Climate change has become one of the world's most controversial issues of this generation. Government officials continuously tackle it, environmental groups push reforms and ordinary people talk about it during daily conversations. Point is, the issue has become so widespread that experts cannot help but wonder how the buzz all started.
Now, it appears that the most controversial points that amplified climate change doubts were initiated by studies funded by energy companies ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers.
Diffusion of theories about environmental subjects have greatly increased over the past 20 years. Such polarization has resulted in the public developing doubts and governments delaying policies. Although there are numerous investigations looking at individual attitudes, analysis of large organizational perspectives and the financial origins of polarization are lacking.
"We've never had this level of data," said Justin Farrell, a sociologist at Yale University. "The text analysis is entirely computational, and it shows an ecosystem of influence."
The lack of information may be because of the challenging nature of obtaining and analyzing quantitative data about such covert and complicated processes.
In the new study, Farrell used an in-depth text and network data to demonstrate how corporate funding arouses the generation and the actual gist of polarization efforts. The paper also emphasized the vital impact of private funding in public knowledge and politics. Lastly, it gives researchers a methodological framework for future analysis that combines large textual discussions with social networks.
Farrell's analysis was based on two separate data sets. The first set is composed of 4,556 individuals who have connections with 164 organizations that have been suspicious of climate change.
The second set is an overview of each and every climate change-related text released by those organizations from 1993-2013. All in all, the text materials included 40,785 press releases, online articles, policy statements, published journals, conference transcripts and blog entries.
After applying computer analytics, Farrell was able to come up with two main findings. The first one is that organizations receiving funds from corporate sectors were more likely to release written and disseminated texts that aim to polarize the issue of climate change.
The second notable result is that corporate funding has significant impacts on the actual content of diffusion efforts and the erratic occurrence of that thematic point over time.
"They were writing things that were different from the contrarian organizations that did not receive corporate funding," said Farrell. He added that as time passed, it paved the way for them to have a more intact social movement and made their messages more consistent.
The study is said to provide new and extensive confirmation about the factors that have long been believed to be at the top of climate change politics and discussions.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, Nov. 23.