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Psychological Study Reveals Why Misinformation Is So Effective

An intriguing new study released last week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest reveals why people are more apt to believe false information being fed to them by the media and politicians.

According to the team of psychological scientists working on the study, led by Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia, the main reason that people are more likely to believe false information (for example, that climate change is a hoax) is because it actually takes less brain power to believe a statement is false than to accept it as truth. Finding the truth takes time and effort that people often don’t care enough to spend on particular issues that aren’t of immediate concern.

A few excerpts from the report:

PBS NewsHour Falls Into “Balance” Trap, Provides Megaphone For Anthony Watts

PBS – the network that conservatives have regularly attacked for “liberal bias” for more than 40 years – finally put that myth to rest tonight by airing a one-sided interview with climate change denier Anthony Watts. The former weatherman-turned business owner and blogger Watts, was given close to ten minutes of uncontested airtime to spout his disinformation about climate change, without any retorts from actual climate scientists.

Update: Forecast The Facts launched a petition calling for PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler to investigate whether the segment met PBS' standards.

Watts freely admitted in the interview that he is not a climate scientist, but said that he has a problem with climate scientists because, as Watts says, they are using “faulty data.”

Watts should know a thing or two about faulty data, as he was recommended to PBS reporter Spencer Michels for an interview by the disinformation specialists at the Heartland Institute.

Here is a brief snip from the PBS Newshour interview:

U.S. Government Significantly Underestimating Costs Of Climate Change And Dirty Energy

A new study released today shows that the U.S. government is using faulty calculations and outdated information to determine the costs of energy and climate change in America. The study was written by Chris Hope from the University of Cambridge and Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Current government models would have us believe that fossil fuels provide the cheapest sources of electricity for the United States, but the new study says that the numbers being used are misleading, as they do not take into account all of the costs, specifically those related to climate change, that these sources of energy carry.

From NRDC:

Mega Corporations Understand The Dangers Of Climate Change

While the U.S. federal government might be dragging its feet about climate change, corporations operating in the U.S. fully understand the physical and financial threats posed by extreme climate shifts. According to a new report by The Carbon Disclosure Project, members of the S&P 500 are making great progress in both their acknowledgment of climate change, and in their actions to reduce their own carbon footprints.

The study measured several different markers for corporations, including their willingness to fully disclose their less-than-friendly environmental practices. Overall, the study shows remarkable progress from previous years’ studies.

Here is what they found:

Media Fails Again On Climate Change Coverage During Massive Heat Waves

North America just witnessed the hottest month in the history of record keeping (about 117 years). The month of July shattered every previous record, but was certainly not a freak occurrence. So far, the first 7 months of this year have been the warmest on average since records began over a century ago. Media outlets were abuzz with coverage of floods, droughts, fires, and storms, so naturally you’d think climate change would have played a massive role in their coverage.

You’d be wrong.

A great new study by Media Matters for America shows that our major media outlets – from cable news to print – almost completely ignored the role that man-made climate change played in our severe weather.

According to the study, only about 25% of print articles on the massive heat wave even mentioned climate change, while less than 9% of TV news stories about the weather mentioned climate change. Of the major cable outlets, MSNBC devoted the most time to discussing climate change, bringing up the issue in about 88% of their stories on the heat wave.

Not surprisingly, Fox News only mentioned climate change once, and the theory was quickly shot down by conservative hosts.

From the Media Matters report:

Is Your Water Bottle Giving You Cancer? New Study Reveals Shocking BPA Dangers

Bisphenol A, or BPA for short, has been in the spotlight for decades, with both the chemical industry and occasionally the federal government touting its safety, while independent, non-industry funded scientific studies show us how dangerous the chemical truly is. The latest news regarding BPA is no different, with new independent studies showing that the common chemical has the potential to increase the risk of breast cancer when exposure occurs in the womb.

BPA is a common chemical used primarily in the production of plastics, such as baby bottles, canned goods (lining the inside of cans), soda bottles, and other common plastic goods that typically hold food or beverages (although it is found in countless other polycarbonate plastic products, including medical devices). It helps preserve the life of perishable goods, but comes at a dangerous cost to human health.

The chemical easily leaches out of plastic, and is either consumed by humans, or it can be absorbed through the skin. Estimates show that in the U.S., humans consume about 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight everyday. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, at any given time, 93% of Americans have measurable amounts of BPA in their systems.

The latest study, released earlier this month, shows that in utero exposure to BPA in rhesus monkeys led to abnormalities in mammary gland development.

