Trust and the Media: Perceptions of Climate Change News Sources Among US College Students

Abstract

With increasing fake news and polarizing politics, Americans have been exposed to false or misinterpreted scientific information. A disconnect between the scientific community and news outlets has perpetuated public uncertainty about climate change. With the widening of such disconnect, it is crucial to understand how youth, who mainly use digital sources for information, comprehend climate change, as such a demographic will be a vehicle for climate change mitigation. We aim to understand climate change knowledge and attitudes among college students and their trustworthiness of six news outlets as sources of information about climate change. Results from a survey show that students care and are aware of climate change. Moreover, students are hesitant about news sources for climate change information. While students trust more the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, local news sources to the college, they overall neither trust nor distrust CNN, The Washington Post, Fox News, and Breitbart. This hesitation to trust or distrust such contrasting news regarding climate change may be explained by the overabundance of misinformation, the usage of cognitive heuristics, the rise of anti-intellectualism, and the lack of digital literacy, which make processing information more challenging in this postdigital era. We conclude by emphasizing the need to develop different information literacies in higher education. As digital platforms continue to grow, it is important to understand how youth receive and process information about topics like climate change in a complex information ecosystem.

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Data Availability

All materials, data, and protocols were approved by the Institutional Review Board. Due to IRB privacy policies, our data cannot be shared. Survey instrument is included.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Each respondent to the study was given a percentage score based on their total number of correct answers from an 81-question survey that tested the overall publics’ knowledge about climate change (scores 90% and above = A, 80–89% = B, 70–79% = C, 60–69% = D, and scores 59% and below = F) (Leiserowitz, Smith and Marlon 2011).

  2. 2.

    This survey is available as supplementary material. The survey was approved by the Institutional Review Board and includes questions about other environmental topics not covered in this paper. This article focuses on the climate change questions from the survey. Other questions were used to study additional research questions that are not part of this article.

  3. 3.

    For simplicity, vegetarians in our study are defined as individuals who did not consume meat, including vegans, pescatarians, and vegetarians.

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Acknowledgments

We acknowledge that Sierra Arral and Veronica Cheng were part of the survey design and data collection, but they studied different research questions with different parts of the survey. We are grateful for the assistance provided by Cindy Duggan, Jake Holmquist, and the members of the Information Technology Services from Manhattan College, who helped with the distribution of the survey through Qualtrics. We also acknowledge and thank for the comments and feedback received at the Jasper Summer Research Scholars Symposium, at the Eastern Economic Association (EEA) conference, at the Association for Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE) sessions at the Midwest Economic Association (MEA) conference, and at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability Conference (AASHE) conference.

Funding

This research was supported by the Dean’s Office at the O’Malley School of Business and the Jasper Summer Research Scholars Program at Manhattan College. In addition, this research benefitted from support from the National Science Foundation and the AEA Mentoring Program (NSF Awards #1357478 & 1730651).

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Contributions

Cheng led the literature review with help and feedback from González-Ramírez. Both authors participated in the research design, survey creation, and data collection. Cheng completed the data analysis with feedback and help from González-Ramírez. The data visualization was completed by both authors. Cheng led the first draft of the manuscript. Thereafter, González-Ramírez and Cheng had several rounds of revisions. Thus, the two authors participated in the writing, review, and editing process of the manuscript. For the revisions, González-Ramírez led the changes and led the Discussion section with the help from Cheng. Both authors contributed to the revisions of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jimena Gonzalez-Ramirez.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Cheng, H., Gonzalez-Ramirez, J. Trust and the Media: Perceptions of Climate Change News Sources Among US College Students. Postdigit Sci Educ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00163-y

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • News
  • Trust
  • College students
  • Digital literacy
  • Cognitive heuristics