On November 1st, we talked about a new study that confirmed that climate messages explaining the scientific consensus on climate change were effective, even on deniers. But the report also showed that disinformation eroded the long-term positive effect, which is why the fossil fuel industry keeps funding so much disinfo.
And sure enough, a week later the Heartland Institute blasted out a press release to anyone who would listen, wherein H. Sterling Burnett said "this survey, once again, explodes the myth that 97 percent of climate scientists believe humans are causing catastrophic climate change."
Fortunately, literally no one listened, and not a single legitimate news outlet reported on their findings. TownHall did let Heartland's Chris Talgo publish an op-ed about it, but that's as close as they got to media coverage. On November 14th, Heartland published a YouTube video on the same subject, which has gotten some 43,000 views, but other than that, no one seems to have noticed.
But then on November 30th, someone unrelated to Heartland covered it! Unfortunately for them, it was Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, who actually bothered to look at the survey and reveal its actual findings in an op-ed at DeSmog.
While claiming to disprove the 97% consensus, Heartland's poll actually found a 96% consensus that climate change is happening! Whoops!
Branch explains that not only does Heartland's poll of just 400 "scientists" consist primarily of those who have only gotten a bachelor's degree (76%), but only a scant 11% described themselves as actual researchers. The widely-reinforced 97% consensus statistic that Heartland tried so hard to invalidate, by contrast, refers to thousands of actual published, peer-reviewed climate studies, and 1,189 of the researchers who published them.
"Comparing the results of the Heartland-commissioned survey with those of the studies establishing the scientific consensus on climate change," Branch wrote, "is like comparing apples with oranges — equating the opinions of people with a modicum of past exposure to the relevant science with those of scientists currently engaged in advancing scientific knowledge about climate change."
Even still, the very first question of Heartland’s survey found a 96% consensus that warming is happening. The results Heartland chose to highlight, though, made every effort to suggest the opposite. And this can't be accidental.
It's not like you can ‘forget’ to put the findings of the very first question of your survey into the press release and instead just highlight that "only 59 percent of respondents think global climate change will cause 'significant harm' to the 'living conditions for people alive today.'"
Yes, their best finding was that "only" about 60 percent (a majority) think climate change will harm people! And another 30% answered that it would cause "slight harm," meaning that 89% of Heartland's respondents thought climate change will hurt people!
For contrast, only 4% said a slight or significant improvement would result from warming, another 4% said there'd be no change in living conditions, 2% weren't sure, and only % thought there wouldn't be any change in the climate.
By tallying the "slight harm" responses with the "no change" or "improvement" categories, instead of grouping them with their obvious logical companion of "significant harm," Heartland portrayed a strong consensus as a minority view.
This doesn't make any sense if you were trying to accurately portray the findings of your survey, but it is exactly what you would do if it were your job to produce disinformation to prevent people from acting on the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.