Author Archives: Chelsea

New article in BMJ Open: cancer research in the media

My team’s study on coverage of cancer research in online media was just published at BMJ Open! We started the collaboration when I was working at NCI in 2017, and we set out to examine which cancer research was getting picked up in the news – and why.

Of particular interest: we found that level of coverage per cancer type doesn’t mirror incidence. For example, breast cancer receives disproportionately higher amount of media attention compared to incidence, while lung, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers receive disproportionately lower. It’s helpful to keep this in mind since what’s covered in the news can shape our perceptions of what health issues we should worry about.

As we note in the piece, “Results highlight a need for continued research on the role of media, especially online media, in research dissemination.”

It’s possible that media outreach on behalf of research teams – especially at top scientific journals or research institutions rich in such resources – plays a role in what gets covered.

This was my first experience with open publishing – our dataset and code are publicly available. Pretty neat!

The article can be found here (open access):

Scientific uncertainty chapter published in Routledge volume

I’m excited to announce that our chapter — “News Coverage of Cancer Research: Does Disclosure of Scientific Uncertainty Enhance Credibility?” — was published in the 2018 Routledge book Risk and Health Communication in an Evolving Media Environment.

The study examines whether certain practices in journalism could be systematically lowering public perceptions of credibility with regard to cancer research reports. Though likely unintentional, this could lead to biased processing and, potentially, dismissal of health information that is important in helping the public avoid health risks.

The study was modeled on a prior experiment by Jensen (2008), which found a link between disclosure of scientific uncertainty attributed to the primary scientist, and increased trustworthiness ratings for both the journalist and the primary scientist.

The prior results were partially replicated in this study, where fuller uncertainty disclosure led to higher credibility ratings for journalists.

What we don’t yet know is why this would be the case. Are news consumers getting savvier about how to interpret media reports of scientific research? That’s what I aim to answer with my next study, which will take a mixed methods approach to examining how the public evaluates science news.

And here’s a recent review of the Routledge volume by Yotam Ophir in the European Journal of Communication.

New award to study scientific uncertainty from AEJMC in DC

It was back to Washington, DC, in August for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference. This year, I received the Graduate Student Research Award from the Mass Communication & Society Division, presented at the MCS Awards Luncheon. This $5,000 award will support a mixed-method study exploring how the public evaluates science news and responds to reports of uncertain science. I’m excited about the opportunity and can’t wait to return to AEJMC next year to present the study findings!


Summer ’18 at Huntsman Cancer Institute

This summer I got to work as a research assistant in Dr. Kim Kaphingst’s lab at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. I helped with research projects examining the current state of communication research in the area of cancer genetics. HCI was recently named one of the most beautiful hospitals in the U.S., and it’s no wonder. I took full advantage of the back patio for work afternoons overlooking the foothills, mountain bikers, blue skies and birds.

Meta-analysis wins ‘Top Four’ in health comm @ ICA Prague

This past May at the International Communication Association‘s annual meeting, I got to present the latest version of a meta-analysis of studies examining the potential for narrative messages to lower resistance to persuasion.

My coauthor Dr. Ye Sun and I received two awards for the paper: top student-led paper in health communication, and one of the top four papers in health communication.

Curious about the findings of our analysis? In short: narratives had a small but significant advantage over non-narratives when it came to reducing resistance to persuasion—which is either exciting or cause for caution, depending on how you look at it!

We also found that the association between higher narrative engagement and lower resistance held up across studies. In other words, when people are more transported into a story or are identifying with the main characters, there’s a good chance they’ll be more persuadable. Across studies, there were several moderators of these effects, which we’ll reveal in the manuscript once it’s published.

Winning awards in the Health Communication division was a great honor, and it was also a great excuse to visit Prague for the first time!

Speaking of the power of stories, the streets of Prague seem to be filled with Kafka references…

New paper in JHC: Foreseeing challenges in communicating precision medicine

Repost of University of Utah’s Communication Dept. announcement:

Communication Dept. Scholars Publish on the Critical Role of Communication in the “Precision Medicine Era”

Precision medicine is the notion of a precise approach to healthcare—one that takes into account individual genetics, environments, and behaviors. As we enter this era of highly personalized care, there will likely be opportunities to take our health to new heights. But there may also be unforeseen consequences.

To date, little is known about how healthcare consumers will respond to highly personalized guidance and treatment. The assumption is that responses will generally be favorable. Yet in the media and in online public discussions about precision medicine, concerns have been raised about invasions of privacy and autonomy.

What challenges could arise as precision medicine is implemented in research trials and clinical settings? And can we address them, or prevent them, through better communication?

