Researchers mine Twitter to reveal Congress' ideological divide on climate change

Senate Democrats are three times more likely to follow science-related Twitter accounts than their Republican peers

twitter-logo

Does human activity drive global climate change? For members of Congress, the answer often depends on party affiliation. In general, Republicans say “nay,” Democrats “yea.”

A research team led by Brian Helmuthprofessor in the College of Science and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairswants to change that.

In a new paper published Monday in the journal Climate Change Responses, Helmuth and his Northeastern colleagues analyzed the Twitter accounts of U.S. senators to see which legislators followed research-oriented science organizations, including those covering global warming. Democrats, they found, were three times more likely than Republicans to follow them, leading the researchers to note that “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”

Yet out of that political polarization, says Helmuth, came a ray of hope: 15 Senate Republicans bridged the aisle, displaying a draw to science and thus a way to bring scientific information to those not receiving it on their own.

“Increasingly, people are using Facebook and Twitter as a means of getting news, which determines what information they are exposed to,” says Helmuth. A marine biologist and an ecologist, Helmuth investigates the effects of climate change on marine organisms, aiming to provide policymakers with scientifically accurate forecasts to inform their decisions.

“Our study tells us which organizations and senators we should work with to get science-related findings into the hands of people who otherwise might not see them,” says Helmuth.

Two distinct ‘echo chambers’

The study sprang from the researchers’ desire to make their forecasts more accessible to policymakers. The coauthors of the paper are Tarik Gouhier, assistant professor, and Steven Scyphers, associate research scientist, both in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences at Northeastern, and Jenn Mocarski, administrative assistant in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

“We used to make forecasts using quantitative methods and then put them out in the world,” says Helmuth. “The shift now is: Let’s start by learning what information end users actually want. What matters to them, and what common ground can we find to communicate our science in an effective way?”

They turned to Twitter to unearth the legislators’ interests as well as the image each office projected to the public: Was a particular senator “pro science” or not? All told, they evaluated Twitter data from 89 senators49 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and two Independents. In the paper they include a list of the total number of Twitter accounts followed by each senator and the proportion of accounts categorized as “science.”

Using network analysis, they sifted through the nearly 79,000 Twitter accounts the senators followed and tracked how their science-related follows compared with their votes on amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill, including one regarding the role of human activity in causing climate change.

Not surprisingly, says Helmuth, the Republican and Democratic senators landed in two distinct “echo chambers.” The Republicans were, let’s say, in right field, bouncing the same select information back and forth, and the Democrats were in left field, bouncing their own select information back and forth.

“The bias was so great that the two parties were seeing completely different worlds,” says Helmuth. “That leaves no basis for dialogue. They weren’t looking at, for instance, a report with the Republicans saying, ‘I interpret this report this way based on my political leanings,’ and the Democrats saying, ‘Well, I interpret it this way.’ The divisions have gotten so great that identifying as being ‘pro science’ or not now looks as if it’s part of party identity.”

Seeking common ground

Yet there’s good news, too, notes Helmuth. The researchers found it by correlating the senators’ Twitter follows with their pipeline amendment votes. There are champions of science in both parties, says Helmuth, “people we identified who are willing to cross party lines and to get information from both ends of the spectrum.”

Helmuth suggests that scientists target these “crossovers,” as well as apolitical “boundary organizations,” which straddle the science-policy divide, to help get their messages across. Focusing the conversation on issues everyone cares about, such as national defense and human health, opens doors, too.

“The science of climate change is not politicalit’s based on objective facts,” says Helmuth. “It’s the solutions to climate change that are political. But you can’t force information down people’s throats, and oftentimes you can’t even influence positions with data. You need to concentrate on where people are starting fromthe stories that are relevant to them. Then you put what you’re trying to say in that context.”

###

Advertisements

66 thoughts on “Researchers mine Twitter to reveal Congress' ideological divide on climate change

  1. “The science of climate change is not political it’s based on objective facts,” says Helmuth.
    HA HA HA !
    Climate science is TRUTH. The Department of Truth in the state of California has just introduced a bill saying to.

    • …So, if you don’t follow Twitter, then you don’t believe in science ?? Wow, such “Unprecedented” logic !
      Did these twit’s actually get paid for this ??

      • Lemme think, would I trust a politician who goes to twitter for their ‘science’ ?
        dear god, what is wrong with these people?? I’d also be very keen to know what they consider science – my guess is it’s scientism.

      • And the corollary: that these researchers failed to consider alternative sources of science, like papers, journals, libraries, universities, websites, scientists, etc. shows that their conclusion is fundamentally flawed.

