Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guess what disinformer Anthony Watts isn't telling his readers

Sou | 2:59 AM Go to the first of 5 comments. Add a comment

Talking about spin. A short while ago I wrote about how a blog article on WUWT by Rachel DeJong misquoted Gina McCarthy of the EPA. Anthony Watts is doing the same thing (archived here).

He's gloating over some US poll, by Rassmussen Reports, which is regarded by some people as being somewhat to the right politically. But that is not the point. Earlier this week Rasmussen Reports asked several questions of 1,000 likely voters:
  1. * How closely have you followed recent news reports about global warming?
  2. * How serious a problem is global warming?
  3. * An increasing number of news organizations are now banning articles or TV appearances by those who think global warming is not a serious, man-made problem. Do you favor or oppose the decision by some news organizations to ban global warming skeptics?
  4. * Is the scientific debate about global warming over?
  5. * Does the media make global warming appear to be worse than it really is, better than it really is or do they present an accurate picture?
NOTE: Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence

Only 14% believe global warming to be "not at all serious"

Anthony Watts was very selective in what he told his readers. This is some of what he didn't tell his readers. The stereotype of a climate science denier is supported by the poll.
  • Based on the results reported by Rassmussen, deniers are more likely to be older, male and vote Republican.
  • Although only 60% of respondents agreed global warming is a serious problem, 35% thought it very serious.  Another 35% thought it wasn't all that serious. 
  • What deniers won't like is that only 14% of respondents believed global warming to be not at all serious.
You can read the write up of the survey results here. It includes some results from previous surveys as well, such as the results of a May poll, which found that  "just 30% of voters think the president should take action alone if necessary to deal with global warming.  Twice as many (59%) say the federal government should only do what the president and Congress jointly agree on."

Looking back at past Rasmussen poll results, it appears that there could be an upward trend in the number of people in the USA who think global warming is a serious problem.

What Anthony Watts did tell his readers

This is how Anthony Watts reported the results, quoting directly from Rasmussen Reports:
From Rasmussen Reports:
Voters strongly believe the debate about global warming is not over yet and reject the decision by some news organizations to ban comments from those who deny that global warming is a problem.
Only 20% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the scientific debate about global warming is over, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Sixty-three percent (63%) disagree and say the debate about global warming is not over. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters think there is still significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, while 35% believe scientists generally agree on the subject.
The BBC has announced a new policy banning comments from those who deny global warming, a policy already practiced by the Los Angeles Times and several other media organizations.  But 60% of voters oppose the decision by some news organizations to ban global warming skeptics. Only 19% favor such a ban, while slightly more (21%) are undecided.
But then 42% believe the media already makes global warming appear to be worse than it really is. Twenty percent (20%) say the media makes global warming appear better than it really is, while 22% say they present an accurate picture. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure.
Still, this is an improvement from February 2009 when 54% thought the media makes global warming appear worse than it is. Unchanged, however, are the 21% who say the media presents an accurate picture.

That's where he stopped. He didn't let on about findings that might be disturbing to the fragile egos of his audience. Such as that only 14% of respondents believe global warming is not at all serious.

The US public is ignorant of the science

The finding that almost half of those surveyed mistakenly think that there is significant disagreement in the scientific community about global warming shows the importance of studies of scientific consensus. More importantly, it highlights the importance of communicating the findings of those studies.


  1. I do surveys as part of my job, and I can tell you that I would never allow questions like 3 and 4 in my work. Sou, are these really the questions as stated in the questionnaire? I'll assume yes for my comment (answer - yes, doublechecked their website). Let's look:
    " An increasing number of news organizations are now banning articles or TV appearances by those who think global warming is not a serious, man-made problem. Do you favor or oppose the decision by some news organizations to ban global warming skeptics?
    * Is the scientific debate about global warming over?"

    News organizations are not "banning articles or TV appearances by those who think global warming is not a serious, man-made problem. " They are banning non-scientists from pontificating about science in an incorrect manner. That's a totally different thing. How many fake skeptic viewpoints start with "I'm not a scientist but..." Those fake skeptic viewpoints should be banned from a scientific discussion at least. The way the question is worded, however, I would oppose banning skeptics. In reality, though, I don't oppose banning fake skeptics. To the point of the recent post by "And Then There's Physics" blog, we have few real skeptics. Also notice that when they go to the question, they just use the term "global warming skeptics" and have the reader implicitly assume the definition comes from the previous sentence. This is again terrible survey methodology. Wasn't this the guy who was wrong in the last US presidential election, getting schooled by Nate Silver?

    On 4, he uses terrible phrasing again. First he implies there is a global warming debate, but never defines it. Then, without defining the debate, he asks the interviewee to say whether they believe this debate is over? Again, I might land with deniers and reasonably say "no" depending on how I define the debate in my head (e.g.,will we get 2, 3, or 5 degrees of warming from a doubling of CO2?). If he had asked, do you believe scientists have reached consensus about whether there is global warming caused mostly by humans, I (among others) would have answered differently.

    By the way, question 5 is also a problem in that it follows questions 3 and 4, which leave interviewees with a bad taste in their mouth about the media. Essentially, Rassmussen poisoned the well and thus can get the negative judgment of media he desires in question 5. Of course the interviewer would think that the media is making this look worse if they're banning skeptics when the scientific debate isn't even over...follow?

    The questions are terribly worded and ordered. This isn't that far off from the wording in push polls. Thus, I would question the validity of the rest of the survey (e.g., sample choices and sizes, etc.). It's surprising that they only got 42% to say the media portrays global warming worse than it is.

    1. I agree, Joe. It's not just the questions that are worded badly. The slant taken by Rassmussen in their reporting of the results is also not the best.

      They and others do a lot of surveys on the views in the USA about climate change. Probably best to look at as many as possible to get a clear picture of what the general public understands on the subject.

      I think it's fair to say, though, that the majority of US Americans accept that climate change is happening and that it's caused by humans. (More than half US citizens.)

      It's probably also fair to say that too many Americans don't know that almost all scientists who research the subject agree and that the science itself is unequivocal. It's scientific fact.

    2. No surprises here. It's not that the phrasing is 'terrible' because it's not neutral, or because someone didn't know what they were doing. Rasmussen are experienced pollsters- The will know precisely how to word their questions to provide a particular frame of reference for the questions in order to elicit particular reactions from those questioned.

      This 'framing' of issues is a standard tactic, developed by US Republican strategist Frank Luntz, eg he led the Republicans to refer to proposals for an inheritance tax as a 'death tax', and oil drilling as 'energy exploration'.

    3. Yup, Rasmussen is clearly biased. Follow Northern Gamer's link below to see how their bias in the last election resulted in the 4th worst prediction out of 27 listed in the link (including some with sketchy practices). As one commenter said, they couldn't even outperform a fake study. One of the reasons speculated for their poor performance was a biased sample. They used robot calling of land lines, and land lines in the US skewed towards an older (and more Romney-friendly) demographic.

  2. To be fair, according to Nate Silver, Rasmusson leans Republican in their polling bias.


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