The influence of corporate funding on the climate change debate
Farrell, Justin. 2016. "Corporate Funding and Ideological Polarization about Climate Change" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(1), 92-97. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.10.1073/pnas.1509433112
For decades, action on climate change has been challenged by increasing polarization: the growing gap of beliefs based on ideological differences. Much of this polarization has been aroused by "contrarian" campaigns that actively produce content that denies scientific consensus on climate change. Observation and history have shown that large companies, especially oil companies, and wealthy funders like the Koch Brothers, are often behind these campaigns. But it would seem next to impossible to examine the vast amount of contrarian content to determine everyone involved, and the most effective messages that they are spreading.
New research has done just that, however. Analyzing 20 years' worth of texts (more than 39 million words!), Justin Farrell, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, exposes the connections between corporate funding and messages that fuel doubts about the science of climate change. Farrell used cutting-edge computational analytical methods to code large body of text into "topics" and related phrases that appeared most often. Combining this with other data — such as the year the messages were written, important organizations involved in publishing the text, and their funding sources — Farrell connects the most popular topics with the organizations and funders that pushed them, and observes these changes over time.
The results, published in separate papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature Climate Change, begin to map a network of contrarians. The network has grown significantly over the past 20 years, and as more people join the network, it becomes larger and stronger. In addition, the results broadly show that the most popular topics that climate contrarians wrote or spoke about were people's knowledge of climate change, the science used by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, debates over temperature and warming trends, international politics, and related issues around energy and oil. Even more interesting is that the organizations that received corporate funding produced content that was different than those that did not.
These findings confirm what was widely thought to be the case about the climate change debate through robust analysis. In society, and especially in politics, we are concerned with where funding and sponsorship comes from, and that money has too much power. Farrell's study finds these connections within the climate change debate and provides the tools to analyze other political topics and uncover those networks of organizations and funders. This information also offers the potential to turn the tides toward climate change action