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Neil Stenhouse, Allison Harper, Xiaomei Cai, Sara Cobb, Anne Nicotera, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

This article analyzes open-ended survey responses to understand how members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) perceive conflict within the AMS over global warming. Of all survey respondents, 53% agreed that there was conflict within the AMS; of these individuals who perceived conflict, 62% saw it as having at least some productive aspects, and 53% saw at least some unproductive aspects. Among members who saw a productive side to the conflict, most agreed as to why it was productive: debate and diverse perspectives enhance science. However, among members who saw an unproductive side, there was considerable disagreement as to why. Members who are convinced of largely human-caused climate change expressed that debate over global warming sends an unclear message to the public. Conversely, members who are unconvinced of human-caused climate change often felt that their peers were closed-minded and suppressing unpopular views. These two groups converged, however, on one point: politics was seen as an overwhelmingly negative influence on the debate. This suggests that scientific organizations faced with similar conflict should understand that there may be a contradiction between legitimizing all members’ views and sending a clear message to the public about the weight of the evidence. The findings also reinforce the conclusion that attempts by scientific societies to directly address differences in political views may be met with strong resistance by many scientists.

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Neil Stenhouse, Edward Maibach, Sara Cobb, Ray Ban, Andrea Bleistein, Paul Croft, Eugene Bierly, Keith Seitter, Gary Rasmussen, and Anthony Leiserowitz

Meteorologists and other atmospheric science experts are playing important roles in helping society respond to climate change. However, members of this professional community are not unanimous in their views of climate change, and there has been tension among members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) who hold different views on the topic. In response, AMS created the Committee to Improve Climate Change Communication to explore and, to the extent possible, resolve these tensions. To support this committee, in January 2012 we surveyed all AMS members with known e-mail addresses, achieving a 26.3% response rate (n = 1,854). In this paper we tested four hypotheses—1) perceived conflict about global warming will be negatively associated, and 2) climate expertise, 3) liberal political ideology, and 4) perceived scientific consensus will be positively associated—with 1) higher personal certainty that global warming is happening, 2) viewing the global warming observed over the past 150 years as mostly human caused, and 3) perception of global warming as harmful. All four hypotheses were confirmed. Expertise, ideology, perceived consensus, and perceived conflict were all independently related to respondents' views on climate, with perceived consensus and political ideology being most strongly related. We suggest that AMS should attempt to convey the widespread scientific agreement about climate change; acknowledge and explore the uncomfortable fact that political ideology influences the climate change views of meteorology professionals; refute the idea that those who do hold nonmajority views just need to be “educated” about climate change; and continue to deal with the conflict among members of the meteorology community.

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