      • This demographic could also arise from the simple fact that #ClimateScientists regularly restrict Republican #ClimateRealists from commenting on or sometimes even following their Twitter Feeds. Why would anyone follow a Tiwits feed if they aren’t allowed to comment on it and have their concerns noted and accounted for

      • Yeah, because Twitter is such a great communication standard.
        140 characters is barely enough for a single short sentence. Anybody who is relying on tweets to think about science doesn’t actually know any science. It does not surprise that the Democrats are doing their deep thinking through this medium.

    • Yeah, “The science of climate change is not political – It’s based on objective facts,” that is the laugh-out-loud line
      What “objective fact” supports the contention that CO2 has a significant effect on global temperature??
      What “objective fact” supports the contention that weather/climate today is “unprecedented”??
      What “objective fact” supports the contention that any oogi-boogie bad-news weather/climate phenomenon today is “accelerating” or reaching a “tipping point”??
      What “objective fact” supports the contention that there is any such thing as a “tipping point” in Earth history??
      BOGUS

      • ==========================================================
        Yeah, “The science of climate change is not political – It’s based on objective facts,” that is the laugh-out-loud line
        (1) What “objective fact” supports the contention that CO2 has a significant effect on global temperature??
        (2) What “objective fact” supports the contention that weather/climate today is “unprecedented”??
        (3) What “objective fact” supports the contention that any oogi-boogie bad-news weather/climate phenomenon today is “accelerating” or reaching a “tipping point”??
        (4) What “objective fact” supports the contention that there is any such thing as a “tipping point” in Earth history??
        BOGUS
        ===================================================================
        (1) Can’t say it is significant but CO2 DOES absorb and reradiate SOME Infrared Radiation which is why it is labeled a Green House Gas. To what extent and exactly how significant it plays in the Grand Scheme I can’t say.
        (2) Agree, nothing truly “Unprecedented” appears to be happening within the scope of Weather (with the only possible caveat being that recent La-Nina cooling appears to be having a lesser effect on global temperatures than it did in the 60’s)
        (3) Totally agree that there is still no apparent acceleration in weather related events or extreme weather related events over the last 100 years, In fact the opposite appears to exist. Over the last 150 years there has been a slight decrease in weather extremes (with the possible exception of the prolonged deepening of the Polar Vortex and development of Blocking Highs over California and Greenland)
        (4) I certainly know of no TIPPINT POINT in earth’s history that has led to runaway increases in global temperatures unless you go back millions of years when Antarctica was un-glaciated. Even then the temperatures cooled and the earth entered a stage of recurring ice ages lasting 80-90,000 years with interglacial periods lasting 10 – 20,000 years

    • Particularly clueless about how public figures’ social media accounts work. Some assistant, junior staffer and/or intern is/are running the Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Almost every post is being written by them or the press secretary/PR person. Accounts being followed are probably chosen by committee, based on whether the staffers believe the account will reflect well on the public figure. It is highly unlikely that the figure is reading actual tweets unless said tweets are brought to him by a staffer as part of a briefing. Just because some intern hit “follow” (or whatever) on an account does not mean a Senator even knows that account exists.
      Someone actually funded this “study”? They should ask for a refund, STAT.

  2. Helmuth suggests that scientists target these “crossovers,” as well as apolitical “boundary organizations,” which straddle the science-policy divide, to help get their messages across. …
    You need to concentrate on where people are starting fromthe stories that are relevant to them. Then you put what you’re trying to say in that context.”
    So Helmuth is yet another ACTIVIST “scientist” whose funding for work on marine biology is being mis-used to do work on the psychology of politics and communication.
    A scientists’ job is to do and publish science NOT to “get their messages across.”

  3. It was about time. One has to own his sh… From this point on, it is obvious that Democrats are incapable of recognising science, even when it bites them.

  4. ” All told, they evaluated Twitter data from 89 senators49 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and two Independents.”
    Maybe your just trying to conserve space ?? lol….arggg, sorry, it’s late……..

    • Maybe I missed something beyond the pure idiocy of people thinking they re getting super-science edumacated via twitter. 15 republicans follow science issues on twitter; three times as many democrats engage in this estimable pursuit. That’s 45 democrats. There are only 38 democrats. I guess if he could do math he’d be a physicist or other real scientist.
      I’d like some kind of math comparison for the democrats, myself!

