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Surprising Science

What It Means When Reporters Tell Us Miami Is Drowning

A new study suggests that news reports of extreme weather build a dangerous tolerance for risk-taking.


Hal Wanless, a geologist at the University of Miami, told Elizabeth Kolbert that Miami Beach has less than 50 years left till it’s taken by the sea.

However, reports of Miami Beach’s flooding may not stop people from setting up shop there. A recent study published in Nature: Climate Changedemonstrates that the manner in which strange weather events are presented by the media greatly affects people’s reactions to living in an at-risk area, though not in the way you might expect.

“A common response is to assume that more information is better, and that providing summaries of risk levels will lead people to reduce their exposure to relevant risks,” researcher Ben Newell writes in a release about the work. “Data from field studies on non-climate-related disasters, however, point to the opposite effect.”

The researchers write that the “‘news reports’ of disaster occurrences can increase the tolerance for risk-taking (which implies that rare events are underweighted).” Reports of these events need to be given the weight that they deserve by informing the public of the bigger picture, telling audiences how often these events will occur in the future.

Discourse relating to climate change can often be misleading. It’s easy to manipulate data to look harmless — to treat these weather anomalies like, well, anomalies.

The only #climatechange chart you need to see. https://t.co/XWPo00GulS (h/t @powerlineUS) pic.twitter.com/QcrN2fCouT

— National Review (@NRO) December 14, 2015


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