey included questions like: “Is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?” and “What is the primary factor that has caused you to believe that temperatures on earth are increasing?” (The latter question does not address what people thought was the cause of warmer temperatures, but what was the cause of their change in beliefs. Answers included factors like melting ice caps, Al Gore’s documentary, and the like.)
The difference is huge. The evidence that the planet has been warming, while disputed by some, seems to me be quite strong. Whether that warming is man-made; whether humans significantly contribute to the warming trend; whether the evidence backs up the scientists’ contentions . . . these are questions that are far more subject to dispute.
Ironically, the study observes:
While Americans who think the planet is warming largely disagree with the premise that the media and climate scientists are overstating evidence about global warming, most citizens who do not see evidence of increasing temperatures on Earth believe that the scientists and the press are distorting evidence about the matter.
And they’re right . . . as evidenced by the distortions in this article regarding their opinions!
This comes to us via reader G.H., who says he has brought the matter to the attention of the Readers’ Representative. Apparently in vain, since there is no correction appended to the article.
I believe this is a black-and-white factual error. The article claims that the survey measures changes in beliefs on man-made global warming, and it just doesn’t. So I’ll make this another of my quixotic battles. This post is the opening salvo. It would be nice if it were the only shot I have to fire, as my time and energy are short. If any of you want to take up the next step and write a letter to the Readers’ Rep, that would be fantastic. I will publish every single one you write, together with any response you receive.