The National Digest

Climate Misinformation may be Thriving on YouTube, a Scientist Warns

Beware what you view about climate change on YouTube. Conspiracy theorists have hijacked some climate-related terms to spread misinformation on the online video-sharing website, a social scientist warns. He urges his colleagues to respond by getting accurate information about their work to science communicators on YouTube.

While Facebook and Twitter get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to concerns about fake news, Joachim Allgaier of RWTH Aachen University in Germany says YouTube is equally, if not more insidious, given its huge popularity. Allgaier, who focuses on how science is communicated online, initially researched science-themed music videos on the site. He found several on Darwin’s theory of evolution, one song about the periodic table by the band They Might Be Giants and a parody by an Alzheimer’s research team contorting the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to sing about being “caught in a bad project.”

“I was amazed by the creativity,” Allgaier says. But he was also disturbed by music videos attacking established science. Those science skeptics questioned the fact that human activities are driving climate change, the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer and the safety of vaccines.

So Allgaier decided to investigate what kind of YouTube videos he found when he searched the site using 10 different climate-related terms, including “climate change,” “global warming” and “climate science.” He also searched for “climate manipulation” and “geoengineering,” terms that refer to emerging large-scale technologies to cool the Earth and offset global warming, such as adding tiny, sunlight-blocking particles high in the stratosphere (SN: 11/28/15, p. 26). To prevent earlier searches from shaping the results of later searches, Allgaier obscured his IP address, location and search history.

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