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Network structure and influence of the climate change counter-movement

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change represents a global threat to human well-being1,2,3 and ecosystem functioning4. Yet despite its importance for science and policy, our understanding of the causes of widespread uncertainty and doubt found among the general public remains limited. The political and social processes driving such doubt and uncertainty are difficult to rigorously analyse, and research has tended to focus on the individual-level, rather than the larger institutions and social networks that produce and disseminate contrarian information. This study presents a new approach by using network science to uncover the institutional and corporate structure of the climate change counter-movement, and machine-learning text analysis to show its influence in the news media and bureaucratic politics. The data include a new social network of all known organizations and individuals promoting contrarian viewpoints, as well as the entirety of all written and verbal texts about climate change from 1993–2013 from every organization, three major news outlets, all US presidents, and every occurrence on the floor of the US Congress. Using network and computational text analysis, I find that the organizational power within the contrarian network, and the magnitude of semantic similarity, are both predicted by ties to elite corporate benefactors.

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Figure 1: Bipartite graph of the climate contrarian network.
Figure 2: One-mode organizational structure of the climate contrarian network.
Figure 3: Growth in semantic similarity with contrarian network discourse.

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Acknowledgements

I want to thank Yale University, the Stanford University Center for Computational Social Science, and several conversation partners, including J. Bayham, R. Dunlap, R. Brulle, B. Stewart, J. Wilkerson, R. Wuthnow, M. Evans and K. Beyerlein. This research was partially supported by an EPA STAR graduate fellowship.

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Correspondence to Justin Farrell.

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Farrell, J. Network structure and influence of the climate change counter-movement. Nature Clim Change 6, 370–374 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2875

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