Why Facts Matter

I read a disturbing, though unsurprising report this morning. It’s from the Union of Concerned Scientists and has to do with climate change. Since this is a business blog we won’t get into the politics of that issue. I will, however, use my bully pulpit to remind you that unlike many of the challenges we face, money or power won’t buy you a different planet on which to live so you won’t have to deal with Earth’s climate.

Back to business.  The report looked at the three main cable news channels and the scientific accuracy of the statements they made with respect to climate change.  This is important since CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the most widely watched cable news networks in the United States, and their coverage of climate change is an important source of information for the public and for policy makers. Thirty-eight percent of American
adults watch cable news and cable news coverage of climate science often reflects and reinforces people’s perceptions of the science, as the report states.  What did they find?

Using specified criteria, we determined whether the individual segments identified dealt with climate science and whether the portrayal of climate science was consistent with the best available scientific evidence at the time of broadcast.  Of the CNN segments that mentioned climate science, 70 percent were entirely accurate, while 30 percent included misleading portrayals of the science.  Of the Fox segments that mentioned climate science, 28 percent were entirely accurate, while 72 percent included misleading portrayals of the science. Of MSNBC segments that mentioned climate science, 92 percent were entirely accurate, while 8 percent included misleading portrayals of the science.

My point here isn’t to promote to bash one network over another.  If you’re making business (or other) decisions based on what you hear from a particular source, you might be missing quite a bit of information.  Even worse, as this study shows, you may have quite a bit of wrong or misleading information.  If the most accurate network got a bunch of critical information right only 92% of the time, how accurate can your facts be if they come from any single source?

Facts matter.  Just because a news organization (or a bright consultant) tells you something doesn’t make it factually accurate.  When a few independent sources do so, you’re probably on solid ground.  That’s the place we need to find.  Are you coming with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

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