My research program examines how people communicate about health, science, and environmental risks. Such communication can take place in many venues- from the front page of the New York Times, to the website of the CDC, to the local public meeting, to the doctor's office. I am particularly interested in how risk communication influences people's attitudes and behaviors, as well as incentives and barriers people face in the context of risk communication. Two concepts that figure prominently in my research are fairness and trust. Whereas I conduct basic research on communication processes, I remain committed to research that can be translated into practice, having retained a measure of idealism in my desire to help make the world a better place. In addition to my work in the Department of Communication, I am also the Societal and Ethical Issues (SEI) Coordinator for the NSF supported National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.
My research examines how the ways we communicate about science, health, and environmental risks influences people's risk perceptions, trust in risk managers, satisfaction with decisions, and willingness to engage in future community activities. Much of my earlier work investigates the use of public meetings as methods of public participation and risk communication. Because the perceived credibility, legitimacy, and fairness of the process often depend on the perceived neutrality of the process, other research examines conflicts of interest in science. I am also currently examining ways to develop risk messages that encourage greater awareness of the public health implications of climate change, species conservation, and biodiversity.
My teaching bridges two of the Department of Communication's undergraduate program focus areas, Communication and Social Influence and Communication in the Life Sciences, where I teach courses in Communication and the Environment, Planning Communication Campaigns, and Community Involvement in Environmental Decisions. In the graduate curriculum, I teach Risk Communication and a graduate version of Communication and the Environment. My overall goal as a teacher is to create a classroom environment that encourages active learning, stimulates critical thinking, and promotes fair and balanced discussion. In many ways, my approach to teaching is informed by my research examining fairness in public participation.
Because my research often includes an applied component related to community decision making (e.g., Why do people attend public meetings during cancer cluster investigations? How can we encourage widespread community involvement in environmental decision making? Why don’t more people enroll in clinical trials? How can we motivate scientists and engineers to consider the societal and ethical implications of their research?), I consider it vital to provide pragmatic suggestions or solutions to practitioners and citizens grappling with these issues. I have produced summary reports of my work for non-technical audiences, given talks about risk and environmental communication at extension meetings, and conducted workshops with scientists on ethics education in nanotechnology.