Analysis: skeptical ‘hedge’ wording creeping into newspaper articles

From the University of Colorado at Boulder

Reporters using more ‘hedging’ words in climate change articles, CU-Boulder study finds

The amount of “hedging” language—words that suggest room for doubt—used by prominent newspapers in articles about climate change has increased over time, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder. 

The study, published in the journal Environmental Communication, also found that newspapers in the U.S. use more hedging language in climate stories than their counterparts in Spain.

“We were surprised to find newspapers increased their use of hedging language, since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,” said Adriana Bailey, a doctoral student at CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, and lead author of the paper.

CIRES is a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The researchers examined articles published in two U.S. papers, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in two Spanish papers, El Mundo and El Pais. The articles used for the study were published in 2001 and 2007, years when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, released its latest assessments of the physical science basis for climate change.

The researchers combed the articles for words from all parts of speech that typically suggest uncertainty, such as almost, speculative, could, believe, consider, blurry, possible and projecting.

Once the words were identified, the scientists considered the context they were used in to determine if they should count as hedging language.

For example, the word “uncertainty” was counted in a New York Times article that read “…substantial uncertainty still clouds projections of important impacts…” but it was not counted in a sentence in the same newspaper that read “…uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change…”

Also, the researchers only counted hedging language that had to do with either the physical science basis for climate change—such as changes in average temperatures and precipitation patterns—or the IPCC process. Language related to possible adaptation and mitigation efforts, such as preparing coastal cities for expected sea level rise, was not included.

The results showed that in 2001, the U.S. papers used 189 hedging words or expressions per 10,000 words printed while the Spanish papers used 107. In 2007, the number of hedging words and expressions used per 10,000 words rose to 267 in the U.S. and to 136 in Spain.

Given that Spain has ratified the Kyoto Protocol—the international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions—while the U.S. has not and that Spain has proposed a national climate policy, the research team was not surprised to find that Spanish newspapers seem to be communicating less uncertainty about climate change than U.S. papers.

But the team did not expect to see increases in hedging language in both countries over time. The study was not designed to determine the reasons for the increase, but Bailey said it could be related to a number of factors, from amplified politicization of climate change—including polarization of climate stances by political leaders—to the possibility that reporters are actually writing more about the detailed science, which requires greater explanation of the accompanying scientific uncertainties.

The researchers also noticed that the ways in which qualifications are introduced into climate change articles have evolved over time.

“One of the new ways uncertainty is being constructed is by comparing IPCC reports and climate studies against each other, and in that way, presenting results that seem disparate,” Bailey said. “The second new way is by comparing predictions to observations—by describing climate changes that are happening faster than expected or that are smaller than anticipated, for example.

“Making sense of these ‘surprises’ is part of the scientific process; it’s how we build new knowledge,” she added “But news stories don’t often provide readers with the background information necessary to understand this.”

While this study analyzed news articles that appeared after the IPCC’s third and fourth assessment reports, the researchers say the findings can help people better interpret media coverage of more recently released reports on climate change, including the IPCC’s fifth assessment, which was published last year.

An awareness of how the media use hedging language to cover the changing climate can help media consumers distinguish remaining scientific questions from uncertainties constructed by the news, the researchers said.

###

Other CU-Boulder co-authors of the study are Maxwell Boykoff, an assistant professor at CIRES, and Lorine Giangola, STEM coordinator for the Graduate Teacher Program.

About these ads
This entry was posted in Climate Communications, Climate News. Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Analysis: skeptical ‘hedge’ wording creeping into newspaper articles

  1. hunter says:

    Reality is sinking in, even in the news room. Chris Mooney is reported, in a Mother Jones article, to be incensed that all of the hard work he did in poisoning the well and hyping the fear is unwinding.
    The article this report is based seems to be aimed towards Moony-esque well posioning, seeking to keep climate obsessed people from critically examining the issue.

  2. Neo says:

    There is probably an equal chance of the Earth being hit by a comet or asteroid that would cause significant damage, so why isn’t there a “hedge” planetary defense system ?

  3. Shawn from High River says:

    “An awareness of how the media use hedging language to cover the changing climate can help media consumers distinguish remaining scientific questions from uncertainties constructed by the news, the researchers said.”

    So be skeptical of the media if the media appears skeptical.

  4. Michael D says:

    I understand that substantial uncertainty still clouds the understanding of how much hedging language is used, and there is no consensus on the underlying reason. :)

  5. John West says:

    “the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it”

    So, wait, the consensus now includes those that consider CO2 to have only a minor influence?

    The slide to what the skeptical position was from the get go continues.

