The L.A. Times appears hellbent on overstating the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is man-made. Having corrected a recent article in apparent response to a blog post of mine, they are still materially overstating the percentage, and owe readers yet another correction.
The paper originally reported that 62% of Americans believe global warming is a man-made phenomenon. The paper has now corrected that number to 46.5%. But my reporting shows that the true number of Americans who blame human activity is actually less than 25%.
Time for a correction to the correction! Click “more” for the details.
The paper recently reported that 62% of Americans surveyed believed that global warming was man-made. Reporter Dean Kuipers linked a study that showed that percentage represented people who believed in climate change — not necessarily in man-made climate change. I wrote this blog post highlighting the error, and reader Mike K. wrote an e-mail to complain, which I will publish soon.
Shortly thereafter, the paper corrected the article — but the correction is still wrong. Kuipers’s revised article states:
When participants in the Brookings study said they believed in climate change, they were asked a follow-up question about what they believed to be the cause. Borick noted that about 75% of participants said they believed that climate change was human-caused, about 20% thought it was part of a natural cycle, and about 5% didn’t know.
I asked Borick to send me the information regarding these follow-up questions, since it has not been published and was not part of the original study linked by Kuipers. The information Borick sent indicates that 40% (not 75%) of those surveyed believed climate
change is “human-caused” (as Kuipers puts it), 21% believed it was part of a natural cycle, and 35% believe it is due to a combination of the two.
Kuipers takes the entire percentage of people who attribute it to a combination, lumps that percentage together with those who attribute it to human activity solely, and says (without qualification) that the sum of the two groups “believed that climate change was human-caused.”
That is substantially misleading. He could have said 75% attribute those changes at least in part to human actions — but that’s not what he said. Instead, his verbiage implies that 75% attribute the change to human activity . . . period. Which is not true.
I could just as easily say that 56% of the people surveyed attributed the change to natural cycles, and only 40% attributed
it to human activity. I could reach that number by adding the percentage who attribute the change to natural cycles (21%) and adding it to the 35% who attribute it to natural cycles in part. But that would be misleading, because it would attribute to the 35% a view that there is only one cause for warming (natural cycles), when they actually see it as a combination of factors. That would simply be the mirror image of what Kuipers did: he attributed to the 35% a view that there is only one cause for warming (human activity) when their view was more nuanced.
Borick seemed reluctant to criticize the author (as you might expect, since the paper did publicize his survey), but he did agree that the article’s new wording should have read differently:
The Times also should have placed in the words “that 75% of individuals attributed climate change at least partially to human activity” in the explanation. I may not have been as clear as I should have been when Dean called me with the follow-up question so blame can come in my direction too.
I asked if Kuipers had requested to see the hard data which I have presented here, and he said no.
So it’s not necessarily the case that Kuipers was intentionally distorting the data. There could have been a miscommunication.
But it’s funny how the errors keep over-representing the percentage of people who believe that warming is attributable to human activity. The paper started at 62%. Then, in apparent response to my post, they changed that to 75% of 62%, or 46.5%. But the true percentage of people who believe warming is solely attributable to human activity is actually 24.5%. While 46.5% see human activity as contributing to the problem, almost half of those believe natural cycles play a role.
From 62% to less than 25%.
Yeah, I’d say they owe a correction.