Author Archives: Chelsea

How Lay Audiences Respond to Disclosure of Scientific Uncertainty (NCA Presentation)

My coauthors and I just presented a study at the virtual National Communication Association conference. Since the conference was free to attend, I’m sharing the video here.

We examined the impact of communicating uncertainty about a new genomic discovery — as opposed to certainty — on news audience responses. Disclosing uncertainty led to greater news credibility and trust in the scientists, and less perceived hype.

Reactance review published in Communication Research

My review of psychological reactance research approaches is now out in Communication Research. This paper is the product of three years of toiling, having fascinating conversations with other scholars, and going through an incredibly rewarding review process with three very thoughtful and gracious reviewers. Surely one of those unicorn experiences, and very proud of the result!

The article can be accessed here, or contact me and I’ll send you a PDF.

Reactance to framed messages: triggered by dose?—Article in Risk Analysis

View Table of Contents for Risk Analysis volume 39 issue 8

Our study of loss/gain framing, reactance and dose was just published in Risk Analysis. We tested a range of messages about the health risks/benefits of physical activity. Effectively promoting exercise is a topic that’s near and dear to me, so it was fascinating to see the complex set of results that unfolded.

Access the article here, or feel free to contact me for a copy.

Summer ’19 at the Max Planck Institute

Photo credit: Melisa Basol

This past June I was selected to attend the Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality with 39 other emerging scholars from around the world. It was a wonderful experience!

Now in its 19th year, this international program is hosted by the Center for Adaptive Rationality and the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.

Participants attend curated talks and workshops on decision-making under uncertainty and learn how to effectively communicate uncertainty (e.g., of scientific evidence or technological risk) to the public. Attendees also have the chance to present their own work-in-progress and get feedback from leading researchers and peers.

This year’s Institute theme was “bounded rationality in a digital world.” We examined human decision-making in a range of contexts, as well as issues in modeling and ethical dilemmas in AI. Speakers included Gerd Gigerenzer, Ralph Hertwig, Stefan Herzog, Iyad Rahwan and many others.

I presented work from my dissertation on how the public makes decisions about whether to participate in precision medicine research, navigating the many uncertainties inherent in this space.

Presenting at the HINTS User Conference

I had a wonderful time presenting at the HINTS User Conference in Bethesda in May. This meeting brought together a fascinating range of research projects that use the publicly available Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) dataset. I presented the digital health engagement framework that I’ve been developing with colleagues at the National Cancer Institute and Mayo Clinic, as part of the Information and Communication Technology session. Our hope is that this framework will be helpful for researchers in synthesizing the range of digital health engagement-related measures in existing national datasets such as HINTS. We got great feedback and hope to publicly share it soon!

Disproportionate coverage of cancer research in the media—Article in BMJ Open

Our 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 heightens trust in journalists—Chapter published

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. Here’s the abstract:

This study aimed to see if Jensen’s (2008) earlier findings hold up (a) with updated news credibility measures, (b) in a sample that is more representative of the general public, and (c) in a more current media environment. Additionally, we explored whether source and amount of uncertainty would influence public support for scientific research in general. Consistent with Jensen (2008), the present experiment found that amount and source of uncertainty significantly impacted audience perceptions of journalist credibility. Specifically, participants found the journalist more credible when the story contained a higher amount of uncertainty, but only when it was disclosed by the primary scientist (as opposed to an outside scientist, i.e., a “dueling” frame). The observed effect was small but significant and held across all four different cancer news articles, suggesting the effect occurs systematically and was not due to features of a particular article or cancer topic. The same conditions may affect credibility judgments for scientists, though it was not apparent in the current study. Neither amount nor source of uncertainty had an impact on support for science; that is, people were generally supportive across the board.

Most interesting is that the fuller uncertainty disclosure from the primary scientist 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.

If you’d like a copy of the chapter, you can find it here.

Award to study scientific uncertainty from AEJMC

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 to present the study findings!

Summer ’18 at Huntsman Cancer Institute

Do cancer patients know how genetic testing can inform their treatment decisions? Research overall suggests that many do not.

This summer I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant in Dr. Kimberly 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.

I also had the chance to present results from our genetic cancer communication scoping review at the HCI Trainees Symposium. We summarized papers in this area and will make that summary available to the public soon.

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.