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Maxwell Boykoff's interest in how the media covers the science of climate change began as a side project nearly a decade ago.
The University of Colorado professor -- who was studying vulnerability and hurricane activity in Central America at the time -- was musing about the interaction between science and public policy when he started to wonder how the media's coverage of climate change has impacted the public's perception.
The question sent Boykoff into the archives of some of the country's most venerable publications -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal -- where he discovered that many journalists' attempts to be "balanced" actually skewed their reporting on climate change.
The normal act of reporting on both sides of the story may not actually create an accurate story in the case of climate science, Boykoff concluded, since the scientific consensus is that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it.
Giving climate change skeptics equal space in a story may unfairly amplify their views, Boykoff found.
More than a dozen studies on climate change and the media later, Boykoff has published a book, released last week, called "Who Speaks for the Climate?: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change."
"What started as a bit of a side project, I realized was something that needed a lot more attention," said Boykoff, a researcher at CU's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. "I ended up making that the focus of my ongoing research."
Boykoff's book takes an in-depth look into the media's coverage, which Boykoff says has improved in some ways.
"There have been lessons learned over time," he said. "But there have been lessons learned that we run the risk of having to learn again."
In particular, Boykoff is bothered by the media's tendency to conflate issues that aren't directly related into "one great global warming debate."
For example, a story about the ability of a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions may end up becoming a story about whether humans contribute to climate change at all. Boykoff hopes his book will enable people to think critically about that kind of media coverage on climate change.
"For the everyday person picking up the book, it helps them really understand the processes of science, the processes of journalism and how these issues make their way onto the printed page and into a television news program," he said. "It helps them more critically engage with these kinds of issues."
Alan Townsend, director of CU's Environmental Studies Program, said that the topics tackled in Boykoff's book are an important "piece of the puzzle" to understanding how the public thinks about and responds to climate change.
"Public perception of any particular issue or event is clearly shaped by the conduit that they have for that information, which is the media," he said. "The way people are going to make decisions, the ways in which they're going to understand an issue, the way they're going to act can clearly be shaped by that."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.