CLN > Climate Change Education Projects > Enabling TV meteorologists to provide viewers with climate change-related science education based on ISE “best practices”

Enabling TV meteorologists to provide viewers with climate change-related science education based on ISE "best practices"

Principal Investigators: Edward Maibach, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason
Project Website:

Project Description

Intellectual Merit. A confluence of factors points to the approximately 1,400 TV meteorologists in the US as a potentially important source of informal science education (ISE) about climate change, although few currently play this role. We propose three research studies that will answer two important questions: (1) How can TV weathercasters be encouraged and enabled to serve as effective informal science educators about our changing global climate? and (2) What impact does such informal education have on viewers?

In Study 1, we will identify and study the relatively few "early adopters" in the TV weathercaster community who currently attempt to educate their viewers about climate change. We will identify explanatory methods used by early adopters, compare them to ISE "best practices" for effective explanation, and develop a set of recommendations to improve practice.

In Study 2, to understand TV weathercasters' willingness to educate their viewers about the relationship between local weather and the changing global climate, we will survey all TV weathercasters and their news directors to determine their motivations and identify the information and materials they feel would help them perform this educational function more efficiently and effectively. The findings from Studies 1 and 2 will be used to develop educational materials that will be tested in vivo in actual broadcast settings for Study 3; these materials will include, but will not be limited to, 30-second broadcast quality education segments that visually and verbally explain the relationship between climate change and specific extreme or unusual weather conditions that may be experienced in a selected media market (e.g., extreme heat waves, extreme precipitation, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, extreme droughts, etc.).

In Study 3, the weather team from one broadcast station in a single media market will pilot-test our educational materials over the course of one year; the ISE activities of that news team become our experimental intervention. To measure the impact of this weather team's ISE activities, we will conduct a random sample survey of local TV news viewers in that media market at baseline; one year later we will re-survey these same viewers and survey a fresh random sample of local TV news viewers. This quasi-experimental evaluation design – drawing on longitudinal and cross-sectional measures – provides us with heightened ability to detect education effects and rule out threats to internal validity. Our hypothesis: compared to viewers of weather teams at competing stations, viewers of the experimental news team will show greater improvement in climate change knowledge over the intervention period; the size of the learning effect will be positively predicted by amount of viewing.

Our project team includes: science education expert Katherine Rowan, PhD (co-PI), media effects evaluation expert Xiaoquan Zhao, PhD; climate change and TV weathercaster expert Kris Wilson, PhD, broadcast meteorologist Joe Witte, MA, and climate expert Barry Klinger, PhD. Heidi Cullen of Climate Central will producing our broadcast segments for Study 3. Deborah Sliter, VP of Programs at the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), chairs our Advisory Board (including representatives from AMS, NWA and RTDNA).

Broader Impact. We will answer key research questions supporting efforts to activate TV meteorologists nationwide as an important source of informal science education about climate change. This proposal will also advance both the fields of informal science education and climate change communication by (1) characterizing broadcast media explanations of climate science in a rigorous taxonomy informed by ISE and formal science education research; (2) testing the effectiveness of high-quality explanations with a robust sample of Americans who choose to gain science knowledge from television, and (3) adding to the repertoire of outcome measures and data available to scholars studying ISE and public understanding of science.

Contact Information:
Principal Investigator, Edward Maibach