‘Ecosystem of influence’: Role of corporate funding in climate change discussion

A computer analysis of 20 years of data found that corporate funding influenced both the content and specific language used to encourage public skepticism of climate change.

Writing in the Nov. 23 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell said the analysis offers a new level of understanding about the role of corporate money in polarizing a public discussion. Farrell is an assistant professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Farrell’s analysis is based on two data sets. The first is a social network of 4,556 individuals with ties to 164 organizations that have been skeptical of climate change. The second data set is a compendium of every text those organizations produced about climate change from 1993 to 2013. The latter includes 40,785 texts such as policy statements, press releases, website articles, conference transcripts, published papers, and blog articles.

A good deal of research already exists about how polarization affects individual attitudes and behavior relating to climate change, Farrell explained. Yet there is little data about the underlying organizational factors at play.

“We’ve never had this level of data,” Farrell said. “The text analysis is entirely computational, and it shows an ecosystem of influence.”

The study mentions several themes that became more dominant among climate change “contrarians” that received corporate funding. One was the idea that climate change is cyclical in nature; another prevalent theme was the positive benefits of carbon dioxide.

“They were writing things that were different from the contrarian organizations that did not receive corporate funding,” Farrell said. “Over time, it brought them into a more cohesive social movement and aligned their messages.”

The study employed a recently developed approach to topic modeling — a computer-assisted content analysis process —that factors in metadata such as the year a text was written and its link to corporate funding. The process enables reliable content analysis on massive collections of text, with topics emerging from the data as algorithms learn the hidden patterns within a database.

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1 thought on “‘Ecosystem of influence’: Role of corporate funding in climate change discussion”

  1. What a one sided, misleading, ridiculous article. What a waste of taxpayer money. What are they trying to prove: that advertising works?

    Oh, is there any companion research on how government funding influences public opinion? Sorry, I forgot government funding is always unquestionable, “unbiased”, and good; while corporate funding is always evil and false.

    Also this article is lying when it talks about the corporate money being “used to encourage public skepticism of climate change”. The “Deniers” side does not deny climate change, it has always held the position that climate change has been going on for billions of years and will continue as long as the Earth exists, whether mankind is here or not. The “Deniers” position is that the % of CO2 in the atmosphere does not have a significant affect on global temperature. Atmospheric CO2 content is insignificant when compared to first order factors such as solar variations or world population. We do not have a “skepticism of climate change” that is a lie. But we cannot control solar variations and talking about controlling world population is something we cannot discuss.

    Easier to blame the evil corporations than to talk about real solutions.

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