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.

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


By Erin Madeen, Project 1 Trainee

Erin Madeen at the UC Entrepreneurship Academy,
September 17-19, 2013 @ UC Davis
The UC Davis Entrepreneurship Academy was a unique learning experience that teaches the basics of intellectual property as well as marketing and launching a new business. While I am not currently interested in launching a company, this experience provided valuable information on how to maintain flexibility with intellectual property.

As scientists, especially in the SRP, we are always developing new methods and systems to answer our specific questions. Many of those techniques or systems are patentable. Our goal as a federally funded program supported by tax payers is to provide accurate data that can be used to develop environmental policy for a better society. I was not aware that technology used to generate that data is patentable, only in the instance that it was not described in the public domain prior to applying for a patent. Additionally, once a patent has been applied for, the specifics of the technology can be presented in the public domain as a paper, or a presentation.

Also attending the academy were several prior SRP students from UC Davis and UC Berkeley who were able to patent technologies with their respective universities as students and are now launching companies with the technology licensed through the university.

It was an interesting experience to see the traditional binary of industry or academic lines blurred.

Group photo of the participants at the UC Entrepreneurship Academy with Erin Madeen in the center.

NIEHS-funded Centers are experimenting and beginning to leverage social media platforms to promote research and activities, expand networks and partnerships, improve relationships with stakeholders, and foster community engagement.  [Here is a list of individuals and groups tied to NIEHS on Twitter.]the-perfect-length-of-a-tweet-is-70-110-characters-150x150

We’ve come a long way in the last couple of years.

The OSU Superfund Research Center began social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter in August of 2011.  In November of 2011, Naomi Hirsch, Research Translation Coordinator, headed to the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo to facilitate a roundtable discussion on how our Centers’ can harness web technologies and social media. The discussions led to a desire to gather resources, case studies, and articles that would help move our scientists and social media efforts forward.  The Web and Emerging Tech Resources for Scientists and Partners page began.

2012 was a year of internal education as we grew our network and supported our colleagues at other NIEHS Centers.  We facilitated a web and social media session at the NIEHS PEPH Meeting in March, presented an NIEHS SRP CEC/RTC webinar in July, and later that year, a social media overview presentation for administrators at the SRP Annual Meeting in October.

The momentum increased in 2013.  We led a movement at Oregon State University by supporting a ScienceOnline Watch Party, which led to a new group, the OSU Science Communicators. The Web and Emerging Tech Resources for Scientists and Partners page grew and was cited as an excellent starting place for scientists in blog articles and the Plos Biology paper: An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists.

We recently hosted and tweeted the 2013 International Symposium on Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds (#ISPAC13). Although 75 tweets came from just 10 people during the conference of about 150 total people, it was still worthwhile and brought exposure to PAHs, the organization, OSU, the research, and the individual researchers. It starts small, but it must start somewhere and become part of the culture.

Now the education is turning to grad students. We are excited to contribute to and co-instruct a Grad Seminar on Science and Risk Communication, which will include using social media tools.  In addition, at the end of the term in December, Naomi Hirsch will host a Twitter Basics webinar designed for scientists, grad students, and professionals communicating science.

There are now papers (and numerous articles) presenting a case for more scientists to engage with one another and the public through social media like Twitter. Several studies have shown that tweeting and blogging about scientific findings can increase their impact (“It’s Time for Scientists to Tweet“).

So, what is ahead for us in 2014? So much! Stay connected so you can find out.

From “It’s Time for Scientists to Tweet” [photo credit: www.katiephd.com]