Study looks at the role of corporate funding in climate change discussion

November 24, 2015 by Jim Shelton
Study looks at the role of corporate funding in climate change discussion

A computer analysis of 20 years of data found that corporate funding influenced both the content and specific language used to encourage public skepticism of climate change.

Writing in the Nov. 23 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell said the analysis offers a new level of understanding about the role of corporate money in polarizing a public discussion. Farrell is an assistant professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Farrell's analysis is based on two . The first is a social network of 4,556 individuals with ties to 164 organizations that have been skeptical of climate change. The second data set is a compendium of every text those organizations produced about climate change from 1993 to 2013. The latter includes 40,785 texts such as policy statements, press releases, website articles, conference transcripts, published papers, and blog articles.

A good deal of research already exists about how polarization affects individual attitudes and behavior relating to climate change, Farrell explained. Yet there is little data about the underlying organizational factors at play.

"We've never had this level of data," Farrell said. "The text analysis is entirely computational, and it shows an ecosystem of influence."

The study mentions several themes that became more dominant among climate change "contrarians" that received corporate funding. One was the idea that is cyclical in nature; another prevalent theme was the positive benefits of carbon dioxide.

"They were writing things that were different from the contrarian organizations that did not receive corporate funding," Farrell said. "Over time, it brought them into a more cohesive social movement and aligned their messages."

The study employed a recently developed approach to topic modeling—a computer-assisted content analysis process —that factors in metadata such as the year a text was written and its link to corporate funding. The process enables reliable content on massive collections of text, with topics emerging from the as algorithms learn the hidden patterns within a database.

Explore further: Society has been discussing climate change's impacts long before we knew it existed

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Multinationals act on ocean-clogging plastics

January 16, 2017

Forty of the world's biggest companies assembled in Davos agreed on Monday to come up with cleaner ways to make and consume plastic as waste threatens the global eco-system, especially in oceans.

Tracking Antarctic adaptations in diatoms

January 16, 2017

Diatoms are a common type of photosynthetic microorganism, found in many environments from marine to soil; in the oceans, they are responsible for more than a third of the global ocean carbon captured during photosynthesis. ...

Study tracks 'memory' of soil moisture

January 16, 2017

The top 2 inches of topsoil on all of Earth's landmasses contains an infinitesimal fraction of the planet's water—less than one-thousandth of a percent. Yet because of its position at the interface between the land and ...

How the darkness and the cold killed the dinosaurs

January 16, 2017

66 million years ago, the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs started the ascent of the mammals, ultimately resulting in humankind's reign on Earth. Climate scientists have now reconstructed how tiny droplets of sulfuric acid ...

Soil pores, carbon stores, and breathing microbes

January 16, 2017

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) recently studied how moisture influences soil heterotrophic respiration. That's the breathing-like process by which microbes convert dead organic carbon in the ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

danR
1 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2015
"...Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale University sociologist..."

Sociologist.

Now we're talking heavy science hitting.
leetennant
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2015
"...Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale University sociologist..."

Sociologist.

Now we're talking heavy science hitting.


danR argument: "Sociology study not valid because done by sociologist" #headdesk
We're really scraping the denier barrel today, aren't we?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2015
Environmental conflict is not ultimately about scientific true and false, but about MORAL right and wrong. It is NOT about the FACTS themselves, but what makes the facts meaningful. There are important MORAL and SPIRITUAL bases of conflict that observers and participants in the conflict have ignored, muted or simply misunderstood.

- Justin Farrell, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.