Data drives media coverage of climate refugees

Case study by Sherry Ricchiardi: “Data has become a springboard for journalists on the frontlines of the climate refugee crisis. It points them to weather emergencies in hot zones like South Asia and Central America and to humans facing misery and despair.

Jorge A., a Guatemalan farmer lost his corn crop to floods. He planted okra, but a drought killed it off. He feared if he didn’t get his family out, they, too, might die.

Jorge’s story was told in gripping detail in a data-driven investigation by ProPublica in partnership with The New York Times Magazine, exploring how changes in population patterns could lead to catastrophe. The “Great Climate Migration Has Begun,” presented as a visual essay, cited scenarios of how this crisis might play out.

The joint venture, supported by the Pulitzer Center, had an over-arching strategy: To model, for the first time, how climate refugees might move across international borders. The modeling informed the journalist’s findings and “possible general pathways for the future.”

“Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s population,” wrote ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, lead author for the 2020 series…

Journalists have taken a stand on how they cover the climate beat. Their view of what constitutes a “balanced news report” has shifted from “he said, she said” objectivity toward a “weight of evidence” approach. Mainstream media are giving climate skeptics less time and for good reason.

Researchers long had raised concerns that the media distorted scientific consensus on climate change by “false balance” reporting or “bothsidesism,” giving climate deniers too much say. Research by Northwestern University psychology professor David Rapp sheds light on the controversy.

During a co-authored study, experiments were conducted to test how people would respond when two views about climate change were presented as equally valid, even though one side was based on scientific consensus and the other on denial. Among the conclusions, “When both sides of an argument are presented, people tend to have lower estimates about scientific consensus and seem to be less likely to believe climate change is something to worry about.” A campus publication touted, “Northwestern research finds ‘bothsidesism’ in journalism undermines science.”..(More)”.