  6. john robertson says:

    Once the presstitutes start running for cover, the game begins to get interesting.
    Rats throwing each other to the wolves, comes to mind.
    CAGW is and was an intelligence test.
    Buy that and we can sell you..anything.

  7. Latitude says:

    but Bailey said it could be related to a number of factors, ….. allowing comments

  8. Matthew R Marler says:

    “One of the new ways uncertainty is being constructed is by comparing IPCC reports and climate studies against each other, and in that way, presenting results that seem disparate,” Bailey said. “The second new way is by comparing predictions to observations—by describing climate changes that are happening faster than expected or that are smaller than anticipated, for example.

    Those sound like improvements in the reporting.

    One study is not enough, but this looks interesting.

  9. commieBob says:

    Beware of experts who don’t use hedging words.

    Philip Tetlock has studied ‘experts’ for many years. One of his findings that the popular press has seized on is: pundits perform worse than dart throwing chimpanzees. Some experts were slightly better than chance. These were the ‘Foxes’. Their predictions were full of hedge words. They looked at the problem from every possible angle. The worst predictors were the ‘Hedgehogs’ who used no hedge words. Their predictions were simple, clear, unequivocal, and mostly wrong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_E._Tetlock

  10. mpainter says:

    Adriana Baily, I have bad news for you. First of all, you have been indoctrinated, not educated, you poor U of Colorado student. It will take you years to correct this misfortune, if you ever do. Secondly, the so called “consensus” has been unraveling for years and will continue to unravel. The surprising thing is that you are so bereft of judgement to not be able to understand all of this, or even read the writing on the wall. Why do you suppose that the writers of these news articles are now hedging their language- could they possibly have – oh horrors!….doubts?

  11. Brad says:

    They should have added words like “Model, models, and modelling”, plus all those emotional words like “raging, fiery, catastrophic, etc”. The count would skyrocket!!

  12. Lucius von Steinkaninchen says:

    The fact that the “consensus” climate science has constantly to do research to check and evaluate its own navel and if it is convincing people or not is perhaps the strongest symptom of its failure.

  13. It’s called CYA, cover your …
    This way they will point to their newer stories and clam that they weren’t completely taken as fools by the scammers.

  14. arthur4563 says:

    Journalists who have their articles subjected to peer review tend to watch what they say. For example, a good question for Bailey would be “What, exactly, is it that you claim a consensus for?” I predict she will provide a simplistic and invalid answer, like “global warming.” One of the main techniques used by the alarmists crowd is to claim that skeptics do not believe that any warming has or will occur.

  15. Quinx says:

    “Consensus” . . . hahahahahahaha

  16. Will Nelson says:

    Lucius von Steinkaninchen says:
    June 4, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Quinx says:
    June 4, 2014 at 10:07 am
    ________________________________________

    They should have counted “consensus” as a hedge word also.

    And is that right?, a current study using 2007 dated newspapers?

  17. JIm Cripwell says:

    One suggestion that I read somewhere, is that most of the MSM gets it’s income from advertising. CAGW is not a very popular subject at the moment. Might it be that this is in preparation for some articles that give the audience what they are looking for.

  18. cnxtim says:

    “Hedge”, “CYA” or “weasel words” whatever, the good thing is, the CAGW ship of fools springs another leak – what’s next? The railway engineer to announce early retirement to “spend more time with his family”?

  19. Jimbo says:

    “We were surprised to find newspapers increased their use of hedging language, since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,”

    I’m surprised they were surprised by the increased use of hedging language. Just earlier today we were reminded of the slow motion falsification in progress. It may start hotting up soon though.

    The pause continues – Still no global warming for 17 years 9 months
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/06/04/the-pause-continues-still-no-global-warming-for-17-years-9-months/

    While the consensus strengthens. Odd that. ;-) It’s called CIRCLING THE WAGONS.

  20. wtomb52 says:

    “We were surprised ..” Idiot!

  21. ba says:

    It’s also called CIRCLING IN THE TOILET BOWL.

  22. This scientific paper belongs to the new scientific discipline of ”Weasel Climatology”
    Ha, ha I love it!!
    Published in the Environmental Communication Journal.
    This just shows the level of the ultimate corruption of Climate Science.

  23. Louis says:

    “…the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,” said Adriana Bailey…

    Hasn’t the “consensus” always been reported as 97% since they first announced there was a consensus? What evidence is there that the consensus has strengthened at all during the current pause? I guess you have to be a doctoral student living in a smoky echo chamber in Colorado to believe such a thing.

  24. Stephen Richards says:

    Why ? Why did they bother to do this research ? Oh, public money, I forgot.

