Climatologist and Meteorologists at Odds

Common sense suggests that climatologists and meteorologists would be sufficiently aligned to agree on global warming.  After all, they both work with weather.  But not so.  According to a study released on Monday, “Only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was ‘caused mostly by human activities.’”

Moreover, “More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement ‘Global warming is a scam.’”  (See, “Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming?”)

Climatologists, with few exceptions, are substantially in agreement among themselves about global warming.  But it turns out that those who report the weather on the news are pretty much like the rest of us, divided and often suspicious of what scientists say.

Part of this divergence can be attributed to the fact that each group uses a different science to reach their conclusions:  The models used by meteorologists are “intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but [have] little accuracy more than seven days out,” according to Dr. Heidi Cullen, who straddled both worlds when she worked at The Weather Channel.   She notes: “meteorologists are often dubious about the work of climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.”

But probably more important is that they belong to different professional communities and have very different jobs.  Meteorology, at least on TV, is part of news, and news today is part of entertainment.  To qualify as a meteorologist one needs little more than a college degree.  Far more important is an engaging manner that can connect with the public, expressing conventional dismay about the discomforts and tribulations of commuting, cancelled picnics, broken umbrellas, etc.  That has little to do with the job of climatologists, who pore over data, write reports, talk to each other and occasionally testify at congressional hearings.

I don’t mean to imply that the work of meteorologists is easy, but while they may belong to The American Meteorological Society and aspire to its seal of approval, the success of their careers depends more than anything on their link with the public.  Climatologists, on the other hand, have their separate professional associations, generally enjoy higher status in the academic world as scientists, though, on the whole, they earn far less and have less public recognition.  Little wonder that many meteorologists can bond with the public against them.

Taking that into account, it’s no surprise they don’t agree.  On the surface it looks like they have the weather in common, but actually that’s about it.