      • Usually, when someone starts a comment by “maybe I missed something”, yes, he missed something. In this case, what you have missed is that the article does not says that there are “three times as many” democrats, but that democrats are “three times more likely” to do it. So the maths to find the number of democrats following some science account is not 15*3, but 15/49*38*3, which is below 38.

  5. Maybe these boo boo’s are caused by using Twitter too much ?
    “You need to concentrate on where people are starting fromthe stories that are relevant to them”
    Or maybe because it’s late…..

    • Marcus! Chill dude.
      Spaces waste space, think conservation. We do try to be a bit ecological around here, you know.

  6. … to see which legislators followed research-oriented science organizations, including those covering global warming. Democrats, they found, were three times more likely than Republicans to follow them, leading the researchers to note that “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”

    Since they know that climate science is a highly politicised and polarised subject they are falsifying their own results by including it before drawing conclusions about “overt interest in science “.
    Their perversion of their own role as scientists and the wholesale corruption of climate science is probably a major reason why Republican senators do not waste time reading such propaganda masquerading as science.

  7. “The science of climate change is not political it’s based on objective facts,” says Helmuth.
    I love the “based on” clause. Yeah, like Hollywood movies are “based on” a true storey . It’s just that the facts get changed to make a more interesting scenario.
    aka fiction.

    • Likewise! Very interested in science my whole life. I have no interest in social media whatsoever. I would not have suspected that s/m has anything to offer in that regard and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

  8. This article perpetuates the false idea that there is one single thing identified as “Science.” But there isn’t. There are only individual fields of study, some of which deserve being called sciences, and others arguably not. They don’t truly fit into one overarching category because the methodologies and criteria for what count as valid findings vary so greatly among them. (A cynic might joke that people who do research in physics might not even be from the same planet as psychological researchers.)
    The panorama can be taxonomized as follows. First divide the fields of study into: A-the natural or physical sciences; and B-the social sciences. Then divide the natural sciences to separate: A1-those concerned with homogeneous entities and deterministic (at least in the aggregate) relationships; from A2-the ones that deal with chaotic processes (like climatology).
    Most of the progress in knowledge and technology comes from the A1 category. Although researchers in the other categories would like you to think they are making comparable contributions to society, they are not.
    In the public eye, most of the credibility of science therefore comes from tangible products resulting from the findings of the sciences of physics and chemistry–for example, computers, jumbo jets, medical technologies such as MRI scanners, etc. Very few question these accomplishments of these kinds of sciences. But that doesn’t mean that other sciences produce comparably valid results,
    But you can take this even further. Throughout history much of the progress initially came from the tinkerers, inventors and engineers. The relevant sciences were discovered or substantially elaborated after the fact to understand why the things they created actually worked. The Romans built great aqueducts 2000 years ago and the church produced grand cathedrals in the Middle Ages before materials science was developed. “The era of the steam engine … was well into its second century before a fully formed science of thermodynamics had been developed.” http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/tech-careers/engineering-is-not-science
    And unlike science, replication is not an issue in engineering. You may be able to get away with “scientific findings” that can’t be reproduced, but not with a bridge that collapses.
    The climate change alarmists seem to think that just calling their opponents anti-science should be more than enough to shut them up, or at least convince others to ignore evidence contrary to their catastrophic warming narrative. However there is an implicit assumption in the anti-science epithet: that all sciences produce comparably reliable results. For example, that the science of climatology could be trusted as much as the science of aeronautics.
    Here’s a hopefully thought-provoking question to ask anyone who accuses others of being anti-science: Would you book a flight on an airplane that was as unreliable as weather forecasts more than 10 days in advance? http://www.josh-rosenberg.com/2013/06/accuweather-long-range-forecast-accuracy/

    • An important set of observations, very well put. In reiterating this to engage someone’s brain, I would add the recent meta study that showed a very high number of published papers in the soft sciences cannot be replicated. I personally feel that in all fields outside of math, physics, chemistry , geology and materials, science is broken until peer review is fixed.

  9. “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”
    They came to that conclusion based solely on Twitter usage? There are other sources of Science information that don’t limit the number of words you can use in a post. Perhaps Republicans prefer to get their science from sources with a less limited vocabulary, like WUWT. I know I do.
    The researchers, themselves, seem to be more interested in climate science and getting the message out on climate than in any other fields of science. So I have to wonder how much weight they gave to climate related science compared to other fields. Democrats are naturally more interested in climate change and taking political advantage of the supposed climate crisis than their Republican counterparts. Would the ratio of interest in science still be 3 to 1 Democrat if they took climate science out of the equation?

    • How about turning this around? How many real scientists follow twitter vs. how many politicized AGW hacks?

