Ronald Rice: Uncertainty and Opinion Divergence in Climate Change Journalism

The prevalence of uncertainty and opinion divergence frames in climate change reporting has generated concerns about misrepresentation of scientific consensus. However, the extant research often conflates distinct and competing opinion types, sources, and topics in tallies of general instances of 'controversy' or 'uncertainty'.

We argue for the importance of these distinctions and attempt to resolve this conflation by developing reliable, valid, and more nuanced measures.  Then we analyze the co-occurrence combinations of those distinct types of opinions, sources, and topics in mainstream climate change news stories between 2005 and 2015.  Results indicate that while uncertainty and opinion divergence frames are indeed common, they overwhelmingly are used in reference to non-scientist sources and topics such as legislation or the severity of climate change effects instead of the classical, oft-maligned portrayal of discord between scientists and others about the existence or causes of climate change.