Framing Science

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This year the School of Communication at American University has hired leading junior faculty in the areas of science journalism and risk communication. The two new faculty, scheduled to move to Washington, DC in August, will contribute significantly to SOC’s research capacity, professional initiatives, and teaching portfolio. Below with their permission, I have posted brief bios.

DECLAN FAHY

Declan Fahy joins the journalism faculty as a tenure-track assistant professor. He has reported extensively on science, health, and environmental issues, as well as many other topics, for the Irish Times, Irish Daily Mirror and Longford Leader newspapers. During his doctoral work in Communication at Dublin City University, his research has examined media representations of scientists, and he has undertaken research projects that analyzed media coverage of health policy, opinion and commentary journalism, business reporting, and the reporting of transnational political institutions, such as the European Union. His peer-reviewed research appears in a number of outlets including Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, Health Promotion Practice, Journalism Studies, and Irish Communications Review.

Fahy’s dissertation, titled “The Celebrity Scientists: A collective case study,” examines how a group of well-known contemporary British scientists and popularisers are represented as famous figures, drawing on the rapidly expanding field of celebrity studies, as well as historiography of science and history of ideas. As specific case studies, Fahy examines Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock and Susan Greenfield, identifying their shared characteristics with other types of celebrities, including their representation as unique individuals whose public and private lives merge, their marketed and promoted images as public intellectuals, and their public personas which embody abstract values, ideas and ideologies, such as scientism. Fahy has plans to publish his dissertation as a book and to pursue a second study of U.S. celebrity scientists.

Future research planned by Fahy will also explore how international health and environmental topics, such as viral pandemics, climate change, and nuclear power, are critical case studies for an emerging global journalism that reports the complex connections between scientific, economic, political and social issues in different parts of the world. Power in this new global journalism has been represented as being a mixture of national, international and global factors with political identities represented as crossing national and continental borders. This approach has been used most productively in the study of business journalism, but it provides a framework for the study of science journalism as well, particularly the news media communication strategies of large international health and environmental organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Apart from his research specialization, Fahy brings a varied teaching portfolio to American University. As an instructor during his doctoral work, Fahy developed courses in news reporting, journalism skills, specialist reporting, multimedia writing and science in the media, among others, for students majoring in journalism, multimedia, science communication, and public communication, as well as contributing course elements on science and the media to students majoring in biotechnology and environmental science. At AU, Fahy will be teaching a newly launched course in science, environmental, and health reporting while also coordinating the MA degree program in International Media.

In his previous work, Fahy also participated in the creation of communication teaching materials as part of the European Network of Science Communication Teachers (ENSCOT) and European Science Communication Network (ESConet) projects, both of which were funded by the European Commission. This work with ESConet involved the coordination of 17 partner institutions in 12 European countries and the training of more than 170 natural scientists in theories, concepts, research, and skills related to public engagement and communication. [An evaluation of this program was recently published at the journal Science Communication.]

SOL HART

Sol Hart joins the public communication faculty as a tenure-track assistant professor. A doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, Hart specializes in risk communication related to environmental, science, and health issues. He is also currently a visiting scholar at Decision Research, an Oregon-based think tank for the study of risk perception, judgment, and decision making, and serves as a consultant for Family Health International. Before beginning his doctoral studies at Cornell, Hart worked with a number of environmental organizations to design effective outreach messages and initiatives. This experience sharpened his interest in conducting research that not only develops theory but also enhances the communication efforts of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses. In addition to his doctoral work at Cornell, Hart holds an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon and a B.S. in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning from the University of California-Davis

Hart’s research investigates the psychological processes underlying effective risk communication, with the aim of understanding the role of the media in motivating and engaging the public around a variety of issues and how to create effective messages that can cross ideological divides and that resonate with broad sections of the public. He has studied communication processes related to climate change, AIDS prevention, poverty, and clinical health communication.

In his dissertation, Hart presents three studies that examine how message structures can significantly alter how the general public perceives and responds to climate change. The first study examines how the identity of potential victims of climate change as portrayed in news stories may affect the willingness of different segments of the public to address the issue. The second study looks at how the packaging of news portrayals of climate change around focusing events and personal stories versus a broader, more societal focus may affect individual behavior change and policy preferences. The final study examines how the presence or absence of statistics in a news story about climate change impacts public willingness to donate towards organizations working on the issue. The results of these studies are discussed with respect to future research directions and how science communicators may “nudge” individuals towards action to address climate change.

Hart’s doctoral research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Already, his research has been published in a number of peer reviewed journals, including Science Communication, Society and Natural Resources, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, Environmental Communication, and Communication Yearbook.

At American University, Hart will teach a range of undergraduate and graduate courses related to public communication including courses in campaign theory, research methods, communication and society, persuasion, and science and health communication.