Study finds cable news networks have grown more polarized

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Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Even though it seems that Americans are constantly on their phones, studies have shown that the majority of Americans still get their news from television. At the beginning of 2020, the average American adult consumed around nine-and-a-half hours of television news per week, according to Nielsen.

Cable channels like CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are widely understood to have , but a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed a decade of cable news to measure that on a granular scale—by the day, the week, and even the hour. It found that all three networks became more polarized over the period studied, particularly following the 2016 election, becoming more out of sync, with Fox moving to the right in response to events that caused MSNBC and CNN to move to the left.

“There has always been this assumption that is fairly fixed,” says Yphtach Lelkes, co-author on the study and an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, “just ‘Fox News is the right. And MSNBC is the left.’ But what we see is that it moves, and pretty quickly.”

Lelkes and his colleagues focused on one form of media bias for their study: visibility bias. For example, if the majority of guests on a are considered liberal, then the channel itself would be seen as liberal. They analyzed thousands of hours of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC to figure out who appeared on screen during news shows on these channels for at least 10 hours total between January 2010 and August 2020.

Each one of these guests was assigned a media bias score based on their financial contributions to political candidates and organizations, as found in Stanford University’s Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections (DIME).

“If a person donates to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, they’re assigned a media bias score based on their to and organizations considered more conservative,” Lelkes says. “And if they donate to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they’re more liberal. So when we identify people on screen, we can also identify their ideology.”

Using these scores as evidence, the team confirmed that during the past decade Fox has moved further to the right while both CNN and MSNBC have moved further to the left. More specifically, they pinpointed when the ideological gap between the channels became extreme: after the 2016 Presidential election.

“For many years, Fox News was to the right of MSNBC and CNN,” Lelkes says, “but they used to track each other. When Fox moved to the right, so did MSNBC and CNN. They all flowed together. After Trump came into office, they responded to events in the news by leaning away from each other and more strongly toward their respective ideologies.”

Interestingly, this gap between channels is more pronounced when it comes to primetime programming. Compared to other shows on their respective networks, primetime shows like “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN and “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC skew more sharply to the left, while “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox skews far more to the right.

“We don’t really see that dramatic polarization for the morning and afternoon shows,” Lelkes says, “which are more hard news, more fact-based shows.”

Another recent study in the journal Science Advances, authored by University of Pennsylvania Stevens University Professor Duncan Watts and colleagues, also studied the partisanship of TV news by focusing on the audience partisanship. It found that Americans who get their news from TV, as opposed to reading it online, are far more likely to watch channels that reflect their ideology, and are less likely to stray outside their partisan bubble.

Taken together, the two studies paint a concerning picture that partisan audiences on cable news are growing while the outlets themselves become more extreme.

Lelkes’s findings have raised a number of additional questions for the researchers: Do good ratings on a particular show encourage an entire network to move to the right or the left? Do viewer boycotts affect the ideology of a news ? Will the ideological gap between channels ever get smaller or will it just keep growing?

For now, the team is working on opening up its data to the public.

“Soon we will have a platform where people can play with the data—where they can go down to the show level and see what the bias scores are for any one show,” Lelkes says.

In addition to Lelkes, “Measuring Dynamic Media Bias” is co-authored by Columbia University Assistant Professor of Political Science and Annenberg Alum Eunji Kim and University of Utah Assistant Professor of Political Science Josh McCrain.

More information:
Eunji Kim et al, Measuring dynamic media bias, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2202197119

Study finds cable news networks have grown more polarized (2022, August 1)
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New telescope to detect gravitational wave events

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Monash University

A new telescope, made up of two identical arrays on opposite sides of the planet, will track down sources of gravitational waves.

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO), led by the University of Warwick, signals a new era of gravitational wave science. Deployed across two antipodal locations to fully cover the sky, GOTO will scour the skies for optical clues about the violent cosmic events that create ripples in the fabric of space itself.

GOTO began when the UK’s University of Warwick and Australia’s Monash University wanted to address the gap between gravitational wave detectors and . Now the has 10 partners, six of which are in the UK. GOTO has received £3.2 million of funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to deploy the full-scale facility.

“This is really encouraging from an international cooperation perspective that the UK is willing to support this project, with new telescopes to be built in Australia,” said Associate Professor Duncan Galloway, from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy.

“The new site gives us a massive improvement in our chance to observe the counterparts of gravitational wave detections. Detecting the optical counterparts promptly is a key factor in how much we can learn from gravitational wave detections. The first such event, GW170817, was identified in 11hours; but our GOTO network can be on sky and autonomously observing the field within minutes.”

Long hypothesized as a by-product of the collision and merger of cosmic behemoths such as and black holes, gravitational waves were finally detected directly by the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory) in 2015.

Since 2015, there have been many subsequent detections but, since observatories like LIGO can only measure the effects of the gravitational wave as it passes through our local patch of space time, it can be difficult to track down the source’s point of origin.

GOTO is designed to fill this observational gap by searching for optical signals in the electromagnetic spectrum that might indicate the source of the GW—quickly locating the source and using that information to direct a fleet of telescopes, satellites and instruments at it.

As most GW signals involve the merger of massive objects, these ‘visual’ cues are extremely fleeting as must be located as quickly as possible, which is where GOTO comes in. The idea is that GOTO will act as sort of intermediary between the likes of LIGO, which detect the presence of a gravitational wave event, and more targetable multi-wavelength observatories that can study the event’s optical source.

Professor Danny Steeghs of the University of Warwick, GOTO’s principle investigator, said: “There are fleets of telescopes all over the world available to look towards the skies when are detected, in order to find out more about the source. But as the gravitational wave detectors are not able to pinpoint where the ripples come from, these telescopes do not know where to look.”

Following the successful testing of a prototype system in La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, the project is deploying a much expanded, second-generation instrument.

Two mount systems, each made up of eight individual 40 cm (16 inch) telescopes, are now operational in La Palma. Combined, these 16 telescopes cover a very large field of view with 800 million pixels across their digital sensors, enabling the array to sweep the visible sky every few nights.

These robotic systems will operate autonomously, patrolling the sky continuously but also focusing on particular events or regions of sky in response to alerts of potential gravitational wave events.

Professor Steeghs continued: “The award of £3.2 million of STFC funding was critical in allowing us to build GOTO, as it was always envisaged to be; arrays of wide-field optical telescopes in at least two sites so that these could patrol and search the optical sky regularly and rapidly.

“This will allow GOTO to provide that much-needed link, to give the targets for bigger telescopes to point towards.”

In parallel, the team is preparing a site at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory, which will contain the same two-mount, 16 telescope system as the La Palma installation.

The plan is to have both sites operational this year to be ready for the next observing run of the LIGO/Virgo in 2023.

The optical search for gravitational wave events is the next step in the evolution of gravitational wave astronomy. It has been achieved once before, but with GOTO’s help it should become much easier.

If astronomers can locate convincing counterparts to gravitational wave signals, it will be possible to measure distances, characterize the sources, study their evolution and determine the environments they are formed in.

More information:
More about GOTO here:

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