  25. talldave2 says:

    “Making sense of these ‘surprises’ is part of the scientific process; it’s how we build new knowledge,” she added

    I see Well, one might humbly suggest maybe you should have worked out those “surprises” before you branched into multi-trillion-dollar global policy consulting and started telling people you were absolutely sure there would be no “surprises” and that indeed the whole entirety of science itself inveighed, at levels of 97% or greater, against the possibility of such “surprises.”

    Because that’s a little bit different than said “surprises” being just a normal humdrum banal totally expected “part of the scientific process.”

  26. urederra says:

    The Spanish media is mostly left wing and the only thing they do now is to retweet press releases.

    I remember when the first climategate emails were published over the net, I went to El Mundo web site only to find out that the headlines they were posting was that the climategate emails were fake. I stopped visiting El Mundo since then. El Pais is even worse, I have not visited its website in years.

    If you tell anybody in the street about the Climategate emails the only reply you will get is a “¿qué?” Nobody know about them.

  27. Winston says:

    “One of the new ways uncertainty is being constructed is by comparing IPCC reports and climate studies against each other, and in that way, presenting results that seem disparate,” Bailey said. “The second new way is by comparing predictions to observations—by describing climate changes that are happening faster than expected or that are smaller than anticipated, for example.”

    Comparing reports and studies against each other and comparing model predictions with reality?!
    Absolute heresy!

  28. Zeke says:

    commieBob says, “Philip Tetlock has studied experts for years…”

    Interesting lead to a body of work. Wik:

    “His Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (2005) describes a twenty-year study in which 284 experts in many fields, including government officials, professors, journalists, and other, and with many opinions, from Marxists to free-marketeers, were asked to make 28,000 predictions[1][2] about the future, finding that they were only slightly more accurate than chance, and worse than basic computer algorithms.

    As a result of this work, he received the 2008 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.[3] Tetlock was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for best book published on government, politics, or international affairs and Robert E. Lane Award for best book in political psychology, both from American Political Science Association in 2005. Forecasters with the biggest news media profiles were especially bad. The study also compared the records of “foxes” and “hedgehogs” (two personality types identified in The Hedgehog and the Fox).[4]

    The question is, when and how do the “experts” start to become so susceptible to manias, fixations, obsessions, and outright dementia – because many of them do start out so well. I believe the process of decline is when experts begin to concern themselves mainly with other “experts” and to isolate themselves from the rest of the practical, living, loving world. They begin to perform for each other, and desire the approval and accolades of their “peers,” which causes a drift from the original basis of knowledge and to seek applause through increasing extremes, and soon, the experts collectively become more vulnerable than most people to bazaar manias and obsessions.

  29. David Z. says:

    Did anyone (including reviewers) bother to look at the newspapers the authors examined? Hint – only two U.S. newspapers, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Hardly a representative cross section of American media….

  30. mpaul says:

    The reason they did this study was so they can use it to bully and intimidate the press. It basically says, “we’re watching you and measuring your devotion to us. If you hedge were going to call you out and send a signal to our online mob to discipline you”. Any journalist who reads this study will clearly get the message.

  31. Jimbo says:

    For example, the word “uncertainty” was counted in a New York Times article that read “…substantial uncertainty still clouds projections of important impacts…”

    The IPCC itself uses hedging language. I counted the word uncertainty, uncertainties or uncertain over 30 times in the recent AR5 Summary For Policy Makers.

    Other interesting words counted in AR5 SPM.
    low confidence = 24 times
    may = 6 times
    could = 3 times
    might = 2 times

  32. ffohnad says:

    Somebody better quickly inform “the team”. Ostracize the writers of this report…they are not helpful.

  33. Jimbo says:

    “The second new way is by comparing predictions to observations—by describing climate changes that are happening faster than expected or that are smaller than anticipated, for example.

    Is this part of the scientific method? ;-)

  34. Gary Pearse says:

    2001 and 2007!!!! What a shameful misuse of a study. I would like to see a WUWT crowd-sourced analysis for the year following 2009′s Climategate and the present after 18yrs of no warming!! There is where the real hedging went on (and on and on). This must have quintupled the hedging words. And Spain? Probably social_is_m supportive press and 30% unemployment numbness. A much smaller percentage of this ideology in the States and the press still follows the party line. I guess the vestiges of freedom in the US have a small positive effect on the number of hedging words. Had it been the same as Spain’s, or France’s…. I would have been terrified.

  35. Lil Fella from OZ says:

    It shows where the newspapers are at. ‘Consensus’ the buzz word without substantiating the facts! They have their agendas without journalism, so why call them newspapers when they are indoctrinating.