Oil and Gas Industry Moves to Silence Critics

Shutterstock image by iodrakon

At an industry public relations conference last year, Michael Kehs of Chesapeake Energy described a Wall Street Journal op-ed to gathered oil and gas officials, saying it pointed out the industry's “credibility problem.”

“And I’m sure some of it relates to defensiveness,” Kehs added. (MP3 Audio

Small wonder.

For years, the oil and gas industry has adopted a war-like mentality towards its critics. When confronted with problems caused by drilling and fracking, instead of acknowledging them and working to prevent more, their approach has too often been to cover up the issues while attacking any critics who make problems known publicly.

This pattern has sharply accelerated in recent months.

Earlier this month, Al Armendariz, the EPA's regional administrator for the oil-and-gas rich states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, sent his letter of resignation to Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA. Mr. Armendariz had come under heavy fire over comments he made two years ago at a local government meeting in Texas. 

In explaining his law enforcement philosophy, he analogized his agency's strategy to the early Romans, who he said would “crucify” law-breakers to make examples of them. After a video of these remarks was circulated last week by Sen. James Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma, who counts the oil and gas industry as one of his largest donors, a firestorm of controversy broke out.

As Media Matters pointed out, when Mr. Armendariz said he intended to make an example of offenders, he was referring only to companies that actually broke the law – but this was not enough to save his career.

Exporting Emissions: Coal Supplies Heading Overseas, But Pollution Will Hurt Everyone

The coal industry in the United States has found a way to increase their profits, while at the same time avoiding the cumbersome environmental standards in place to protect American citizens from coal emissions – they can just ship their filthy products overseas where regulations are scarce. As coal consumption in the U.S. has fallen in recent years, the dirty energy industry has hardly noticed, thanks to the increased demand from foreign buyers.

While the fact that the U.S. is burning less and less coal is a good thing, shipping the excess coal to foreign countries could more than negate the emissions reductions in the U.S. As Ezra Klein from The Washington Post points out:

The U.S. is burning less and less coal each year, thanks to cheap natural gas and new pollution rules. From a climate perspective, that’s a huge deal — less coal means less carbon. But here’s the catch: if the U.S. just exports its unused coal abroad, the end result could actually be more carbon…

So here’s one possible future: If we’re not going to burn our coal, someone else will. One Tokyo shipping company, Daiichi Chuo Kisen Kaisha, says that U.S. coal exports could double in the next three or four years. In Washington state, coal companies are proposing two large export terminals that would help ship tens of millions of tons of coal from the Powder River Basin to countries like China. That, in turn, could make coal even cheaper in places like China — which might spur the country to build even more coal power plants than its current, already hectic pace. And, since carbon-dioxide heats up the planet no matter where it’s burned, this outcome could cancel out many of the global-warming benefits of the U.S. coal decline. (emphasis added.)

Media Matters Analysis Shows Keystone XL Proponents Dominated Media

A compelling new study from Media Matters for America reveals that proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were granted far more time in the media than those who opposed it. As their study reveals, the majority of the coverage of the proposed pipeline regarded the creation of jobs, which was overwhelmingly discussed in a positive light, with most news outlets reporting only the industry’s own analysis of the jobs that would be created, even as reports repeatedly showed the industry’s job numbers to be false.

In general, the report shows that the pipeline issue was often covered in a positive light, with industry “experts” being quoted or hosted on TV news programs, as well as in print. The only two print outlets that the study found to have reported more negatively about the pipeline were The Los Angeles Times and USA Today. However, they note that the USA Today editorial board did come out in favor of the pipeline.

Here is a chart detailing coverage by type of media outlet:

Another Industry Talking Point Laid To Rest: Oil Production Soars But Gas Prices Remain High

It is hard to believe that it's been almost four years since Americans were bombarded by the cry of “Drill baby, drill” that echoed throughout the halls of the Republican National Convention in 2008. That slogan became a rallying cry for conservatives who believed that increasing oil drilling – in spite of the environmental costs – would lead to an economic boom in the United States, and would also help ease prices at the pump for American consumers.

So today, nearly four years after those words were uttered to millions of conservatives, we have domestic oil production reaching a 24-year high, according to new reports. By industry and conservative logic, this should also mean that economic productivity has risen while consumer gasoline prices have fallen. But nothing could be further from the truth.

It turns out that increased oil production has nothing to do with the prices Americans pay at the pump. While industry leaders point to increased production in 2008 that was followed by lower prices, experts counter that the drop in price was due to simple market fluctuations: specifically, a drop in demand due to the global recession.

People travelled less and therefore didn’t use as much gasoline, creating a surplus that companies had to expel by lowering prices. These same experts also say that a rise in renewable energy use contributed to lower fossil fuel prices during this time period.

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