These questions are explored in a recent paper published in the Journal of Health Communication. The authors—Communication PhD student Chelsea Ratcliff and professors Kim Kaphingst and Jakob Jensen—highlight the potential for patient alienation in certain precision medicine contexts, especially among minority groups. They offer an agenda for research to guide communication with patients and the public, in order to foster understanding of precision medicine and informed participation in precision medicine initiatives.

In engaging these important questions, scholars from across disciplines can help bring ethical concerns and patient perspectives to the planning and implementation of precision medicine, ensuring medical and technological advances that are fair and beneficial for all.

The paper, published online ahead of print, can be found here. (It’s paywalled, so for those without access I’ll gladly provide a copy of it.)


Chelsea L. Ratcliff is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication. Kimberly A. Kaphingst is a professor in the Department of Communication and an investigator in the Cancer Control & Population Sciences Program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Jakob D. Jensen is a professor in the Department of Communication and a faculty affiliate of the Cancer Control & Population Sciences Core at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Interviewed for Data & Society’s “Fairness in Precision Medicine” Report

I recently had the chance to participate in a research initiative called the Fairness in Precision Medicine project, led by the nonprofit organization Data & Society. The project examines the potential challenges we face in this emerging, data-driven era of medical research and healthcare.

The PI on the project, danah boyd, is a scholar whose work examines the intersection of technology and society. She’s been an inspiration to me since I read this Fast Company article called “Generation Flux” back in 2012. So needless to say, I was thrilled to learn about and get a chance to contribute to the project!

In their words:

“Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report is the first in a new series of research projects at Data & Society focused on the future of health data.

The authors – Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Dr. Kadija Ferryman and Data & Society Researcher Mikaela Pitcan – present insights on emergent tensions in the field arising from extensive qualitative interviews with biomedical researchers, bioethicists, technologists, and patient advocates.”

For my contribution, I discussed the potential for unintended and negative impacts of highly personalized health information and recommendations, especially as big data and digital technologies are increasingly tapped to provide such information.

I was honored to be a contributor alongside my mentor at NCI, chief of the Health Communication & Informatics branch Brad Hesse, as well as University of Utah bioethicist Jim Tabery.

The Fairness in Precision Medicine report was published February 26, 2018. Learn more and download the (free) report here.

I was also interviewed for a related piece that explores on potential unintended consequences of conveying genetic information to patients. Read The Risks of Knowing Your Risks too!

What precision medicine projects am I working on? Visit my project page

Summer ’17 at the National Cancer Institute

I spent this summer at the National Cancer Institute as a research fellow between master’s and PhD programs, and it was a blast!

I was working in the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch with incredibly smart and thoughtful people, joining projects related to cancer communication, genetic communication, and precision medicine implementation.

Observing cognitive testing of the HINTS instrument

The highlight for me was getting the chance to sit in on meetings where cutting-edge medical and bioinformatics technology is being developed and research and policy are being shaped.

Another highlight was learning about HINTS (Health Information National Trends Survey), a tool for understanding how the public is accessing, using, and trusting sources of health information. We even got to visit Westat to see cognitive interviewing of the next questionnaire! I’m looking forward to collaborating with NCI scholars and others to report data from the newest HINTS cycle at the HINTS Data Users Conference in 2018.

Overall the experience deepened my understanding of potential challenges that could arise during precision medicine communication processes, since this is an emerging area of research for me. Related to this, I was interviewed alongside Dr. Brad Hesse for Data & Society’s Fairness in Precision Medicine project. Being a big fan of danah boyd, the PI on the project, I was thrilled to take part in this. Can’t wait to hear their reports.

And, of course, there was tango!

Narrative Persuasion Meta-analysis Wins Eason Prize @ AEJMC in Chicago

Meta-analyses are no small feat, but the hard work is worth it! My major project of the past year — a meta-analysis of narrative persuasion research — received a top student paper award at the 2017 AEJMC conference in Chicago.

For this project, I synthesized studies of the effect of narratives on audience resistance, compared to delivering information in non-narrative formats like rhetorical arguments or statistical information. Narratives are frequently used in health campaigns to promote healthy behaviors, as well as in advertising to distract consumers from critical processing.

The extent of the persuasive power of narratives isn’t fully known, however. My meta-analysis aims to quantify the influence of narratives on resistance across all studies to-date. I presented preliminary findings at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in August.

The project won Top Student Paper in the ComSHER division (which stands for Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk). It was also awarded the Eason Prize, created in memory of former PhD student Lori Eason, to acknowledge graduate students doing important science communication research. This was a great honor.

Another highlight of the Chicago trip was spending the day working with colleagues at Northwestern University (here’s the killer view from their office) as we made preparations for a productive writing retreat this fall in Park City, Utah. Our upcoming projects will span narrative persuasion, psychological reactance, genetic communication, and more.