  36. DD More says:

    Also, the researchers only counted hedging language that had to do with either the physical science basis for climate change—such as changes in average temperatures and precipitation patterns—or the IPCC process. Language related to possible adaptation and mitigation efforts, such as preparing coastal cities for expected sea level rise, was not included.

    The results showed that in 2001, the U.S. papers used 189 hedging words or expressions per 10,000 words printed while the Spanish papers used 107. In 2007, the number of hedging words and expressions used per 10,000 words rose to 267 in the U.S. and to 136 in Spain.

    No, No, NO. Bad girl.Bad girl.Bad girl.
    Don’t you know real Climate Scientists never count things. Now go back and make a computer model so you can adjust the data over time and get it right.

  37. Mike Alger says:

    “We were surprised to find newspapers increased their use of hedging language, since the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it has substantially strengthened over time,” said Adriana Bailey, a doctoral student at CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, and lead author of the paper.”

    Isn’t that interesting… Even she used hedging language. A few years ago it would have been stated “The climate is warming and humans are chiefly responsible.” Saying climate change happens and humans have an effect (albeit very small IMO) is a statement most of us reading probably wouldn’t have much issue with.

  38. oldfossil says:

    I googled the publication the report appeared in, Environmental Communication. Its purpose is to research how climate change can be spun more effectively.

  39. Eamon Butler says:

    But the weasel words still get the alarmist message through. When someone reads, ‘Collapsing polar ice sheet could cause dangerous sea levels to rise, enough to flood low lying coastal areas…’ etc. etc. they don’t think, ah well, maybe it won’t. The image conjured up is very deliberately misleading.
    It would be nice to see a bit of plain ol’ fashioned honesty for a change.

    Eamon.

  40. Kurt says:

    It’s depressing that a PhD candidate in a scientific discipline at a U.S. university has such a deficiency in critical reasoning skills. Even setting aside the quibble that the term “scientific consensus” is an oxymoron, there is no logical inconsistency between (1) a growing consensus that “climate change is happening” and that “humans are contributing to it” and (2) a growing use of hedging language in articles about global warming. The consensus of proposition (1) is so broad as to be useless, as almost anyone will agree that climate change is happening, given that it has always “happened” and always will “happen.” Everyone will also will agree that humans “contribute” to it. But like always, the devil is in the details. Being careful and expressing uncertainty as to the amount of global warming from human activities, and to the types of impacts that might result, along with a quantification of those impacts, i.e. proposition (2), does not contradict proposition (1). If the authors were surprised, they have only their own lack of analytical ability to blame.

  41. Figaro says:

    Urederra, then I gather you’ve met Dr. Ruiz de Elvira at El Mundo, am I right? Magnificent specimen of a sold-out zealot. I was censored just because I mentioned the pause and models.

  42. Jim Francisco says:

    Zeke says:
    June 4, 2014 at 11:48 am
    commieBob says, “Philip Tetlock has studied experts for years…”

    Interesting lead to a body of work. Wik:

    “The question is, when and how do the “experts” start to become so susceptible to manias, fixations, obsessions, and outright dementia – because many of them do start out so well. I believe the process of decline is when experts begin to concern themselves mainly with other “experts” and to isolate themselves from the rest of the practical, living, loving world. They begin to perform for each other, and desire the approval and accolades of their “peers,” which causes a drift from the original basis of knowledge and to seek applause through increasing extremes, and soon, the experts collectively become more vulnerable than most people to bazaar manias and obsessions.”

    This reminds me of movie A Beautiful Mind. I think it was based on a true story about a brillant mathematician that went bonkers.

  43. BobM says:

    Anthony, Lucia has a “Bet on UAH” each month… time for you perhaps to have a bet on which major climate “scientist” is first to demonstrate scientific integrity and say “we were wrong” ??…

  44. greg says:

    Pretty old data. Just going on The Economist, the trend only accelerated since 2007.

    TE was still very warmist after Climategate, but over the last few years it has published quite sceptical articles, more than warmist ones by my reckoning.

  45. Chad Wozniak says:

    This “study” would seem to fit in nicely in a Department of Phrenology.

    Obviously the alarmists are adhering most firmly to the first tenet of their belief system, which is to not acknowledge the existence of, let alone listen to, anything that contradicts their shtick.

    What a bloody waste of tuition monies, state funds, and human time.

  46. lee says:

    ‘The study, published in the journal Environmental Communication’

    Ah, is John Cook on the Board of Governors?

