Abstract

Television (TV) meteorologists are a potentially important source of informal climate change education in that most American adults watch local TV news and consider TV weather reporters to be a trusted source of global warming information. In January 2010, we used a Web-based survey of TV meteorologists nationwide to assess the impact of “Climategate”—the unauthorized release of, and news stories about, e-mails between climate scientists in the United States and the United Kingdom—on their beliefs about climate change; the response rate was 52%. Most respondents (77%) had followed the story; 42% of those who did indicated it made them more certain that global warming is not happening. Conservatives (57%) were more likely than moderates (43%) and liberals (15%) to endorse this view (χ2 = 49.89, p < 0.001), and those who believed global warming is not happening (74%), or who did not know (46%), were more likely to endorse the view than those who believed it is happening (25%; χ2 = 108.59, p < 0.001). Multivariate analysis showed that political ideology, belief in global warming, and gender each predicted a negative impact of the story, but certifications from professional associations did not. Furthermore, respondents who followed the story reported less trust in climate scientists (2.8 versus 3.2; p < 0.01), and in the IPCC (2.2 versus 2.7; p < 0.01), than those who had not. We conclude that, at least temporarily, Climategate has likely impeded efforts to encourage some weathercasters to embrace the role of climate change educator. These results also suggest that many TV weathercasters responded to Climategate more through the lens of political ideology than through the lens of meteorology.

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