  10. Aside from thinking Twitter is a terible source for news generally, Helmuth is delusional or lying if he thinks climate change is not political. Most government financed “science” is political to some degree, but climate science is politics all the way down.

    • The Alarmists have made it about politics, not science, because the science does not support their CAGW claims.

  11. “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”
    No, inability to follow an idea that takes more than 140 characters to express is primarily a Democrat characteristic.

    • You said it so much better than I could have.
      I watch/follow/read any number of scientific sources every day – like NASA, USGS, AMA, Physics.org, CA, WUWT, blah, blah, etc. But I NEVER even considered going to Twitter or FB.
      Nor will I ever go to a social media site for this … I want facts, not “likes” or 140 characters of agenda.

  12. Once upon a time when the slide rule was King there was Pure or Natural Science and a thing called Applied Science my dodge as it happens (Engineering Science), . Apart from a few ‘ologies and ‘ographies hovering in the wings for inclusion, all the rest were therefore by definition ‘Impure’ or ‘Unnatural’ sciences. We called them ‘Arts’. So how did they get in? I guess the Romans asked the same question when they woke up to find the place full of Huns and Visigoths!
    Thanks Anthony for another good post and food for thought.
    keep up the good work.

  13. In Australia, Twitter is a leftist sewer. No one worth their salt takes any notice of it. SO confining this study to Twitter is only a small part of the story. Usual leftist twit story trying to make themselves out as more scientifically inclined. All they are inclined to do is to repeat the same PR story released that week. Does not make them in any way scientific let alone in varying degrees.

    • Same all over. Twitter is an alternate reality for intellectual lightweights. It’s like asking a kindergarten class for political analysis.

  14. Counting propaganda Twitter accounts as science ?
    I bet what they counted as “science” Twitter accounts turn out to be well funded big PR guns like SkS etc. that aren’t scientific at all.

  15. Can you guess which of their subjects is the biggest follower of science on their Twitter account? Not that any of them is much of a follower at all, as the numbers are very low.
    Pat yourself on the back if you guessed Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, originator of the RICO call. And remember, this is not political. No sir. Not at all.

  16. I think I solved some of the mystery.

    Helmuth investigates the effects of climate change on marine organisms

    The poor guy could study Boston Harbor, the North Shore, South Shore, Cape Cod Bay, Cape Cod and The Islands. With absolutely no climate change in 50 years at least, there is no effect on the marine organisms to study. The fellow has nothing to do. Without tenure he would be out of a job.
    Adding insult to injury, the poor benighted chap is reduced to analyzing the twitter emissions of politicians.

  17. The scientists on the first ipcc report found no proof man made climate change. The policy makers aka politicians changed the results. Agw was a lie from the start.

  18. Using network analysis, they sifted through the nearly 79,000 Twitter accounts

    Does anybody else notice that this project has the exact same “aroma” as Lewandowsky, Cook and the 97%?
    Probably a spin-off or a “me-too” effort.

    • Yes, I thought so too. The throw-away use of the term “using network analysis” set the alarm bells ringing.

    • OK…I was not the only one that got that whiff of that. I found it too eerily similar. The “criteria” used to define the so-called “research-oriented science organizations” would be interesting to see. Passing this “study” (difficult to use this word) of Twitter off as valid research with conclusions should be an embarrassment to all involved, but these people are oblivious to their folly.

  19. I’m sure citizen-scientist Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is conducting experiments in her basement as I type this.
    There are many obvious problems with this analysis. Two first-order problems. First, the population who uses Twitter is a highly biased sample, and even if all politicians are on the platform, the actual usage of the platform is also highly biased (it’s not like Twitter is a random sample of a person’s thoughts). Second, the actual measure of whether someone “follows science” based on the accounts they follow is problematic, because the academics don’t actually know what the politicians look at or read. Is a politician who “follows” 100 blogs but reads none of them more interested in “science” than a politician who reads one good one?
    Then there is a glaring omitted variable – on average, Democrats prefer the nanny state, and climate science recommends action that empowers the nanny state. So it’s not that Democrats prefer “science,” it’s that they prefer the nanny state…this is known as a correlated omitted variable. On a side note, it’s amazing how climatologists now think of themselves as all of science. I wonder what physicists think of the matter.
    As an academic who conducts empirical research, I find papers like these thoroughly depressing.

    • Yup! This so-called scientist can’t even analyze a small set of twitter accounts scientifically!

    • Legend, you put my general thoughts into words so much better than I could.
      My thought on reading the main article was to ask….
      These are followers of Science? or followers of Pseudo-Science?

