Dr. Paul Slovic
Dr. Paul Slovic

On Oct. 16th, Dr. Paul Slovic visited Oregon State University to share and discuss issues related to risk communication with graduate students enrolled in the TOX 507/607 seminar.  This term the seminar is co-lead by the Superfund Research Center’s Research Translation Core and Training Core.

Dr. Slovic, a founder and President of Decision Research, studies human judgment, decision making, and risk analysis.  His research and expertise fit nicely with this term’s seminar focus on training students to communicate science and risk effectively to audiences outside of academia.

Some key points came out of the Q and A session with Dr. Slovic.

 

 1)  The importance of message framing.

(Reference: Know Your Audience, NWABR)
(Reference: Know Your Audience, NWABR)

After you publish a scientific paper, focus on how you will frame that information to the public.  How can you help your audience conceptualize the bottom line of the research? The facts never speak for themselves, which is why scientists need to “frame” their messages to the public.

All information is conveyed with a frame. Framing in science and risk communication can be viewed as positive or negative depending on who the audience is and what kind of information is

being presented. There is rarely neutral framing.  For that reason, it is important to have a clear message thoughtfully framed to invoke a desirable response by your audience.

Create messages that resonate with your audience.    

2)  The role of emotions and uncertainty.

Understand that risk perception comes from our gut feelings.  How you share information makes a difference, creates an image, and impacts a person’s perception of risk.

Our emotions are often tied to our motivation, positive or negative. Information will lack meaning if it does not invoke emotion.

If something is uncertain, people can interpret it the way that they want. (Example: When scientists began sharing studies that cigarette smoking caused cancer, the tobacco industry wanted to cultivate doubt, so they could keep their profits.). With certain topics, industry and others want to emphasize the unknowns and cast doubt.

When research studies are not definitive, help the public understand the strengths and limitations of that study. Frame the information so it is not biased, focusing on what the science predicts and the implications of that prediction.

 Be sure to present the data the best you can if you think people are distorting the data.

3)  Visuals make research real and relevant. 

Visual images are more powerful than statistics. Visuals help the mind process information. Make your research real and relevant by using visuals that invoke emotion and foster scientific understanding.

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Discussion with Dr. Paul Slovic in the TOX 507/607 seminar on Oct. 16, 2013

Find and share this seminar’s highlights and related articles on Twitter with hashtag #TOX607

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