  47. pat says:

    one thing i have noticed in the past week, the term “GLOBAL WARMING” is back in the MSM big-time since Yale alerted the CAGW-ers that, according to Yale, GW had more propaganda value than “CLIMATE CHANGE”:

    5 June: Princeton’s Town Topics: Anne Levin: Gore Warns about Global Warming in Class Day Address to Graduates
    Keeping with the lighthearted atmosphere of Class Day, the part of Princeton University’s Commencement exercises planned by graduating seniors, former Vice President Al Gore cracked a few jokes before getting down to the serious business of climate change during his speech to the class on Monday morning.
    “I was once voted the funniest man on C-Span,” joked Mr. Gore, who has often been criticized for his stern demeanor. Telling graduates he sympathizes with them about grade deflation at Princeton University, he said, “Heck, I won the presidential election and I got second place.”
    But Mr. Gore, whom the students selected as their keynote speaker, soon switched focus to environmental activism, the issue he has championed since losing that election in 2000…
    He praised the announcement by the Obama administration on Monday that the federal government will propose regulations cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
    “But today, something else happened that has not been as noticed,” he added. “We as a human civilization have put another 98 million tons of globe-warming pollution into the atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it is an open sewer. That pollution is trapping a lot of heat, as much in 24 hours as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs every day. It is raising temperatures, giving the earth a fever, and putting more water vapor into the air.”
    Citing severe droughts in California, Mr. Gore said special interest groups are confusing people by spreading misinformation. He described the power plant industry as “doing exactly what the tobacco industry did 40 years ago,” hiring actors to assure the public that cigarette smoking was not hazardous to health…
    Mr. Gore recommended that the University not invest in stocks for carbon-intensive companies. He compared the changing of attitudes toward environmental issues with changes he saw in his youth in thoughts about racism. “We’re winning that conversation,” he said. “But we’ve got a ways to go. We’ve got everything we need. The will to act is itself a renewable resource.”…
    Urging students to be pro-active, he said those who attend the University in future decades will look back on the current era and ask one of two questions. “If they are struggling with the kinds of horrific consequences scientists have been warning about, they will ask, ‘What were you thinking? Why didn’t you act?’”
    But if changes have been made to create “a low carbon world,” he continued, people will look back and ask, “How did you shake off the lethargy and find the moral courage to rise up and make the changes that were so essential?”
    http://www.towntopics.com/wordpress/2014/06/04/gore-warns-about-global-warming-in-class-day-address-to-graduates/

  48. Global warming causes hedge growth.

  49. MojoMojo says:

    The hedge words originate with the climate scientists.Trenberth and Hansen say Warming COULD cause an increase in water vapor leading to extreme weather.
    Its a good thing when the hedge words are quoted.
    After years of repetition the hedge words are left out and we are left with the impression that “global warming causes extreme weather.”

  50. Resourceguy says:

    You mean like detectable movement in wording from 24/7 extremist headlines? I suppose something did happen like this at Pravda and the East German news centers just before their shake ups. I don’t recall if evidence of wavering occurred in the Saddam PR statements from Tariq Aziz in the end days of fiction news feeds there.

  51. Resourceguy says:

    @Chad Wozniack
    It’s Boulder, they have to look busy in between pot smoke breaks.

  52. Mike Maguire says:

    The tactic in the 90′s was to predicts these disasters in a future time frame that has arrived with no disasters.

    People realize they didn’t happen, so this administration has morphed the tactic(after changing the terms a couple of times) to convince people that these disasters really are here and happening right now(even extreme cold and snow).

    If this doesn’t work, maybe the next position will be that the disasters have been happening for decades and keeps getting worse.

    That could work…………..disasters started with the Industrial Revolution and that’s what caused climate and weather disasters like the Dust Bowl in the 1930′s. The Great Tri State tornado of 1925 and all those hurricanes which were worse then any in our time. World War I and World War II would not have happened if not for humans burning fossil fuels.

    I still think we should blame it on all those plants and creatures that died and left fossil fuels in the ground. They were irresponsible in dumping all that carbon pollution in a place where reckless humans could get access to it and use it for selfish things like growing food, heating their houses and transportation.

    Maybe we’ll find out that some oil is abiotic. In that case, there could be an opportunity to change the name from burning fossil fuels and carbon pollution to something more sinister sounding like tectonic toxins.

  53. Liontooth says:

    A study on hedging in climate reporting begins with a premise that is hedging:

    “The amount of “hedging” language—words that suggest room for doubt—”

    “the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it”

    How many from the pro-AGW and the anti-AGW side believe that that the climate is undergoing NO changes and that humans are contributing absolutely NOTHING to it?

Comments are closed.