  20. OK. I thought Feminist Glaciology took the cake, but now we have Twitterology?!?!!
    I suppose it will not be long before Twitterology is listed in the course catalogs of Universities everywhere, with PhD Twitterology programs competing for the (Oh, how I hate to write this!) best and brightest in Twitterology.
    Western society is doomed, I tell ya’.

  21. Let me see if I have this right. Twitter is now the proving ground for scientific thought scrutiny, ultimately designed to be used to educate the unwashed skeptical masses in both the validity and reliability of serious as well as sophomoric research results into Earth’s fickle and excruciatingly tangled climate connections. There is a word for that.
    Propaganda. The dark age revisited.

  22. I had to give up the Scientific American magazine because it had become political. It was a hundred times better as a source of scientific commentary than Twitter or Fakebook.
    Who in their right mind would even think of using social media as a source of scientific thought?

  23. “We used to make forecasts using quantitative methods and then put them out in the world,” says Helmuth.

    Translation: “We used to do actual science”, but it was boring, and no one was interested.
    “The shift now is: Let’s start by learning what information end users actually want. What matters to them, and what common ground can we find to communicate our science in an effective way?”
    Translation: “Whee! Social “science”. This is so much more fun. And people listen to us now. Who cares if it isn’t actual science!

  24. The lunatics are running the asylum up here in Canada. Prime minister Twerpdeau wants to change our voting system without giving the people a referendum and the Orwellian “minister of democratic institutions” believes twitter is a better way to gauge public sentiment than a real vote.

  25. The partisan divide is only approximate, and therefore misleading.
    The actual boundary between warmists and skeptics is something called ‘critical thinking’, a process by which assertions are only provisionally considered until they can be TESTED against independent sources to determine their veracity.
    Those who practice critical thinking are by definition skeptics, and are often suspicious of unproven government programs to fix what ails the people, environment, country, economy, etc. Since they are naturally cautious, they tend to be politically conservative as well, and thus are more comfortable as Republicans.

    • tadchem wrote: “Those who practice critical thinking are by definition skeptics, and are often suspicious of unproven government programs to fix what ails the people, environment, country, economy, etc. Since they are naturally cautious, they tend to be politically conservative as well, and thus are more comfortable as Republicans.”
      I think that sums it up nicely.

    • Wow, there’s a blast from the past! Lensman, anyone? Back when spaceship navigation used slide rules.

  26. The learned Helmuth would have looked even more stupid to his peers if he had reported;”Twits twitter.”
    Old english a twit is a derogatory descriptor.
    I shudder to imagine/endure the public policy that results from such a shallow understanding of science and human interests.
    140 characters are excellent for slander and smear .
    Not so great for defining your terms and laying out your hypothesis,with suggested ways to test it.
    I wonder what science means in these universities?
    An individual of authority?
    Or a means of revealing the amazing world around us?

  27. Yet another Warmist sociological study . I guess they count the size of their echo chambers as dispositive as physics so no need to hurt their brains with the hard sciences .

  28. So one could say “If you don;t watch the Daily Show, you are not interested in the news”. Many ‘people’ (I use quotes for a reason) get their ‘News’ from the Daily Show, on Comedy Central!!! Sure, he may be quick witted, but the topics go thru a group of writers and give things in the news a comedic spin. It’s comedy, not news.
    To state that just because you don’t follow ‘scientific’ Twitter accounts, that you’re anti-science. How narrow minded is this person? WUWT has a Twitter account, did he include this as a science site?
    Twitter can be a fun past time, but these people that put so much emphasis on Twitter gives me a headache. That why I call them Twits.

  29. from the article: “All told, they evaluated Twitter data from 89 senators 49 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and two Independents.”
    Correction: That is really 49 Republicans and 40 Democrats. The two “Independents” are not so independent.

  30. The Alarmists just can’t understand why the Skeptics won’t go along with the CAGW program. Since the science is settled in their minds, they think the problem with the Skeptics is psychological, or ideological, or a communications problem.
    When Skeptics say there is no evidence to support the CAGW theory, the Alarmists act like they can’t hear what the Skeptics are saying. They don’t hear, because if they did hear, then they would have to provide evidence, and they don’t have any to provide, so they change the subject to Twitter and other diversions.

  31. “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”
    Good Lord . . .

  32. “overt interest in science may now primarily be a ‘Democrat’ value.”
    I really do hope that no one broke an arm trying to pat themselves on the back for being so “special.”

Comments are closed.